Current Issue Summary
September 2022 (Vol. 62, Issue 3)
How Consumers Process Unexpected Online Advertisements: The Effects of Motion and Abrupt Onset on Consumers’ Attention and Attitude
Unexpected ads—like pop-ups and floaters—affect people’s attention and attitude toward such an ad differently, depending on its location, the degree of unexpectedness and the user’s task level, according to Emna Cherif (Clermont Auvergne School of Management) and Thierry Baccino (University of Paris 8). Their research offers fresh evidence toward helping advertisers and website service providers design attention-grabbing ads. Online ads compete for attention of web users who, preoccupied by their reading or browsing, either don’t see the ad or intentionally block it out. This is frustrating for advertisers who spend millions trying to break through so-called “banner blindness.” Pop-up and floating ads are often used for this purpose, but their effectiveness isn’t well understood.
Cherif and Baccino analyzed three levels of unexpectedness: high versus moderate versus low, during both goal-oriented and free-browsing tasks. To that end, they used eye-tracking methods and measures of attitude toward the ad format and its perceived intrusiveness while users viewed content displayed on a fictitious newspaper website. Findings showed that when ads were highly unexpected, they captured more attention in both tasks. Indeed, “’banner blindness’ seems to occur only when consumers are aware of the distractor and its features but may disappear if the salient features of the advertisements are unexpected and change randomly from one display to another,” the researchers write.
Among other takeaways:
- Low and high levels of advertising unexpectedness “attracted more attention in goal-oriented tasks and were associated with a more favorable attitude toward the advertisement and less perceived intrusiveness.”
- Advertisers should “consider high unexpected advertising levels to design their online messaging.” For example, floating ads and such “advertising formats displayed with abrupt onset and motion on a web page … more likely will attract consumers’ attention than static skyscraper” ads. Likewise, pop-up ads “can override the top-down control of attention,” especially during a free-browsing task.
- “Online advertisements should not disturb the main task performance and risk irritating consumers,” the authors warn.
- In fact, “moderately unexpected advertisements could be perceived as very intrusive and lead to unfavorable attitudes, probably because of the extra effort required to close an additional window and return to the task.” Future research should include replicating the experiments in an online shopping setting.