Readership and Advertisement Recall the Case of a Dutch Health Magazine

ABSTRACT - A three-stage model of print advertisement recall is presented, including scanning the medium, readership, and perception of advertisements. The model was explored by means of a survey among 1275 patients visiting their physician. Readership of a health magazine in the physician's waiting room could be explained mainly from the utility of the magazine subject to restrictions. The number of ads recalled was explained mainly from the number of recalled articles surrounding the ad. The probability of aided recall of individual advertisements was explained from readership of articles associated with the ad; advertisement size had no significant effect on ad recall.


Gerrit Antonides and Annelies Van Wijnen (1994) ,"Readership and Advertisement Recall the Case of a Dutch Health Magazine", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. Joseph A. Cote and Siew Meng Leong, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 207-212.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1994      Pages 207-212


Gerrit Antonides, Erasmus University

Annelies Van Wijnen, Erasmus University

[Permission by Mediskoop B.V. to use the data is gratefully acknowledged. We are grateful to three anonymous referees for their comments.]


A three-stage model of print advertisement recall is presented, including scanning the medium, readership, and perception of advertisements. The model was explored by means of a survey among 1275 patients visiting their physician. Readership of a health magazine in the physician's waiting room could be explained mainly from the utility of the magazine subject to restrictions. The number of ads recalled was explained mainly from the number of recalled articles surrounding the ad. The probability of aided recall of individual advertisements was explained from readership of articles associated with the ad; advertisement size had no significant effect on ad recall.


The effect of the contents of print media on advertisement recall has not been investigated frequently (Clancy and Kweskin 1971, Norris and Colman 1992). Usually, it is assumed that advertisement recall is increased with more extensive readership. Yet, the mere circulation of a magazine is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for advertisement recall. Given the readership of a magazine, the quality of the ad, the editorial environment, and the characteristics of the reader will further determine advertisement recall (cf. Soldow and Principe 1981, Norris and Colman 1992). Chook (1985) states that the editorial environment of printed advertisements has been given the highest priority rating in the field. Here, we shall consider print advertisement recall as the result of a three-stage process: scanning the medium, readership, and perception of advertisements.

Mere exposure to a magazine is not sufficient to elicit reading behavior. Van Raaij (1989) states that after paying attention to a stimulus, a primary affective reaction will determine whether or not cognitive elaboration of the stimulus takes place. This constitutes the scanning stage. Cognitive processing and the formation of an attitude form the focusing stage. In the focusing stage, an individual may decide to read a magazine which has been scanned. Scanning and focusing both may be influenced by individual factors, stimulus factors and situational factors.

Many situational factors may be characterized by the behavior setting in which the exposure takes place (cf. Fox 1986). In some settings, the medium has a better chance of getting attention than in other settings. For example, in waiting situations and leisure settings, media will get more attention than in hassling situations, usually. A behavior setting is characterized by a distinctive program of activities, a definite location in space and each of its occurrences has a definite beginning, duration and end time. Obviously, readership is facilitated by a program characterized by a lack of activities (e.g. waiting or relaxing), a location with places to sit down (e.g. a train or a waiting room) and with a relatively short duration (e.g. 15-60 minutes). Behavior settings having the basic characteristics ('genes') in common are called genotypes. For example, gasoline stations form a genotype because they are characterized by the same type of environment and routines (Barker 1968).

Readership may instigate the perception of advertisements. Although the exact process may be unknown, it may be hypothesized that ads which are somehow associated with the editorials in the magazine have a better chance of being perceived if the editorials are read than if they get no attention from the reader. The association of an ad with an editorial may be characterized by physical proximity, content similarity and direct reference to the ad in the editorial, among other things. Furthermore, the editorial environment may cognitively or affectively prime certain attributes of the ad (Yi 1990).

The assumptions above have been summarized by the three-stage model in figure 1. Although we distinguish three stages, it may be difficult to indicate exactly the transitions from one stage to another. For example, scanning may already include browsing a medium and some authors define readership in a wider sense, including mere exposure (Den Boon and Van Niekerk 1992). In this way, even the stage of advertisement perception may be included in the first stage. We prefer to distinguish the stages conceptually, however and to use the heuristic value of our paradigm in research.

In the first stage, A, the reader is exposed to the medium in its physical, temporal and social environment: the behavior setting. Scanning of the medium will determine its selection or neglect.

