Users= Attitudes Toward Web Advertising: Effects of Internet Motivation and Internet Ability

Zheng Zhou, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Yeqing Bao, University of Alabama
ABSTRACT - The development of Internet as a new advertising medium calls for research on consumers’ attitude toward web advertising. With this in mind, this study proposed and empirically tested a model exploring the impact of Internet motivation and ability on users’ attitude toward web advertising. Results showed that users with high social escapism motivation hold a favorable attitude toward Web advertising because of the perceived entertainment, users with high Internet ability hold a favorable attitude toward Web adverting because of the perceived informativeness, and users with high information motivation hold a favorable attitude toward Web adverting because of both the perceived entertainment and the perceived informativeness.
[ to cite ]:
Zheng Zhou and Yeqing Bao (2002) ,"Users= Attitudes Toward Web Advertising: Effects of Internet Motivation and Internet Ability", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 71-78.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Pages 71-78


Zheng Zhou, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Yeqing Bao, University of Alabama


The development of Internet as a new advertising medium calls for research on consumers’ attitude toward web advertising. With this in mind, this study proposed and empirically tested a model exploring the impact of Internet motivation and ability on users’ attitude toward web advertising. Results showed that users with high social escapism motivation hold a favorable attitude toward Web advertising because of the perceived entertainment, users with high Internet ability hold a favorable attitude toward Web adverting because of the perceived informativeness, and users with high information motivation hold a favorable attitude toward Web adverting because of both the perceived entertainment and the perceived informativeness.


Advertising in the World Wide Web arouses great interest of researchers as well as marketers due to its tremendous growth and its distinctive characteristics. Many studies have been conducted to examine Web advertising’s unique characteristics (e.g., Blattberg and Deighton 1991; Glossbrenner and Glossbrenner 1995), measurement issues (e.g., Dreze and Zufryden 1997; Harvery 1997; McDonald 197), and effectiveness (e.g., Briggs and Hollis 1997; Maddox and Mehta 1997). These studies show that Web advertising in general has a positive effect on the receivers. For example, Briggs and Hollis (1997) find that online users form a favorable attitude toward Web ads even without click-through.

In assessing the effectiveness of Web advertising, most studies have focused on the structural features of Web advertising such as the characteristics of the message (cf. Rodgers and Thorson 2000). While these studies greatly help us understand the influence of Internet’s unique structural features upon users’ information processing, they have not revealed much insight into the process through which Internet users perceive the advertising. Internet users are more active, selective and constructive in information processing than users in traditional media (Coupey 1999). They are "not simply reacting to Internet ads, they are using these ads to accomplish their goals" (Rodgers and Thorson 2000, p. 3). In the Web medium, businesses of the virtual community must understand and address the empowered customer’s needs and goals to be profitable (Hagel and Armstrong 1997).

The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to examine the "why" aspects of users’ Internet motivations and to explain how consumers form their attitudes towards Web ads through the pursuit of their goals. More specifically, we explore how different Internet motivations direct users’ attentions and perceptions of Web advertising differently, which consequently influence their attitudes toward Web ads. Considering that one needs some prerequisite knowledge and basic skill in order to use the Internet (Hoffman and Novak 1996), we also investigate how users’ ability to use the Internet affects their attitudes toward Web advertising. Figure 1 shows the model delineating these relationships.


Web Advertising

Generally, Web advertising refers to the small, hyperlinked pixel banners popping up on Web sites (Briggs and Hollis 1997). It can also be presented in a number of other forms such as hyperlinks, interstitials, and pop-ups (Rodgers and Thorson 2000). Advertising on the Web differs from those in traditional outlets such as television, radio and print in three fundamental ways. First, compared with traditional ads, Web ads are more relevant to consumers (Ducoffe 1996). This implies that online users tend to perceive the ads to be self-related or instrumental in achieving their needs and values (MacInnis and Jaworshi 1989). As Ducoffe (1996) points out, Web advertising can take advantage of addressable media technology to select appropriate ads that fit with users’ online behaviors, and thus make the ads more relevant to consumers. Second, Web ads can be presented vividly in various formats such as video, sound, text, or their combinations (Coupey 1999). Vivid information may attract users’ attention much easier due to its sensory effects (Kisielius and Sternthal 1984). So vivid Web ads, such as animation plus text, may increase the opportunity for consumers to process the ads. For example, when users are reading some news on the Internet, the animated banner with flashing text may attract their attention quite easily.

