Modern content: High-energy ads keep eyes from wandering

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Advertisers, take note. Researchers from the University of Notre Dame say energy is key to captivating modern audiences. Their study reveals viewers are more likely to watch and not drift away from high energy television commercials.

Study authors analyzed over 27,000 TV commercials shown on major U.S. networks between 2015 and 2018, as well as the majority of Super Bowl ads from 1969 to 2020. In short, the analysis found that more energetic commercials hold viewers’ attention longer and keep them from switching the channel.

Researchers made use of Spotify’s “measure of energy” system in their song tracks. Spotify defines energy as “a perceptual measure of intensity and powerful activity released throughout the track. Typical energetic tracks feel fast, loud, and noisy.”

The study reports energy levels measured in commercials had a strong connection to a viewer’s psychological state of arousal. Specifically, this refers to “the subjective experience of energy mobilization, which can be conceptualized as an affective dimension ranging from sleepy to frantic excitement.”

When asked, the top five keywords mentioned by study participants to describe high energy commercials were “fast,” “music,” “movement,” “upbeat,” and “exciting.”

Certain products hit better with certain audiences

To start, the research team put together an algorithmic framework to measure energy levels in video ads. Then, they compared those measurements to “human-perceived energy levels,” ultimately revealing that the two factors are related to the level of arousal stimulated by commercials.

“The positive association between energy levels in ad content and ad-tuning is statistically significant after controlling for placement and other aspects of commercials,” says study author Joonhyuk Yang, assistant professor of marketing at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, in a university release.

It’s important to note, however, that this association varied across both product categories and program genres.

“High-energy food and beverage commercials are likely to be viewed longer when placed within entertainment and news programs, but not in sports programs,” Prof. Yang adds, “while energetic health and beauty commercials are viewed for shorter periods of time when placed in sports programs.”

Are you in a shopping state of mind?

Targeted advertising campaigns typically focus on a specific audience the product to looking to entice, as well as various locations and behaviors. Study authors believe these findings bring another consideration to the advertising table: The emotional or psychological state of viewers.

“By matching the energy level of ad content with consumers’ state of mind, we believe advertisers can expect higher levels of acceptance and effectiveness of their messages,” Prof. Yang explains. “For instance, advertisers might want to vary the energy level of their ad content between day and night.”

Ads can’t be loud anymore

For decades, advertisers would crank up the volume during TV commercials so the ads were much louder than the actual TV programs. In 2010, however, the CALM (Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation) Act mandated that the average loudness of an ad could not exceed the average loudness of the program the viewer is watching. Since then, advertisers and networks alike have had to be more creative with their ad content.

When sculpting a new TV commercial or series of ads, Professor Yang recommends that advertisers pre-screen and compare content with A/B tests. In other words, show a portion of test viewers one version of a commercial, then show a different cohort a slightly different cut.

“Recall that the effect varies across product markets and likely across media outlets, including digital advertising,” Prof. Yang concludes. “I hope this study motivates the initiation of such testing as well as for providing initial guidelines on designing such studies. Also, we want to showcase the importance of careful feature engineering of ad content when relating it to consumer behavior. I would be more than happy to help practitioners who are interested in moving forward.”

The findings appear in the Journal of Marketing Research.

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