Highlights - July 2015

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Many television advertisers express fears that frenetic multitaskers using smartphones, laptops, and tablets while viewing TV are becoming less receptive to advertisers' messages.

However, a new study published in the journal Marketing Science refutes this conventional wisdom and concludes that the "second screen" puts a virtual store in every consumer's pocket. Multitasking viewers now browse and even buy advertised products within moments of seeing a commercial.

The researchers asked two questions:

  1. Do TV ads drive web traffic and sales?
  2. If so, how does it work?

Here's what their study revealed:

  • First, TV ads do prompt viewers to browse. The researchers matched a large panel dataset of Internet browsing and shopping with data about $3.4 billion of TV advertising spent by twenty large brands, including Amazon, AT&T, Target, and Domino's. Specifically, moments after a brand advertisement airs on TV, there tends to be a spike in traffic to the brand's Web page.
  • Second, whether this increase in traffic results in an increase in sales depends on the ad content. To investigate the effect, the researchers employed a small army of research assistants to code the content of over a thousand different TV ads. The researchers found that different types of ads elicit different patterns of online activity. Action-focused ads — those commercials that seek to prompt a specific action like a phone call or a web visit — increase both the chance that a viewer visits the brand website and the probability of purchase after visitation.

The study also examined whether ads that use direct-response tactics — like flashing URLs repeatedly or offering a short-term price promotion — increased brand website traffic or sales by multitaskers. It turns out that they increased both traffic and sales.

The researchers also found that ads that used a lot of emotional or informative arguments produced two seemingly contradictory effects: They actually reduced traffic to the website, while simultaneously increasing purchases among those who did visit — and the net impact on sales was positive.

The researchers hypothesize that these type of ads help resolve consumer uncertainty about whether the advertised product matches their preferences,...

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