Finally, Web advertising has an advantage over other media advertising in that it might be perceived as less annoying or irritating (Ducoffe 1996). Traditional media ads, especially TV and radio commercials, often come out and forcefully interrupt consumers’ attention from the media context. As a result, it is not surprising to see that consumers’ attitudes toward general advertising continue to be negative in the US over an extended period (Alwitt and Prabhaker 1994). Compared with general advertising, Web advertising is perceived as less irritating and more acceptable because online users have an overall control of what they want to access (Schlosser, Shavitt, and Kanfer 1999). This positive characteristic might increase Web advertising’ effectiveness (Ducoffe 1996; Eighmey 1997).

The distinctive characteristics of Web advertising provide it a sound ground to be easily accepted by consumers. As Briggs and Hollis (1997) find, Internet users even form a favorable attitude toward Web ads without click-through the ads. However, in the Web medium, consumers are highly active and selective. Ultimately whether a type of advertising is acceptable or not depends on consumers’ perception of whether the ad could satisfy their goals (Rodgers and Thorson 2000). Consequently, consumers’ perception of Web advertising will influence their attitudes toward Web advertising.

Attitude toward Web Advertising

A characteristic distinguishing the Web as an advertising medium from the traditional advertising media is its high interactivity. Although people can choose which TV channel to watch, which radio station to listen to, and which column of newspaper to read, no media like Internet can give users the power to collect and tailor the exact information according to their own preferences (Coupey 1999). Internet users, accordingly, are characterized as highly active, selective, and constructive because they can control when and how to view certain information, and tailor the information to their particular needs and preferences by various point-and-click actions (Hoffman and Novak 1996). Therefore, in such a medium, consumers are not simply reacting to Web advertising but utilizing these ads to achieve their goals or needs (Rodgers and Thorson 2000).

Needs, the requirements for something essential or desirable that is lacking, could be utilitarian and/or hedonic (MacInnis and Jaworski 1989). Utilitarian needs mean the requirement for information or products in order to solve a problem or finish a task, while hedonic needs refer to the requirement for information or products in order to provide social or aesthetic pleasure (Park and Young 1986). Accordingly, the perceptual antecedents of users’ attitudes toward advertising can be classified into two broad aspects, informativeness and entertainment, based on their functions in satisfying user’s utilitarian or hedonic needs (Ducoffe 1996).



Specifically, Informativeness refers to the ability of ads to effectively convey and pass the information to the targeted consumers (Ducoffe 1996). As noted by Andrews (1989), the informativeness of ads is the core consumer belief underlying its inherent economic benefits. Entertainment reflects whether an ad is perceived to be pleasant or likable. Former studies show that entertaining advertising can fulfill audience needs for escapism, diversion, aesthetic enjoyment, or emotional release, and thus, have a positive impact on consumers’ attitudes toward the advertising and correspondent brands (Mitchell and Olson 1981).

Therefore, if a Web ad satisfies consumers’ utilitarian needs or hedonic needs, consumers would perceive the ad as informative or entertaining. This perceived informativeness or entertainment will then lead to a favorable attitude toward Web advertising. Therefore, we hypothesize,

H1a: The greater the perceived informativeness, the more likely one possesses a favorable attitude toward Web advertising.

H1b: The greater the perceived entertainment, the more likely one possesses a favorable attitude toward Web advertising.

