Special Session Summary Recent Developments in Visual Attention Research

Rik Pieters, Tilburg University
Luk Warlop, University of Leuven
[ to cite ]:
Rik Pieters and Luk Warlop (2002) ,"Special Session Summary Recent Developments in Visual Attention Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 89-90.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Pages 89-90



Rik Pieters, Tilburg University

Luk Warlop, University of Leuven

There is recent surge in consumer behavior research on perceptual processes, in particular on consumers= visual attention during exposure to advertising and other types of marketing communication, and on the antecedents and consequences of attention. The current research stream is in part inspired by Titchener=s (1908) early belief that ?the doctrine of attention is the nerve of the whole psychological system, and that as men judge it, so they shall be judged before the general tribunal of Psychology. ? It is also inspired by the observation that the difference between success and failure of brands, products and advertisements crucially depends on their ability to capture consumers= attention early and long enough to communicate the key brand proposition. The increasing clutter in today=s stores, web-sites, and media adds to the growing interest in attention.

The session included three papers that examine visual attention patterns across different communication contexts, respectively print advertising, catalogues and store shelves. The papers examined bottom-up (stimulus-based) and top-down (person-based) influences on attention and their role in promoting brand memory.

In the first paper, Rik Pieters, Luk Warlop and Michel Wedel examined the effects of stimulus-based (ad originality) and person-based (ad familiarity) factors on the eye-fixations of consumers to print advertisements and how these fixations build memory for the advertised brand.

In the second paper, Chris Janiszewski examined the dynamic aspects of consumers= visual attention. He proposes and tests a model of stimulus and person- factors that determine the sequence of fixations (scanpath) across complex stimuli, such as catalogue pages and store shelves.

In the third paper, Pierre Chandon examined the relationship between consumers visual attention to in-store communication and their retrospective accounts of visual attention, and the impact of person-based factors such as brand familiarity on these relationships.

Wes Hutchinson served as discussant integrating the three papers and stimulating discussion with the audience.



Rik Pieters, Tilburg University

Luk Warlop, University of Leuven

Michel Wedel, University of Groningen and University of Michigan

Rising levels of advertising competition have made it increasingly difficult to attract and hold consumers= attention and to establish strong memory traces for the advertised brand. A common communication strategy to break through this competitive clutter is to increase ad originality (Kover 1995). In fact, to many advertising creatives the soul of advertising effectiveness is originality. However, ad originality may have detrimental effects, when consumers pay more attention to the ad at the expense of the advertised brand. Moreover, the positive effects of originality may quickly wane when the ad becomes familiar. If both negative effects occur at the same time, original advertisements are hurt twice: when they are new by distracting information from the brand, and when they are familiar by lowering attention to the ad overall. Surprisingly, no research to date has examined such brand attention and memory effects of ad originality and familiarity. The current study aims to fill this void. We offer hypotheses based on notions from Mandler=s (1979; 1982) theory of schema organization and recent findings of Wedel and Pieters (2000). Specifically we argue that originality will facilitate increased attention to the brand in the advertisement, that ad familiarity will inhibit attention to the brand in the advertisement, but that the attention decrement due to familiarity is less for original as opposed to ordinary ads. In other words, originality is expected to buffer against negative familiarity effects on attention. In addition, we propose that both ad familiarity and originality promote subsequent brand memory, and that the interaction between the two promotes the highest brand memory.

To test these hypotheses, we propose a stochastic model of the influence that ad originality and familiarity have on consumers= eye fixations to the key elements of advertisements, brand, text and pictorial, and how the information extracted during eye fixations drives memory for the advertised brand. The model explicitly accounts for heterogeneity due to consumers and advertisements.

In the study, infrared eye tracking was applied to collect eye fixation data from 119 consumers who freely paged through a general-audience magazine with 31 full-page advertisements. Memory for the advertised brands was assessed with an indirect memory task (identify the advertised brand from a pixilated version of the ad). Separate samples of judges indicated the originality and familiarity of the advertisements.

The model was estimated on these data using MCMC methods. In support of our hypotheses, original advertisements drew more attention and familiar advertisements drew less attention to the advertised brand. More importantly however, advertisements that were both original and familiar attracted the largest amount of attention to the advertised brand, which improved subsequent brand memory. In addition, original and familiar ads were found to promote brand memory directly as well, when their indirect effect through attention was accounted for. Limitations of the study and implications of the findings for attention theory and communication strategy are discussed.



Chris Janiszewski, University of Florida

To successfully communicate with the consumer, a mareter has to encourage the consumer to attend to his message. Two-stage models of attention (Neisser 1967; Treisman and Geffen 1967) have guided strategies designed to encourage attention. Two-stage models of attention assume people use the surface features of stimuli to select a target for further investigation, then let goals and interests guide the degree to which the target is examined. Applications of the two stage model to advertising has led to a significant amount of research on mechanical factors that can encourage attention to advertisements (Assael, Kofron and Burgi 1967; Holbrook and Lehman 1980; Hornik 1980; Rossiter 1981; Schindler 1986; Strong 1914; Valiente 1973). In general, this research has significantly improved the ability of advertising to engage the attention of consumers (Rossiter 1988).

