how we watch tv ads

Here’s an interesting read from the National Geographic magazine of 2003 February by Joel Achenbach. It includes summaries of research about how we watch television adverts, and what our perception becomes.

Given that tens of millions of dollars are spent to make and air advertisements, you figure at least a few million more might be devoted to figuring out how viewers perceive them. Sure enough, researchers have spent decades watching people watching ads. Of particular interest: what we do with our eyes.

“Our eyes are very busy. They’re continuously scanning the visual field in front of them,” says Moshe Eizenman of the University of Toronto, the inventor of an eye-tracing device. Research shows that our gaze zooms in on moving object, such as the lips of a speaking person. Our eyes are drawn to sharp edges and contrasting colours. That’s why commercials often show a colourful product against a white background, and why luxury sedans are constantly hurtling along mountain roads. A good ad should “encourage a natural visual scanning pattern,” reports Eizenman, and his work suggests that may not happen if an ad makes the viewer think too much.

Chris Janiszewski, professor of marketing at the University of Florida, did a study some years ago on a Mountain Dew commercial. The ad featured Dew-drinking young people surfing river rapids. This frenetic scene was followed by an image of a Mountain Dew can. After showing the commercial to a group of test subjects, Janiszewski then rearranged the ad for a different group. This time he showed the can first, then then surfing. Finally he had both groups view photos of four different soda brands sitting on the shelf while training infrared lights on the subject’s pupils. The second group – the ones who saw the can, then the surfing – looked at the Mountain Dew more quickly. Janiszewski concluded that advertisers can better “condition” viewers if they show the product first.

Further research will help in finding more, but right now, what can you Dew about it?

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