Internet Motivation, Internet Ability and Perception of Web Advertising

While surfing the Internet, consumers actively seek to satisfy their needs or goals. The drives, urges, wishes, or desires that initiate behaviors in order to satisfy one’s needs is referred to as motivation (MacInnis and Jaworski 1989). It can be classified as extrinsic or intrinsic depending on whether it can gratify the utilitarian or hedonic needs (Celsi and Olson, 1988). In the process of pursuing their goals, consumers may perceive Web ads as either informative or entertaining if the ads match their motivations. Therefore, users with various motivations may perceive Web advertising via different ways.

In a multivariate analysis of Web usage, Korgaonkar and Wolin (1999) find that the intrinsic motivation of Web users consists of social escapism motivation, interactive control motivation, and socialization motivation, while the extrinsic motivation includes information motivation and economic motivation. Among them, social escapism motivation and information motivation are the leading factors in stimulating consumers to continuously use the Web. Thus, attention is focused on these two types of motivation in this study.

Information motivation means consumers use the Web mainly for their self-education and information needs (Korgaonkar and Wolin 1999). This information-seeking orientation has led to the popularity of the Web and is still drawing more users to this medium (Schlosser, Shavitt, and Kanfer 1999). For consumers with information motivation, their perceptions toward Web advertising depend on whether the ad can provide them with the useful information they need.

As an information source, Internet is actually a double-edged sword. On one hand, Internet users can get nearly indefinite information as they wish. The amount and depth of information Internet users can acquire is much greater than traditional media users can (Coupey 1999). On the other hand, the problem of information overload is becoming more and more serious for Internet users with information motivation. For example, the Internet search engine will generate tons of searching results so that sometimes it is really difficult for one to pick up the useful information he/she needs (Ducoffe 1996). Consequently, the huge amount of information increases users’ information searching cost and decreases the value of each piece of the information (Hoque and Lohse 1999). Under such situation, Web advertising as an information source is particularly helpful to users with information motivation. First, the high vividnes of Web ads can easily attract users’ attention, and, consequently, decrease their fatigue in discerning the useful information from others on a computer screen (Webster, Trevino, and Ryan 1993). Second, when users switch their attention to Web ads, it is highly possible for them to process the information in the ads because of the high relevance of Web ads (Celsi and Olson 1988). Furthermore, Web advertising can be updated very easily and flexibly thus can provide in-time information to users (Ducoffe 1996). Finally, users could get detailed information after they click-through. The limitation of time compression in traditional media ads (e.g., a 30-second TV ad) vanishes (Labarvera and Maclaughlin 1979). Therefore, users with information motivation could achieve a high gratification in information seeking through Web ads and thus perceive Web advertising as very informative. For these reasons, we propose,

H2a: The higher the information motivation, the more likely one perceives Web advertising as informative.

Higher information motivation might also lead one to perceive Web advertising as entertaining. First, as discussed earlier, it is the high vividness of Web ads that attracts users’ attention to the advertisements. Second, researchers find that, in a human-computer interacting environment, task accomplishment (e.g., finding the information needed) brings one the sense of self-efficacy, competence, and self-determination, which would positively influence the perceived enjoyment of computer programs (Davis, Bagozzi, and Warshaw 1992; Hill, Smith, and Mann 1987). Therefore, when highly vivid Web ads provide users timely and relevant information they need, users are likely to perceive them as enjoyable as well. This leads to the following hypothesis,

H2b: The higher the information motivation, the more likely one perceives Web advertising as entertaining.

As indicated earlier, consumers actively pursue their goals while surfing online. They may perceive Web advertising as informative or entertaining depending on the match between their motivations and the ads. Since the goal of consumers with high information motivation is to look for useful information, they may pay more attention to the informativeness of an ad than its entertaining aspect. Thus, we hypothesize,

H2c: Information motivation is more strongly related to perceived informativeness than to perceived entertainment of Web advertising.

