Over the past decade alone, the mediums in which advertisements are viewed have grown rapidly. From television ads and billboards to social media and app advertisements, the various options of exposure have exploded. Yet, with all this potential, ad runs must beg the question of campaign fatigue or wearout. The concept of wearout, or the decline of a response to an ad, is challenging to study since ad exposure cannot exist in a vacuum. Technology provides numerous instantaneous luxuries and distractions making it more challenging to capture the attention of the consumer. As the window of attention shrinks, innovative methods of exposure to products are becoming more important. Gaining consumer insight into the values, disadvantages and priorities of an ad campaign offers a strong foundation in discovering the formula to an effective ad.
Time to Make a Choice
Convenience is a huge factor as to why people are choosing to use on-demand services as opposed to traditional television. One appeal of streaming media is the limited number of ads, forcing ad agencies to seek out ways to create more engaging content. Personalizing ads is commonly seen on Hulu, where viewers can choose which ad to watch. This method is known as advertisement choice, where the consumer is given more agency via selective exposure (Nettelhorst, Jetter, Brannon & Entring, 2017). Having choice creates more favorable attitudes (Schlosser & Shavitt, 2009) and desirability (Ackerman & Gross, 2006).
Research has consistently shown women to be more interested, informed and impacted by ads compared to men. Why? Centering an individual’s attention on an ad is a huge element in making an impact, and women are more likely to remain more focused on the ad. Similarly, the ability to choose ads has a stronger impact on women (Nettelhorst, Jeter & Brannon, 2014). More ad options create a cognitive reaction to the messaging, focusing attention. However, there can be a point of oversaturation too, known as choice overload (Nettelhorst et al, 2017). Too many options can lead an individual to feel overwhelmed (choice paralysis) and dissatisfied. Cognitive and behavioral outcomes are influenced by many variables, making it hard to predict the impact of personal choice. However, we do know for sure that the ad message is lost unless the consumer is attentive and engaged.
Campaign wearout occurs when the effectiveness of an ad starts to wane over time. Effectiveness can be measured in several different ways, including sales, purchase intent, consumer awareness and brand/product recall. Individual behavior, such as online browsing behaviors, website cookies or television channel changes, can help profile consumers and segments (Chae, Bruno & Feinberg, 2019) to provide a better understanding of target audiences. The ultimate goal of any campaign is to create and increase familiarity with a brand, leading to purchase or some sort of action. Market researchers for campaigns try to uncover what design and approach will best benefit a return on investment of ads and other components of a campaign for marketers. Many companies favor repeating campaigns because of the cost benefits and increasing consumer views. However, negative associations and inattention can be byproducts of overplaying an ad (Calder & Sternthal, 1980).
Campaign reach, or the number of views, can depend on the platforms (mobile, cable tv, streaming services, etc.) for the ads. Viewership can dramatically fluctuate between platforms— up to 50 times based on online advertising versus traditional channels (Chae, Bruno & Feinberg, 2019). For example, ads on TV are often connected to online searches to predict market performance. Joo, Wilbur and Zhu (2016) found that consumers tend to search brand related words (such as “Geico”) rather than a generic word (such as “car insurance”) when initial exposure is from a TV ad. Retargeting is when a consumer is nudged towards a product through online ads, such as banners, after the consumer already demonstrated interest in the product, but do not purchase it. Additionally, retargeting displaces or blocks competitor ads from consumers (Sahni, Narayanan, & Kalyanam, 2019). The use of online retargeting has become a more popular tactic to increase user engagement and lure consumers back to the product.
Crossovers, or when campaign ads are featured on multiple platforms, are becoming more frequently implemented as marketing networks become more interconnected. Online exposure and traditional channels utilize similar attempts to keep content engaging. Interchangeable variables of an ad, such as the format or phrasing, are paired with an underlining consistent component. Yet, extreme personalization of styles and plots can each separately influence how a consumer will respond (Chang, 2009), furthering the notion that fatigue for ad exposure is a truly individualized experience (Chae, Bruno & Feinberg, 2019). So, if repetition and customization tend to have varying effects, what’s the point of investing in ads at all?
