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TELEVISION ADVERTISING

Researchers study role of TV ad content in driving ‘zapping’ behaviour

By our News Team | 2022

As spending on traditional advertising starts to increase again, marketers must ensure consumers don’t ‘zap’ their TV ads.

Researchers from the pan-European ESCP Business School and the University of Cologne in Germany have published a new paper in the Journal of Marketing, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Marketing Association, that investigates the role of TV ad content in driving or mitigating viewers’ zapping behaviour.

Recent studies show that marketers are increasingly turning from online advertising to traditional media such as TV, in part to exploit its high reach. In February this year, marketers predicted that traditional advertising spending would increase by 2.9%.

Television Advertising

Photo by Andres Ayrton from Pexels

However, effective TV advertising requires exposure, which is jeopardised when viewers deliberately avoid the ads. For instance, when viewers resort to changing the channel (i.e., ‘zapping’) during ad breaks, advertisers lose the ability to communicate the brand message, leading to wasted marketing investment. 

Zapping is also a problem for broadcasters because it diminishes the attractiveness of the channel for advertisers.

First study analyses factors that drive or mitigate zapping

The research project involves two related studies. The first study draws on a unique dataset from a German TV broadcaster to answer the following questions:

  • Which content factors drive or mitigate viewers’ zapping behaviour?
  • Do these effects depend on the type of category?

The dataset comprises information on the viewing behaviour of more than 2 500 individuals, as well as the expert-coded ad content of 1 315 ads that featured on a major German TV show. This content was rated on six factors: informativeness; brand presence (i.e., featuring the brand prominently); brand timing (i.e., showing the brand early in the ad); positive emotionality; creativity; and humour.

Researcher Maren Becker, one of four authors of the study, notes: “Results show that the content of ads does indeed influence consumers’ zapping behaviour. While a high level of creativity in the ads reduces zapping, highly informational content, strong brand presence, and early brand timing increase zapping.”

Becker continues: “Thus, to discourage zapping behaviour, [marketers] should invest in creativity and refrain from too much information and branding cues. Furthermore, the brand should be placed more toward the end of the ad.”

The researchers also conclude that the effects of advertising content on zapping vary significantly with category characteristics. 

As author Thomas Scholdra explains: “We find, for example, that informativeness is more detrimental in terms of zapping where consumers can only judge quality after consumption, or experiential [items] like restaurants, than for goods where consumers can judge quality before consumption.”

The effects of other content factors are category dependent as well – underscoring the need for managers to consider category characteristics when selecting advertising content.

Second study examines why content influences zapping 

In the second study, the authors investigate why these content factors influence zapping. They collected survey information on 11 psychological responses from 3 037 viewers across a subsample of 276 ads. 

Results of this study indicate that irritating content drives zapping. “For advertisers, it is more important to avoid psychological reactions reflecting irritation – such as annoyance or offense – than to elicit favourable reactions [through] entertainment or interest,” says Berkmann. 

Therefore, informativeness, brand presence and brand timing drive zapping by triggering irritation in consumers, while creativity mitigates zapping.

These findings support arguments in previous research that informational and branding cues often evoke consumer scepticism and are perceived as annoying or exaggerated.

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