Social escapism motivation refers to consumers’ motives of using the Web as a relaxant to relieve day-to-day boredom and stress (Korgaonkar and Wolin 1999). For these consumers, the Web is gratifying in that it can provide diversion, arouse emotions and feeling, and provide aesthetic enjoyment. That is, users with social escapism motivation seek to satisfy their hedonic needs in their online surfing, a process perceived to be a pleasurable, fun, and enjoyable activity that allows one to escape from reality. Therefore, these users’ perceptions toward Web advertising mainly depend on whether the Web ads can provide them with aesthetic enjoyment and lead them to the relief of day-to-day boredom. With a vivid presentation, Web advertising could attract users’ attention more easily due to its sensory effects (Steuer 1992). In addition, it is easy for a user to get tired when tracking what they want from the tremendous information obtained from the Web. The high vividness of Web advertising, hence, can attenuate users’ fatigue and bring them the sense of enjoyment (Webster, Trevino, and Ryan 1993). Therefore, users seeking social escape are likely to perceive Web ads as entertaining. However, these users mainly focus on the enjoyment of their interactive behaviors. They may not perceive Web advertising as informative because the information aspect of Web ads can not satisfy their social escape needs. Hence, it is proposed that,

H3a: Social escapism motivation is not related to one’s perceived informativeness of Web advertising.

H3b: The higher the social escapism motivation, the more likely one perceives Web advertising as entertaining.

The Internet as a relatively new technology requires some prerequisite ability for one to use it. Ability refers to one’s proficiency in skill performance and is largely a function of the domain knowledge that consumers have acquired from the experience (MacInnis and Jaworski 1989). In the Internet usage context, we define consumers’ Internet ability as the skill or proficiency in surfing the Internet. Low ability might hinder Internet users from fulfilling their needs (Hoffman and Novak 1996), and, thus, influence their perceptions of Web advertising.

As a new communication medium, the Internet may be unfamiliar to some users. New users are paying more attention to the novelty and interesting aspect of the Internet. Over time, when they gradually become familiar and informed with the Internet, they would realize advantages and disadvantages of the information obtained from the Web. Then the importance of the informativeness of Web ads becomes more salient to them. In contrary, once users get used to surfing the Internet, the novelty and the entertainment of the Web will become less attractive to them. Thus they will pay less attention to the entertainment aspect of Web advertising. Therefore, we hypothesize,

H4a: The higher the Internet ability, the more likely one perceives Web advertising as informative.

H4b: The higher the Internet ability, the less likely one perceives Web advertising as entertaining.


Data Collection and Sample

Because of their good access to the Internet, college students provide a sound ground for studying consumer's online behaviors (Korgaonkar and Wolin 1999). A pencil-paper survey was constructed to collect data from college students. Students from a large Southern State university participated in the survey for extra credit. A pretest was conducted among 59 students to refine the measures. Four weeks later, another 116 students participated in the final study. All subjects were undergraduate students, among which, 74. 1% were junior, 44% werefernale, and most were in their early twenties (57.8% were 20 years old).


The measures for the constructs of this study were developed based upontherelevant literature. Some measures were adapted from previous studies while others were developed especially for this study. All constructs were measured with Likert scale items ranging from I "Strongly Agree" to 7 "Strongly Disagree" (see Appendix).

Several steps were taken to refine the measures. First, a pretest was conducted to develop the measurements that were suitable for college student samples. After an exploratory factor analysis and reliability analysis, we dropped items based on item-total correlation and cross loading and included twenty-one items in the final questionnaire. Then, for the final data set, we further refined the measures with a confirmatory factor analysis by putting all measures into a model using Amos 4 (Arbuckle and Wotlike 1999). After dropping four items (indicated in the Appendix) that possessed excessively high residuals, we were able to obtain a six-factor confirmatory measurement model that fits the data satisfactorily (X2 = 122.73, df = 104, p = 0.10; goodness-of-fit index [GFI] = 0.90, comparative fit index [CFI] = 0.99, Tucker-Lewis index [TLI] = 0.98; RMSEA = 0.040). The X2 test was insignificant; the goodness-of-fit measures all exceeded Bollen's (1989, p. 274).90 rule of thumb; and the composite reliabilities for all constructs were well-above the usual 0.70 benchmark (Nunnally 1978), with the highest for information motivation (.95) and lowest for attitude toward Web advertising (.80). These results indicate the unidimensionaility and reliability of the measures. Further, all factor loadings were statistically significant (p < 0.01); the item reliabilities for 15 of 17 loadings and the average extracted variance of each construct exceeded the arbitrary .50 standard (Bagozzi and Yi 1988). Thus, these measures display adequate within-method convergent validity. Moreover, all the cross-construct correlations were significantly smaller than 11.001 (p < .01), signifying the discriminant validity of these measures (Philips 1981). Overall, these results show that the measures in this study possess satisfactory construct validity. The results of measurement analysis are reported in Table 1.