Current research on campaign wearout is full of contradictions. Along with the need for clarification about what qualifies as campaign wearout, identifying wearout may depend on the format or field setting. Consumer research labs analyze the individual response, while empirical market-level studies consider a macro view. Furthermore, most of the research analyzing ad fatigue focuses on the behavioral components (such as market success), while empirical evidence (showing direct cause and effect) regarding campaign wearout is scarce. When reviewing a more macro level sample, insignificant changes were found in various studies testing themes, format models, and exposure levels (Chae, Bruno & Feinberg, 2019). While there are benefits and limitations to both styles of research, noting various perspectives on campaign wearout helps to develop a comprehensive, informed understanding of the concept’s complexity. More research is needed to better understand and predict campaign fatigue.
A Quick Trip Down ~Memory~ Lane
Advertisements can be categorized into different subsets based on how a company executes a segment. For example, an ad is generally considered either an argumentative or narrative ad. Narrative ads include stories or experiences of a relatable character, while an argumentative ad focuses on justifying the reasons for a claim (Chang, 2009). A narrative ad typically includes a plot to entice viewers to remain engaged. Yet, more complicated ads can lead to consumer confusion and misunderstanding. Within the realm of narrative ads, the extensive plots lead to less favorable ad attitudes when compared to more consistent plot strategies (Chang, 2009). To easily capture the consumer’s attention and understanding, keep it simple.
Most research that has been conducted on campaign fatigue centers on the immediate reactions to varying levels of exposure. Increasing exposure (viewers) allows for more opportunities for consumers to get the message (Schmidt & Eisend, 2015). However, more views do not directly cause a consumer to run out and purchase the product. Rather than focusing on the direct impact, the long-term effects must also be valued. Just look at how back-to-school ads often start only a few weeks into the summer and holiday items are quick to be pushed into the ad circuit. Expanding the duration of seasonal shopping, such as holiday items in August, can have surprising benefits for participating brands.
Kronrod and Huber (2018) found long-term benefits of a high initial frequency ad that promotes a product lacking inherent need, such as makeup or headphones. The study concluded that although there are immediate negative effects to high frequency ads; ultimately, the fatigue itself wears off and positive familiarity of the brand persists when considering purchases. Furthermore, measuring the effects of ad repetition may not be appropriate during the campaign, since this study supports that opinions (and buying decisions) change over time. Familiarity and fluency are key features of durable ad messaging.
So, where do we go from here?
Plan and reflect on the product, your goals and the demographic you want to target for your campaign. Prioritize among expenditure, exposure or engagement to help you shape the components you are willing to optimize or sacrifice. Determining your company’s position may differ depending on the type of brand or product involved, since budgets and objectives vary among companies. Knowing the key focus will also provide some leeway in experimentations. New concepts are constantly being tested to determine alternative ways to share content. Some weigh engagement based on desirability, while others focus on more data-driven responses to build interactions. Defining your company’s position on engagement will guide you to decide what type of research approach you wish to employ.
Testing ads on Facebook is an easy and cheap way to connect consumers to content; however, exposure may not equate to engagement. Grabbing consumers attention on a site that is saturated with information can be challenging. Pre-testing exploratory research can cater to developing attractive content. Similarly, pre-testing can ensure that the correct platform is being used to target specific demographics. For example, companies are shifting their emphasis from traditional consumer markets to internet-based commercial activity to gain insight into effective marketing channels. Confirming that your target demographic interacts with those channels provides security that the content is viewed. Similarly, testing the ads to best fit the format of the varying mediums (ex. a Youtube ad vs a banner) can help determine where attention is being drawn. Merging the information understood about ad content with innovative platforms will help determine a campaign approach most beneficial for the company needs.
Long-term familiarity is a consistent objective in order to draw consumers into a product. The target consumer, amount of exposure and cost must be deliberately chosen to minimize surprise during a campaign ad run. Chae, Bruno and Feinberg (2019) summarize the most crucial components of a harmonious ad campaign by sharing that “…it is vital to understand the relative effectiveness across users, within-user over repetition and spacing of exposures, and the channels to reach those users.” By hitting these key elements, and considering the emotional implications of an ad, there can be a stronger indicator of success not necessarily during the airing of an ad, but where it counts the most—during checkout.
For more information on how HCD can help you uncover valuable insights into your brand, product, messaging, please reach out to Allison Gutkowski (Allison.Gutkowski@hcdi.net).
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