In the second stage, B, the image and the contents of a print medium contribute to its readership. This may include the topics covered by the editorials, the authority of the magazine and its authors, the length and the writing style of the editorials and the layout. This stage may be characterized as focusing. There may be interaction of the behavior setting and the editorial environment. For example, during a flight, editorials concerning the place of destination are more likely to get attention. In stage B, the behavior setting also may influence reading behavior because of distraction from the social environment. Loud noise, physical movements in the setting, people asking something or messages, either or not expected, may distract the attention paid to a magazine, among other things.

In the third stage, C, advertisements may be perceived either consciously or unconsciously. Large sized ads may attract more attention than small sized ones. Advertisements may trigger emotions by means of pictures, colors and words (cf. Rossiter and Percy 1987). In fact, an advertisement may be considered as a stimulus in itself, which may be scanned and focused upon. The opinion about the ad may be affected by the editorial environment in different ways. The theory of conditioning (cf. Gorn 1982) would imply that editorials inducing a positive attitude reinforce advertisements associated with them. Since forward conditioning is superior to both simultaneous and backward conditioning, ads placed before editorials generating positive affect would induce more positive opinions than ads placed either within or after an editorial.

Soldow and Principe (1981) find that television commercials in a highly involving program are less well recalled than commercials in a less involving program. Norris and Colman (1992) find a similar effect for recall of print advertisements. Their explanation is that involvement is likely to be accompanied by a narrowing and focusing of attention (on editorials) and a consequent lack of attention to extraneous, distracting stimuli (advertisements). However, as an alternative explanation we suggest inhibition of memory, due to interference (cf. Hill 1971). Proactive inhibition may occur if an editorial is still being cognitively processed during the perception of an ad placed after an article. Retroactive inhibition occurs if the cognitive processing of the editorial interferes with the memory storage of an ad placed before an article. Inhibition may become more serious with higher levels of involvement in reading an editorial, in line with the results of Soldow and Principe (1981).



During each of the three stages, reader characteristics may affect the contact with the medium in the behavior setting, the editorial environment and the ad. Cognitive ability (cf. Pinson 1978, Petty and Cacioppo 1986) and willingness to process information (cf. Petty and Cacioppo 1986) and activities, interests and opinions (Engel et al. 1990) may determine the degree of scanning and focusing, readership and ad recall. This may include distraction, mood, degree of concentration, age, available time, interests of the reader, etcetera. These factors may also interact with one another and with the characteristics of the situation and the medium. Here, we shall not consider these complex interactions.

In the literature, a number of factors are suggested to be at work in the three stages. We list these factors without claiming an exhaustive overview of the literature:

- Medium factors: Attractiveness, information value, advertisement clutter, overall rating (Clancy and Kweskin 1971, Ray and Webb 1986, Wangard and Speetzen 1987);

- Personal factors: Demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, indifference to media, interest in medium content, conscious attention to ads, probability of medium exposure (Wangard and Speetzen 1987);

- Situational factors: Available time, medium exposure, atmosphere of the environment (Henry 1987, Wangard and Speetzen 1987, Joyce 1987, Cialdini 1984, Kotler 1974);

- Advertisement factors: Size and number of advertisements (Webb 1979, Finn 1988);

- Interactive factors: Interest in the medium, first impression of the medium, motivation to use the medium, quantity and intensity of medium usage (Van Raaij 1989, Henry 1987, Goldberg and Gorn 1987, Wangard and Speetzen 1987, Joyce 1987, Clancy and Kweskin 1971, Festinger and Maccoby 1964).

The factors reported here will be used in our empirical research.

The three-stage model discussed above captures the information processing phase. The recall of advertisement is further determined by encoding the information into memory (cf. Craik and Lockhart 1972) and retrieval from memory at the time of planning and carrying out a purchase. However, besides the influences in the three stages, it is hard to imagine how a print medium can affect memory processes directly. After reading a magazine, other stimuli will determine ad recall.

In this paper, we shall deal with the readership of a health magazine in the behavior setting of a physician's waiting room and with recall of the ads included in the magazine. A physician's waiting room can be classified as a behavior setting. Since there are many waiting rooms sharing the same characteristics of the behavior setting, we classify the physician's waiting room as a genotype. Next, we shall describe the methodology used and the results obtained with the study. Finally, we shall discuss the implications of our study.