Structural equation method was used to test the proposed relationships in the conceptual model. The analysis was conducted using Amos 4 with maximum likelihood as the estimation method (Arbuckle and Wothke 1999). Results are reported in the following section.




Hypotheses Testing

Overall, the model fits the data satisfactorily (X2 = 128.24, df 107, p = 0.079; GFI = 0.90, CFI = 0.98, TLI = 0.98; RMSEA = 0.042) and results of the analysis give strong support for the hypotheses. Table 2 exhibits the results of hypotheses testing.

HI hypothesizes that the overall attitude toward Web advertising is positively influenced by perceived informativeness (H1a) and perceived entertainment (H1b). Table 2showsthat perceived informativeness has a positive effect on the overall attitude toward Web advertising (¯ = 0,629, p < 0.001), and the perceived entertainment also positively affects the overall attitude toward Web advertising (¯ 0.243, p < 0.01). Therefore, both Hla and Hlb were supported.

H2 deals with the relationships between information motivation and perceptions of Web advertising. Consistent with H2a and H2b, we found that information motivation to be positively related to perceived informativeness (¯1 = 0.494, p < 0.001) as well as perceived entertainment (¯2 = 0.271, p < 0.01). To test H2c, the magnitudes of coefficient estimates were first compared and the result (P1 > P2) was consistent with H2c. A further t-test showed that information motivation is more strongly related to perceived informativeness than to perceived entertainment (t = 1.713, p < .05). Therefore, H2c was supported.

H3 argues that social escapism motivation is only positively related to perceived entertainment (H3b), but not associate with perceived informativeness (H3a). Results show that social escapism motivation was positively related to perceived entertainment (¯3 = 0.388, p < 0.001), but not related to perceived informativeness (¯ = 0.127, n.s.), supporting both H3a and H3b.

H4 hypothesizes that users' Internet ability is positively related to perceived informativeness (H4a), but negatively related to perceived entertainment (H4b). Our data well supported H4a (¯ = 0.184, p < 0.05), indicating that the more proficient the users, the more they appreciate the capability of Web advertising in providing information. H4b was not supported (¯= -0.102, n.s.), although the sign was in the expected direction.

We have proposed important relationships among constructs in the model. However, some other relationships such as possible moderating effects and mediation effects, might also be interesting to investigate. For this purpose, some post analysis was conducted.

Post Analysis

In our model, no interaction effect is proposed. However, one might argue that the Internet ability might moderate the relationship between motivation and attitudes toward Web advertising, since ability is usually treated as a moderator in the literature of traditional media advertising (e.g., Celsi and Olson 1988; MacInnis and Jaworski 1989). In order to test the possible moderating effect of Internet ability, we ran three regression models as suggested by Baron and Kenny (1986). All main factors (information motivation, social escapism motivation, and Internet ability) and their interaction terms were entered simultaneously as predictors of the three dependent variables (perceived informativeness, perceived entertainment, and attitudes towards Web advertising). None of the interaction terms were significant and results of the main effects were consistent with those of the structural equation model analysis.