Although selection models of attention accurately portray how people select and examine an ad from a cluttered environment, they do not attempt to address the dynamic aspects of attention. This limits the usefulness of these models in some marketing contexts. In many advertising contexts, the goal of the marketer is not simply to influence whether or not an ad is attended, but to control a series of attend and examine decisions during the viewing of the ad. For example, catalog pages consist of a collection of freestanding ads for products. Shelf-facings consist of a collection of unique product packages. Even stand-alone advertisements consist of a headline, picture, and brand name or logo that are conceptually related, but visual distinct. In each of these cases, the marketer would like to encourage the viewer to select a target, examine it, select an additional target and examine it, and so on until all of the relevant target areas have been selected and examined. In the context of catalog pages and shelf displays, more selection means more products are seen and considered for purchase. In the context of a stand-alone advertisement, more selection means more information is considered and potentially remembered.

The goal of this investigation is to begin to understand whether marketers can control the sequence of attention to targets in a complex visual display. Initially, we will try to document that there are factors that control the selection of targets for further examination. For example, if multiple viewers of the same catalog page shift attention from product to product in a similar manner, then it is likely that there are factors guiding the selection process. Second, we will try to document that more control of attention results in more targets being seen and considered. Control, whatever its source, can be used to encourage people to select and examine additional products in a display. Third, we will try to document the source of control for the selection process. One possibility is control comes from selection routines that have developed because of experience with similar stimuli (Groner, Walder and Groner 1984; Levy-Schoen 1981). Another possibility is control comes from the visual characteristics of the stimuli themselves (Ellis and Stark 1986; Norton and Stark 1971). Finally, we will try to isolate and test some of the factors that exert control in selection routines, thus illustrating how marketers can take advantage of these control processes.



Pierre Chandon, INSEAD

Is consumer memory for brands measured immediately after purchase a valid indicator of their visual attention behavior? Are post-purchase brand recall and recognition driven by in store visual attention or by out-of-store brand familiarity? Do consumers know what brands they have just looked at and what are the factors that influence memory accuracy, for brands fixated and for brands not fixated?

In this research, I address these three questions by building a framework linking visual attention and memory for brands at the point of purchase. I then test this framework by measuring brand recall and recognition of 150 adult consumers, minutes after tey had chosen a product from a supermarket shelf while their eye movements where being tracked. The study uses a 2 (category: fruit juices or detergent) by 4 (promotions: no shelf talker, shelf talker on established brand, shelf talker on new brand, high shelf talker clutter) between subject design. The stimuli are a photo of one supermarket shelf containing 16 skus of fruit juices on four shelves, with between 2 and 8 facings per sku; and of another supermarket shelf containing 10 skus of laundry detergent on three shelves, with between 2 to 6 facings per sku. Both photos show price information. Subjects are asked which of the brands they would consider buying. Immediately after the choice task, they are asked to recall the names of the brands that they just saw, and then to recognize them from a list of brand names.

I address the first question by examining whether memory and eye movements provide the same conclusions about the effects of shelf talkers. I find that adding shelf talkers has a significant effect on visual attention, but no significant effect on brand memory. This suggests caution with the conclusions of studies relying on retrospective memory to infer instore information processing or to measure the ability of point-of-purchase marketing to attract consumer attention.

I address the second question by studying the influence of various brand, person, and promotion variables on recall and recognition. The analyses show that both memory measures are mostly influenced by consumer prior exposures with the brand (as measured by past usage) and only little by in-store visual attention. In fact, I find that the number of eye fixations is a significant predictor of recognition but not of recall. I also find that both recall and recognition are more strongly associated with re-examination (making two eye fixations or more on the brand) than with noting (one fixation or more). These results help explain why some previous studies found eye fixations to be a significant predictor of memory (e.g., Krugman et al. 1994), while others found the reverse (Tversky 1974).

Last, I examine the antecedents of memory accuracy, in general and specifically for brands fixated (hit rate) and for brands not fixated (correct rejection rate). The results show that, overall, memory is a more reliable indicator of visual attention for familiar brands than for unfamiliar brands and for light category buyers than for heavy category buyers. I also find that memory is less accurate when consumers have also fixated a similar product (e.g., another sku of the same umbrella brand). These interferences are particularly strong for less familiar skus. I then examine the different antecedents of memory accuracy for brands fixated and for brands not fixated. I find that familiarity increases memory accuracy for brands fixated (hit rate) but decreases memory accuracy for brands not fixated (correct rejection rate). Interestingly, no significant primacy or recency effects for brands fixated are found.

Overall, this research provides the first empirical evidence on consumer memory for brands at the point of purchase. It enables to test the generalizability of findings from memory-based tasks (e.g., Wedel and Pieters 2000) and advertising contexts to stimulus based tasks and retail settings. It also has implication for managing point-of-purchase marketing and for measuring its effects.