Consumer Psychology

Snacking Causes Ad Blindness: Implications for Digital Marketing [Study]

Pop chewing gum in your mouth before you’re exposed to advertising, and you’ll be immune from that advertising.  That’s the finding of a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology (full paper) which found that the effects of advertising, both physiological and attitudinal, were completely obliterated by chewing gum during exposure to advertising.

How on Earth does chewing gum – or popcorn (but not eating a sugar cube) – interfere with advertising?  The answer is deceptively simple.  The route of advertising from the screen to our brains is mediated by our minds automatically reflecting what we see by ‘pre-vocalising’ it – we appropriate advertising messages by automatically and silently articulating them to ourselves.  Chewing can interfere with this process – causing ‘oral motor-interference’. So chewing whilst being exposed to advertising renders advertising – in the words of the researchers from the University of Wuerzburg – ‘futile‘.

Although the  study was run in a movie-theatre, not on a digital screen – there are important implications for digital advertising.

  • First, avoid advertising at meal or snack times, when people are eating, since ads are likely to be less effective.
  • And second, avoid advertising in social situations – when people are talking to each other – advertising here will also be less effective.
  • Third, and by extension, avoid adverting around digital content that is the focus of the audience – i.e. avoid banner ads – since we’ll be pre-vocalising the content that we are focusing on – not the ad, thereby rendering the ad ineffective
  • On the other hand, digital advertising is likely to be most effective when it is completely interruptive  – interrupting the flow of other content.

In other words – interruptive advertising rules for digital advertising effectiveness.



Popcorn in the cinema: Oral interference sabotages advertising effects

Journal of Consumer Psychology, Volume 24, Issue 2, April 2014, Pages 169-176

by Sascha Topolinski, Sandy Lindner, Anna Freudenberg

One important psychological mechanism of advertising is mere exposure inducing positive attitudes towards brands. Recent basic research has shown that the underlying mechanism of mere exposure for words, in turn, is the training of subvocal pronunciation, which can be obstructed by oral motor-interference. Commercials for foreign brands were shown in cinema sessions while participants either ate popcorn, chewed gum (oral interference) or consumed a single sugar cube (control). Brand choice and brand attitudes were assessed one week later. While control participants more likely spent money (Experiment 1, N = 188) and exhibited higher preference and physiological responses (Experiment 2, N = 96) for advertised than for novel brands, participants who had consumed popcorn or gum during commercials showed no advertising effects. It is concluded that advertising might be futile under ecological situations involving oral interference, such as snacking or talking, which ironically is often the case.

Chartered psychologist specialising in consumer behaviour, wellbeing and technology. Certified CX professional experienced in Design Thinking. A researcher, writer and speaker, Paul is head of Digital Insight at SYZYGY.

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