Is digital advertising effective under conditions of low attention? : the impact of low attention processing on consumer brand consideration and choice : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Marketing at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
A crucial task for digital advertising is to influence choice despite consumers' lack of attention. Although lack of attention can reduce advertising effectiveness, recent research suggests that incidental exposure to ads while accessing digital content can lead to some outcome for the exposed ads. This evidence prompts four critical questions: (1) is digital advertising effective if processed at low attention; (2) can low attention processing increase brand consideration and choice; (3) what specific brand/product characteristics embedded in the ads are likely to influence the effect; and (4) what measures are appropriate to capture the low attention effects.
To address the questions, three experimental studies (n = 1,423) were conducted in laboratory and online settings. The research manipulates two conditions for low attention processing, namely divided attention and incidental attention. The results show that, at least in the Twitter environment, advertising is effective even under conditions of low attention. Although focused attention still drives the greatest impact, low attention significantly increases the likelihood of target brands being included in the brand consideration and selected as preferred brand choice more than ‘no exposure’. The low attention effects were obtained without subsequent correct respondent recognition. This shows that brand consideration and choice measures were capable of capturing the low attention effects that the recognition measure failed to do. However, the results for source factors – factors that can moderate the effect of stimuli on the outcome – are more nuanced. Brand familiarity, utilitarian/hedonic products, rational/emotional appeals, and (mis)matching between appeals and brands affect the results in some unexpected ways when they interact with low attention.
The thesis makes substantive contributions to the application of attention theory in advertising research, testing methodology for ads that are not actively processed, and design of advertising that can work at low attention. The findings are particularly relevant to address current phenomena such as multitasking, multiscreening, and ad avoidance behaviour. Unless advertisers understand how to make advertising work at low attention, the practice of bombarding consumers with attention-grabbing ads will continue to rise, and ad avoidance will accelerate, which in turn, will put advertising at a greater risk of being wasted.