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Attention and memory for explicit and implicit print advertisements

Advertisers try to increase ad originality to break through the information clutter due to rising levels of advertising competition. One way to increase ad originality is to make the ad message less explicit in order to increase consumers’ elaboration of the ad message. The present study investigates processing of two types of print advertisements: explicit and implicit advertisements. In explicit advertisements, the picture and the text are directly related to the advertised product or brand. In implicit advertisements, the picture and the text are in a more complex relation to each other, and the advertised product is not presented in a straightforward manner.

Eye movements were recorded from 41 participants during free viewing of 20 explicit and 20 implicit advertisements for 5 seconds. Categorization of advertisements into explicit and implicit groups was based on a preliminary study where 5 participants (not part of the actual sample) rated the ads on a scale from 1 to 9, whether they considered an ad as explicit or implicit. The explicit and implicit ads did not differ in their low-level featural information. Ad processing was studied in terms of eye fixation measures (number of fixations, time to first fixation, total gaze duration and mean fixation duration) on the key elements of the advertisements – product, brand, text and pictorial – and how the information extracted during initial viewing transforms into memory, preference and purchase intention for the brands. Memory performance and preference ratings were collected on the next day from the initial exposure to the ads.

The results showed that the product information was fixated more often and for longer time in the explicit than in the implicit condition, but the mean fixation duration on the product information was longer in the implicit condition. The number of fixations on the brand logos was higher in the explicit condition. The text information was fixated for longer time and the mean fixation duration on the text was longer for the implicit than for the explicit ads. In addition, the ad pictorials were fixated more frequently and for longer durations in the implicit condition, and the memory and preference scores for brands were higher for the implicit than for the explicit ads.

The results indicate that the implicit ads produced higher number of fixations and longer gaze durations on the ad pictorials and texts than the explicit ads. Moreover, increased attention to the implicit ads transformed into higher memory and preference scores for the brands of the implicit ads as compared to the explicit ads. Thus, the results suggest that increasing consumers’ processing of the ad message leads into increased attention, memory and preference for the implicit advertisements.

Acknowledgements: The authors thank Ida Maasalo, Mona Moisala, Siiri Helenius and Jukka Toivanen for data collection. The study was supported by Helsingin Sanomat Foundation (#4701609).