Creative, enjoyable TV adverts make us more susceptible to sales messages because we actually pay less attention to them, new research found today.
The study challenges the assumption that ads with lots of emotional content encourage viewers to look at them more closely.
In fact, we are more likely to scrutinise fact-based adverts so we can “counter-argue” what we are being told, the study by the University of Bath claims.
It is the likeable, entertainment-based ads that bring our guard down, making us more relaxed and suggestible to the pitch, researchers discovered.
That has “serious implications” for certain types of commercials, particularly those aimed at children and those that may harm our health, said Dr Robert Heath, who led the work.
The team used an eye-tracking device to measure the real-time attention paid to a range of adverts with different levels of emotional content.
The adverts were “embedded” in an episode of the sitcom Frasier and participants were unaware that advertising was the subject of the research.
Results showed that viewers paid less attention to likeable, creative adverts, and more attention to factual information-giving adverts, even when they did not like them.
Dr Heath, from the university’s School of Management, said: “There has been a lot of research which shows that creative TV ads are more effective than those which simply deliver information, and it has always been assumed that it is because viewers pay more attention to them.
“But in a relaxed situation like TV watching, attention tends to be used mainly as a defence mechanism. If an ad bombards us with new information, our natural response is to pay attention so we can counter-argue what it is telling us.
“On the other hand, if we feel we like and enjoy an ad, we tend to be more trustful of it and therefore we don’t feel we need to pay too much attention to it.
“The sting in the tail is that by paying less attention, we are less able to counter-argue what the ad is communicating. In effect we let our guard down and leave ourselves more open to the advertiser’s message.
“This has serious implications for certain categories of ads, particularly ads for products that can be harmful to our health, and products aimed at children.”
“The findings suggest that if you don’t want an ad to affect you in this way, you should watch it more closely.”
The full study is published in the Journal of Advertising Research.