In addition, as the way our model is proposed, perceived entertainment and perceived informativeness are assumed to completely mediate the effects of Internet motivation and Internet ability on users' attitudes toward Web advertising. However, we did not test this assumption formally. It is possible that there still exist some direct effects from Internet motivation and Internet ability over-above the mediation effect. Thus, an alternative structural model was developed by adding the direct effects from information motivation, social escapism motivation, and Internet ability to the overall attitudes toward Web advertising. The alternative model, however, does not provide a significant better fit to the data than the original model (X2 = 122.73, df = 104, p = 0.10; GFI = 0.90, CFI = 0.99, TLI = 0.98; RMSEA = 0.040). A Chi-square difference test indicates that there are no significant difference between these two model (A X2 = 5.51, df = 3, p = 0.14). Further, the results of the alternative model show that, due to mediation effects of perceived informativeness and perceived entertainment, social escapism motivation and information motivation do not have a significant influence on the attitude toward Web advertising, and user's Internet ability only has a marginally impact on one's attitude toward Web advertising (¯ = 0. 160, p = 0.099). Therefore, perceptions of web ads seem to mediate the effects of Internet motivations upon users' attitude toward web advertising quite well.


This study explores the impact of Internet motivations and Internet ability on users' attitude toward Web advertising. It is found that users with high social escapism motivation have favorable attitudes toward Web advertising because they perceive Web ads as enjoyable, and skilled users have favorable attitudes toward Web advertising due to the perceived informativeness, while users with high information motivation have favorable attitudes toward Web advertising because of both the perceived informativeness and the perceived entertainment. Users play a highly active role on the Internet and have actually become part of the Internet in the sense that they can select, edit, and control all the information according to their own preferences. With such a high involvement, it is not surprising to see that users with different types of motivation view Web advertising in different ways.

This study raises some interesting research questions with respect to the role of Internet ability. The facts that H4b was not supported and no moderating effect of Internet ability was found may be due to the low variation of Internet ability in our sample. As a student in a well-wired university, every subject is fairly proficient in using the Internet and the difference between subjects in their Internet ability is relatively small. The variation of this factor may not be large enough to distinguish its relationship with perceived entertainment, and such a small variance might also block the test of moderating effect. However, another possibility is that the role of ability (or domain knowledge) in Web advertising may be different from that in traditional media advertising. Thus the pattern in the traditional media advertising might not show up in this new media advertising, as suggested by the Flow Theory (cf. Hoffman and Novak 1996). In either case, future research is needed to investigate the role of Internet ability in influencing consumer's online behavior.

Findings of this study provide good managerial implications. Since consumers with different types of Internet motivation differ in their attitudes toward Web advertising, e-businesses could segment online consumers along with their Internet motivations and then design specific ads to approach these different segments. For consumers with social escapism motivation, fancy ads with vivid picture and good music might well attract their attention. For consumers with informative motivation, ads not only need to be entertaining but also need to provide sufficient information. Fancy ads with little information might not impress these consumers.

This study also has several limitations. First, this paper only examines the role of two types of Internet motivations: information motivation and social escapism motivation. Future research should extend this model by including other Internet motivations, such as socialization motivation, economic motivation, and interactive control motivation (Korgaonkar and Wolin 1999). Second, it will also be worthwhile to investigate whether other aspects of perception of Web advertising such as irritation (Eighmey 1997), can add explanatory power to this model. For example, experienced users may perceive Web advertising as intolerable [We thank the reviewers for suggesting this point.]. Further, this paper uses a survey to measure consumers' overall attitudes toward Web advertising in general. Future research is encouraged to test user's evaluations of specific ads in a more rigorous way such as experiment.

The Internet, an important and different environment confronting consumers and marketers, has drastically changed the buyer-seller relationship, tipped the power in favor of consumers, and increased consumers' ability to control the information source. Therefore, understanding consumers may be the key to success in this new marketing environment (Hagel and Armstrong 1997; Hoffman and Novak 1996; Rodgers and Thorson 2000). The current study advances a step in understanding why consumers use Web advertising as well as how they perceive Web advertising. Hopefully, more research attention will follow to fully reveal the process through which consumers perceive Web advertising.


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