A quota sample of 150 physicians was drawn randomly from a Dutch physician's directory. About one-third of them agreed to participate in the study and because of time pressure, the number was further reduced to 43. A survey among all of the patients visiting the physicians (except children in the company of their parents), 1275 in total, took place September 10-21, 1990. In the waiting rooms, two copies of an unknown health magazine (four copies if two physicians used the same waiting room) were mixed with the magazines which were present usually (about 11 titles on the average).



Each of the patients was observed by one of the interviewers regarding gender, estimated age, reading behavior and exact time of arrival and departure. After leaving the building, the patients were briefly interviewed in person concerning their opinions on the health magazine, general interest in health and the frequencies of their visits of the physician. 63% Of the total sample of patients participated in the personal interview. After this, those who had read the health magazine and had participated in the personal interview (14% of the total sample of patients) were asked to participate in a telephone interview in the evening of that day. The telephone interview included questions concerning general reading behavior in the waiting room and at home, specific questions concerning the health magazine and sociodemographic information. Of the interviewed health magazine readers, 51% participated in the telephone interview. The non-response was mainly due to absence from home, dislike of being interviewed and having no time. In the telephone interview, the response was further reduced because people frequently could not remember any article or any advertisement in the magazine or they could not remember the health magazine at all.


Any observation of picking up a magazine (44.4% in total) was scored as readership. The health magazine scored 22.2%, of which 43.9% were only browsing and 56.1% were actually reading the magazine. The average time spent on the health magazine was 9.4 minutes, the average waiting time was 18.8 minutes.

Non-specific readership is defined as whether or not any magazine was picked up. Table 1 shows the results of a Probit analysis of non-specific readership in relation with a number of independent variables. Probit analysis was used because the readership indicator is dichotomous (either or not reading a magazine). The geographic area appears to be significantly related to the probability of non-specific readership. Both people living in villages and in cities show more instances of non-specific readership than people living in small-sized towns (between 2,000 and 10,000 inhabitants). Since many commuters live in small-sized towns close to a city, this type of people may be responsible for the effect, although it is hard to explain. Demographic characteristics (gender and age) have no statistically significant effect.

The waiting time significantly increases the probability of readership, according to expectations. The number of magazines in the waiting room, the type of display (either or not at the centre of the room) and the condition of the magazines have no significant effect. The frequency of visits tends to decrease readership somehow. However, if frequent visitors are less frequent readers in general, their increased probability of being sampled has a disproportional effect on readership. This may have induced a sample selection effect.

A general interest in health and the opinion that interesting magazines are available appear to increase non-specific readership. Reported distraction and nervousness appear to decrease the probability of non-specific readership. This is as expected from the elaboration likelihood model of communication (Petty and Cacioppo 1986). The pseudo-R2 (Maddala 1983) equals 0.15. It appears that non-specific readership is influenced by the utilities of the magazines (interesting magazines and interest in health) and restrictions (waiting time, distraction and nervousness).



The readership of the health magazine is defined as whether or not a copy of the health magazine was picked up. The conditional readership of the health magazine comprises the selection of this magazine from all of the titles available in the waiting room. The probability of reading the health magazine conditional on the non-specific readership is significantly related to the interest and the first impression of the magazine. These factors seem to be important in the scanning stage of the model. The number of health magazines available (either two or four) increases the conditional probability of readership and the total number of magazines decreases it significantly. In cities (more than 10,000 inhabitants), the health magazine was selected less often than in small-sized towns and villages. The pseudo-R2 equals 0.18. Specific readership seems to be influenced by the utility of the health magazine (interest and first impression) and restrictions (number of magazines). It appears that the behavior setting and personal characteristics of the readers significantly influence the probabilities of both specific and non-specific readership. However, living in a city is the only sociodemographic factor influencing specific readership. Given the intended positioning of the health magazine as a magazine of interest to a wide range of people, it seems that the positioning has been successful.

Next, the advertisement recall will be considered. In the telephone interview, the participants were asked to report which articles and advertisements in the health magazine they had seen. If spontaneous recall failed, aided recall was reported. For each of the 58 respondents in the telephone interview, both the number of ads and the number of articles recalled were counted. The number of articles recalled was 8.9 (36%) and the number of ads recalled was 3.9 (16%) on the average. These numbers were not significantly different for those who were reading and those who were only browsing the magazine. Unaided article recall was 6.4% and unaided advertisement recall was 1.4%, which was deemed too small to be analyzed statistically.

