The Effect of Banner Advertisements on Judgment and Choice

Andrew Mitchell, University of Toronto
Ana Valenzuela, University of California, Berkeley
[ to cite ]:
Andrew Mitchell and Ana Valenzuela (2002) ,"The Effect of Banner Advertisements on Judgment and Choice", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 257-258.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Pages 257-258


Andrew Mitchell, University of Toronto

Ana Valenzuela, University of California, Berkeley

According to conventional wisdom, banner ads on the Internet have no effect on consumer behavior unless there is click-through. Click-through, however, is generally very low, so it has been concluded that banner ads on the Internet are of little value. For this and other reasons, the revenue from banner ads has declined recently creating problems for Internet firms that rely heavily on advertising revenue (e.g. Yahoo, DoubleClick).

We argue that banner ads on the Internet can affect consumer behavior even without click-through. If a consumer is exposed to a banner ad, it will create fluency when s/he is exposed to the brand name again. If a mental representation of the brand exists in that consumer’s long-term memory, the banner ad will also increase the accessibility of that brand in memory. This creation of fluency and the increase in accessibility can have both direct and indirect effects on consumer behavior. Direct effects will occur in both memory-based choice situations and when the consumer must choose between a constrained set of brands which are presented to the consumer, such as selecting a soft drink at a vending machine. We call this latter situation constrained choice. In memory-based choice situations, the increase in brand accessibility means that the brand is more likely to be retrieved, considered and chosen (e.g. Nedungadi, 1989). It is important to note than in a memory-based choice situation, if a brand is not retrieved, it cannot be chosen. In a constrained choice situation, exposure to the banner ad will create fluency when the consumer is exposed to the brand name again. Fluency will cause the brand to "stand out" and seem more familiar, thereby increasing the likelihood that it will be chosen (e.g. Jacoby, Kelley and Dywan, 1989). The indirect effects occur because the brand is more likely to be retrieved and used in making judgments about or forming an attitude toward a competing brand. This will affect the perception of and overall attitude toward the competing brand (e.g. Herr, 1986, 1989; Schwartz and Bless, 1992).

One issue, which has not been addressed in memory-based and constrained choice, is the role of brand attitudes in screening brands to form the consideration set and choosing a brand from the consideration set. Brand attitudes may be used to eliminate some of the retrieved brands in forming a consideration set and may also be used to compare the alternative brands in the consideration set in selecting a brand for purchase. Whether or not consumers have formed an attitude toward a brand may be very important in the choice process since we hae previously found some evidence that when a consumer has not formed an attitude toward a brand, that brand is less likely to be chosen (Nedungandi, Mitchell and Berger, 1993).

We present the results of two experiments which demonstrate both direct and indirect effects of banner ads on judgment and choice, examine differences in the effects of the same manipulations on memory-based and constrained choice, and test the effect of attitude formation on memory-based and constrained choice. In order to examine these issues, we need to create a situation where subjects are exposed to banner ads for brands which vary in quality, then receive information about an ambiguous brand from the same product category and finally indicate the brands which they would consider and choose. In some conditions, subjects form an attitude toward the ambiguous brand while in others they will not. The resulting design is a 3 x 2 between subject design. The first factor is the type of brand that the subjects see in the banner ad (Banner Ad Manipulation: Banner ad for a high quality brand, low quality brand, and no banner ad). The second factor is whether or not subjects formed an evaluation of the target brand (Task Manipulation).

The subjects were undergraduate students (average sample size=100 per experiment) at a major university in the western United States who participated in the study for course credit. The study uses an Internet format and is computer controlled. Each phase of the study is disguised as a separate study, so subjects would not perceive a connection between the studies. Subjects are randomly assigned to conditions. The product category was selected using two criteria. First, it had to be a product category that was regularly used by undergraduate students and, second, it contained brands that our subject population perceived to be high and low quality. After conducting a pretest on a number of different product categories, we selected airlines for the two experiments. Southwest is selected as the high quality brand, TWA is selected as the low quality brand for the banner ads and a new airline, Vanguard, is the target brand.

The first experiment examines the effect of banner ads on memory-based choice. The results indicate that when TWA is featured in a banner ad, the probability of it being considered (0.23 vs. 0.06) and chosen (0.14 vs. 0.0) significantly increases. This also occurred for Southwest, however, the differences are significant only for choice (0.71 vs. 0.60).

For the target brand, Vanguard, the probability of being considered is significantly greater when subjects saw the banner ad for the high quality brand (Southwest) than the low quality brand (TWA) (0.35 vs. 0.17), however, there was no difference in choice. The banner ads also had a significant effect on the overall attitude toward Vanguard. When subjects saw the high quality banner ad, the attitude toward Vanguard is 4.38, on a seven-point scale, and 3.39 when they saw the low quality banner ad. The differences in the probability of considering Vanguard only occur in the conditions where subjects form an attitude.

The second study is the same as the first except that rather than have subjects retrieve the airlines from memory which they would consider and choose, subjects were given a list of most frequently mentioned airlines and asked to indicate which airlines they would consider and which one they would choose.

The results of this study are similar to those obtained in the first study. For TWA, whether or not it appeared in a banner ad significantly increased the probability that it would be considered (0.18 vs. 0.03) and chosen (0.10 vs. 0.02). For Southwest, it significantly increased the probability that it would be considered and chosen (0.63 vs. 0.52), however, only the latter increase is significant.

The banner ad for the high quality brand (Southwest) had a significant effect on the evaluation of the Vanguard, relative to the banner ad for the low quality brand (TWA) (4.50 vs. 3.32), the probability of Vanguard being considered (0.27 vs. .15) and chosen (0.08 vs. 0.03). The differences in consideration and choice occur only when subjects form an overall attitude toward Vanguard.

Finally, whether the choice was memory-based or constrained had yielded only two significant differences in results. The first is the finding that the probability that Southwest is considered is significantly greater with memory-based choice than constrained choice (0.95 vs. 0.74). Apparently, Southwest is highly accessible in memory, so it is almost always retrieved from memory for memory-base choice, but in constrained choice where other alternatives were available, it was much less likely to be considered.

The second is the probability of choosing Vanguard. With memory-based choice it was hardly ever chosen, however, with constrained choice its probability of being chosen is 0.05.

These results demonstrate both the direct and indirect effects of banner ads on judgment and choice. The direct effects occur because the banner ads both increase the accessibility of the brand featured in the banner ad and create fluency when the consumer encounters the brand again. This increases the probability that the brand will be a member of the consideration set and chosen. The indirect effect occurs when highly accessible brands are used by the consumer to obtain an understanding of an ambiguous brand and is either forming a judgment about the brand or forming an attitude. When attitudes are formed, consumers are more likely to consider and choose a brand when they are exposed to a high quality brand as opposed to a low quality brand in the banner ad. Previous research has indicated that these effects will occur even if the banner ad is only in the parafoveal region of attention and not in the foveal region of attention (e.g. Bargh and Pietromonaco, 1982; Shapiro and Heckler, 1997). Finally, these effects should occur for a considerable time period after exposure to the banner ad.


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