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Marketing Professor Finds Unintended Consequences to Some Advertising

Alice When businesses pay millions of dollars to advertise, they don't expect to make their potential customers mad at them. But new research by a University of Iowa marketing professor suggests that in some cases, they might be doing just that.

Alice Wang, an assistant professor in the Tippie College of Business, said that television viewers and magazine readers look poorly on advertisements if they are entertained by the story the ad interrupts. In fact, she said, the more engrossed viewers are in the story, the more intense their negative reaction will be to the advertised product.

"The research shows that advertisers may need to reassess what kind of advertising they use, and at what point in the media program they put their advertising," said Wang. She said the negative reaction stems from an interruption in the reader's or viewer's "transportation experience;" that is, the ability of the story to transport the viewer into the fictional world of the narrative.

Wang started her research in 2002, while finishing her Ph.D. at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She compiled her information by inviting student volunteers to read short magazine stories with advertisements featured in different places. She then asked the students questions to determine how engrossed they were in their reading, and for their reactions to the advertisement interrupting their reading. The research showed that the more transported the reader was into the story, the more negative reaction that person had to the advertised product, if the advertisement intruded on their transportation experience.

"If the ad interrupts the transportation experience, this in itself creates a negative experience associated with the ad," she wrote with her co-author, Bobby Calder, a marketing professor at Northwestern. "However, if an ad does not interfere with this process, say by occurring after the story is complete, the positive experience of transportation will be associated with the ad."

The study has ramifications for advertisers and media that sell advertising, Wang said, because it will require advertisers to put more thought into the types of media where they buy their advertising, the kinds of commercials they produce, and where in the program their advertisements are placed. For instance, Wang said television advertisers will be scrambling to put their commercials in the least offensive spot in a program. This will also benefit consumers or the general media audience, Wang said, because careful advertising placements can maximize consumers' enjoyable transportation experience with the media content.

Wang said her research suggests that there are variables that can counteract the negative reaction to breaking the transportation experience. She is currently working on several follow up projects and she hopes future research will better define some of those variables.

Wang's and Calder's paper, "Media Transportation and Advertising," was published by the University of Chicago in the September 2006 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.


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