Table 2 shows the results of a regression of the number of ads recalled (unaided and aided recall taken together) on a number of independent variables. The most important explaining factor is the number of articles recalled. The articles surrounding ads that were recalled, were counted separately from the articles not surrounding recalled ads. Each additional surrounding article recalled increases the number of ads recalled by about one, on average. Non-surrounding articles recalled obviously have no effect on ad recall.

In villages, advertisement recall was significantly higher than in small-sized towns. Reading or browsing the magazine does not seem to make a difference in ad recall. However, the information value of the health magazine, as judged by the reader, has a significantly negative effect on ad recall. This might be considered as evidence for the hypothesis of Soldow and Principe (1981) because the judged information value of the magazine probably is associated with more involving readership. The other variables are significant, statistically. The R2 equals 0.92, which is very high given the number of insignificant variables. A regression including the significant variables from table 2 only yields similar results with a higher R2. A stepwise regression also resulted in similar results, except that the first impression of the health magazine was excluded and both the attractiveness and the overall rating of the health magazine was included. Although these variables showed only low intercorrelations, conceptually they are quite similar.



Our final analysis concerns the probability of recall of individual advertisements. Each advertisement was surrounded by one or two editorials (which either or not were read) or not surrounded by editorials (i.e. ads in between two other ads). Furthermore, the size of the advertisements varied, including full-page ads (size 1), half-page ads (size 1/2) and two-page ads (size 2). To analyze the individual ads, a data file was constructed with NxA observations (N denoting 58 respondents and A denoting 24 ads in the magazine). Each observation included a measure of recall of the ad (1 if recalled and 0 otherwise), readership of the first and the second article associated with the ad (0 if it was not recalled, 1 if the article was browsed, 2 if half of it was read and 3 if the whole article was read) and size of the advertisement. A Probit analysis was run because the ad recall indicator is dichotomous (either or not recall of the ad). The results are shown in table 3. Due to partially missing observations, the number of observations in the Probit analysis was reduced to 1291.

It appeared that both the readership of the first and the second article associated with the ad increased advertisement recall significantly and to a similar extent, whereas the advertisement size had no significant effect.


It appeared that the behavior setting significantly influenced readership. Non-specific readership was mainly influenced by the geographic situation and interest in the magazines available, whereas available time, distraction and nervousness acted as restrictions on readership. The number of titles and the condition of the magazines were not related to non-specific readership. At stage A (medium environment), individual and situational factors rather than stimulus factors seem to influence readership.

Specific readership was mainly influenced by the interest and the first impression of the specific magazine, whereas the number of the specific titles, relative to the total number of magazines acted as a restriction on specific readership. It appears that readership is influenced by a positive outcome of the scanning stage, subject to restrictions formed by the number of magazines. Individual, situational and stimulus factors seem to influence specific readership.

For practical purposes, the situational factors are of interest. It appears that readership increases with longer waiting times. Either people anticipated a waiting time or they became bored after some time. The proportional number of the specific magazines appears to influence specific readership, so both increasing the number of specific magazine copies and decreasing the number of competitive magazines increases the chances of readership of the specific magazine.

The number of ads recalled was mainly influenced by the editorial environment, i.e. the number of articles recalled. The first impression of the magazine further increases advertisements recall. The information value of the health magazine had a negative effect on ad recall. This may be explained by inhibition, due to high involvement in reading the articles. This result is in agreement with the experimental findings of Soldow and Principe (1981). Our results show that it is the quality (i.e. the information value) rather than the number of the editorials that has a negative effect on ad recall. As a conclusion, ads should be placed in connection with light editorials in order to be most effective. It appears that the focusing stage is important for advertisement recall.

The analysis of recall of individual advertisements clearly showed that it is influenced more effectively by readership of the articles than by the advertisement size. Thus, in general it may be more effective to place two half-page ads in connection with two different articles than to place one full-page ad. This conclusion is also consistent with the principles of learning by conditioning.


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Gerrit Antonides, Erasmus University
Annelies Van Wijnen, Erasmus University


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 1994

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