As I mentioned in earlier blog posts, to communicate something to a recipient one has to command the recipient’s attention and then be relevant to the recipient.
Communication: Command Attention (Clutter breaking) -> Be Relevant
This holds true even for communication among two individuals or two groups of people or for television commercials (TVCs). For the rest of this blog we will discuss it in the context of TVCs.
Though the rules seem simple, commanding attention is itself a very daunting task in this fragmented and cluttered world of media. On top of it, the message is driven home only if you are relevant to your fragmented consumer segments. Currently, we shall focus on the first part of the problem – clutter breaking and commanding attention.
What have commercials been doing to break clutter?
Historically, entertainment has proved to be one of the most effective ways to command attention of people. Entertainment is a very pervasive element of television ads today. Research shows that creative entertainment increases the attention to view the entire ad, reduces the resistance to persuasion, and has positive effects on purchase intention.
Wikipedia defines entertainment as – “Entertainment is something that holds the attention and interest of an audience or gives pleasure and delight.” Psychologists define entertainment as “attainment of gratification of senses”.
Though people have different personal preferences of entertainment, it has been observed that across cultures and time there are recognisable and familiar forms of entertainment such as story-telling, music, dance, drama, sex, sports, horror etc. So, most ads today have atleast one form of content used to entertain consumer such as humour, music, and creative stories, etc.
The answer to the question is – Commercials have been using entertainment as one of the effective ways to break clutter and maintain attention levels, increasing people’s interest to view the entire ad, and research shows that creative entertainment has positive effects on persuasion and purchase intentions.
If all is well, what is the problem about entertainment in commercials?
One observation that always intrigued and puzzled me is that the commercials that are very entertaining and enjoyable don’t always drive home the intended purpose. There are many commercials that are enjoyed a lot and has high ad recall, but they just become only a source of entertainment for the audience.
My observation of several ads and people made me come to the hypothesis that the entertainment provided in the ad actually fulfils the consumer and conflicts with the consumers’ process of synthesizing the brand/product message. This negative influence of entertainment is especially seen when the brand purpose is not weaved into the story provided for entertainment. For example, in ads where the entertainment part comes first and the brand is shown very late in the ad and they are not so well connected. If entertainment is used to break clutter, then it is important that the brand is shown as a part of the entertainment at the beginning of the ad, else there is a risk that the TVC may be very entertaining but not serving the objective of the ad.
Harvard professor Thales Teixeira has conducted interesting research on this regard and wrote a paper – “Why, When, and How much to entertain consumers in advertisements?” This is based on a facial tracking study (software used to track the facial emotions) in response to the TVCs. This is a first of its kind study and is the latest (dated January 2013).
One of the key hypotheses for the study is – Does high entertainment in advertisements have detrimental effects on persuasion and purchase intent, while having beneficial effects on a person’s willingness to watch the ad?
Key Results from the Study:
1. Entertainment can overcrowd your product message.
2. Viewers tend to pay less attention to the message associated with the brand once they’re already entertained.
3. If entertainment is not brand-associated (brand comes first and then the entertainment part starts or both at once), then it works only as an attention capturing device.
4. An excessive amount of entertainment is ineffective because it reduces the ad’s persuasiveness, as the entertainment conflicts with the persuasiveness.
5. Medium level of positive entertainment leads to a higher intent to purchase the advertised brand than low or high levels.
Entertainment plays both a co-operating and a conflicting role
Prof. Teixeira found that entertainment plays both a co-operating and a conflicting role, depending on its type (i.e., location in the ad). Entertainment that is associated with the brand is co-operating, as it acts as a persuasion device both in the interest and purchase stages. Entertainment that is not associated with the brand acts predominantly as an attraction device at the interest stage, thus indirectly cooperating but also directly conflicting with the ultimate goal of the ad.
The paper talks about the role of the location of entertainment and brand in the ad and its effects on the purchase funnel. If the ad is solely intended to induce purchase from previously aware or interested consumers, early placement of the brand is recommended. This might be the case for established brands or mature products. Yet, if the purpose of the ad is to generate awareness and interest, for example for new brands or products, and other marketing tools will be used to trigger purchase, then placing the brand later in the ad will be more effective to increase its attractiveness. Lastly, for ads intended to increase interest and purchase, ad persuasiveness and attractiveness should be balanced.
The study shows that entertainment, while increasing interest, can hurt purchase intent, especially if it appears before the brand, and can help purchase intent, when it occurs after the brand. So having the brand appear later may work if the objective is more towards building awareness. But still I am not a strong supporter of entertainment coming first and then brand later. If you want to be safe, make sure that the brand has an appearance somewhere in the beginning of the ad (especially when entertainment is used for clutter-breakthrough).
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