The Impact of Number of Viewers on the Response of the Audience to Tv Commercials in the Gulf Countries (An Empirical Study)



Citation:

Mohammed Al-Mossawi and Paul Michell (1993) ,"The Impact of Number of Viewers on the Response of the Audience to Tv Commercials in the Gulf Countries (An Empirical Study)", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. W. Fred Van Raaij and Gary J. Bamossy, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 383-388.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1993      Pages 383-388

THE IMPACT OF NUMBER OF VIEWERS ON THE RESPONSE OF THE AUDIENCE TO TV COMMERCIALS IN THE GULF COUNTRIES (AN EMPIRICAL STUDY)

Mohammed Al-Mossawi, Manchester Business School, U.K.

Paul Michell, Manchester Business School, U.K.

This empirical study seeks to examine the influence of an important cultural factor (Number of Viewers) on the way people in the Gulf perceive TV commercials.

The findings of this study indicate that number of viewers has a significant role in the effectiveness of TV commercials in the Gulf. However, its role as a mediating factor found to vary according to the contentiousness of ads to which Muslim viewers were exposed. This study suggests a solution for recapturing that part of attention which might be lost through the effects of number of viewers.

1. INTRODUCTION

"The effectiveness of advertising could be greatly improved if advertisers found out as much as possible of the culture of the people to whom they intend to direct their messages" (Almaney 1982).

Literature indicates that the effectiveness of TV commercials depends on several mediating factors which may influence the response of the audience to advertisements. Some of these mediating factors belong to the culture of people (e.g. their language, religion, taste and many other social habits and traditions). Due to the cultural differences, a set of cultural factors which may have a significant role in ad effectiveness in one nation may prove to be insignificant in another. An example of this is the number of viewers (NV). This refers to the number of people present in the room during commercial breaks. NV may influence advertising effectiveness through the distraction which it may create (a detailed explanation of this will be given later). In Muslim countries NV is to be seen as a cultural factor since it is closely related to family attitudes in having a habit of gathering in one room for viewing television.

This research seeks to examine the influence of number of viewers in determining the response of the audience to TV commercials in the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) countries. GCC consists of six prosperous countries located in the Persian Gulf, that is, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar. These six countries can confidently be grouped together as one cluster because they have so much in common of geography, religion, language, social life, habits and traditions, and economic and political phenomena (Ronen and Shenkar 1985).

For this study, Bahrain was chosen to serve as the field of experiment. It was selected for various reasons. First, it is the home country of one of authors and thus very convenient for collecting the data needed in the experiment. Second, this empirical study requires in-home experiments with a large sample of families. This sort of experiment is more easily conducted in Bahrain than in other GCC countries because, Bahrain is known to be relatively more open than the others. Third, The results obtained can be confidently generalized to other countries of the GCC with which Bahrain shares much of its cultural background such as geography, religion, language, social life, family habits in eating, TV viewing, etc. (MERAC 1987). In this respect Ronen and Shenkar (1985) argue that one of the important implications of clustering is that results from one country can be generalized to the other countries which share a particular variable within the cluster. Fourth, given the constraints of time and cost, it is impossible to conduct a study of this nature in all GCC countries.

2. THE IMPORTANCE OF NV AS A MEDIATING FACTOR

The literature of marketing and advertising lacks research about the NV as a factor mediating the effectiveness of TV commercials (Krugman 1988; Laskey 1988). This factor may play an important role in advertising effectiveness in environments where at least two conditions prevail. These are, the habit of TV co-viewing (i.e. group viewing), and that of talking while viewing commercials. To demonstrate the importance of NV in advertising effectiveness it is necessary to discuss and highlight these two conditions.

The first condition prevails in most Islamic countries. This is, partly, because Islam encourages group activities (Gadiri 1991). This can be noticed from the habits of Muslim families in eating together, travelling together, viewing TV together, and even praying together. MERAC (1987) found that in a number of Arab Gulf states families have a habit of gathering in one room for viewing TV, eating and chatting. The phenomenon of co-viewing is not confined to the Islamic countries only, but might also be noticed in other nations. In the Western countries, co-viewing was part of a family's social life in the 1950s when TV used to bring the family together in the same room (Walters and Stone 1971). Nowadays, unlike the situation in the Islamic countries, in the West, rarely do the entire family view TV together (Lawrence and Wozniak 1989). This indicates that in the Western countries, where almost all advertising research is conducted, the number of viewers may not play an important role in determining advertising effectiveness as it may do in the Islamic countries. Therefore, lack of studies concerning the role of number of viewers in advertising effectiveness may partly be due to this reason. However, in environments where group viewing prevails the role of NV in advertising effectiveness should not be overlooked since it might influence the response pattern of viewers (Messmer 1977).

The influence of group viewing on the response pattern of the viewers may not be clear or testable without taking into account the amount of distraction stimulated by the group while viewing commercials. This will take us to the second condition.

The second condition, i.e. distraction, is essential to investigate because NV might be a source of distraction (Krugman 1988) which may influence the response of the viewers to the appeals of a persuasive message (Percy 1983). The rationale behind this is that during commercial breaks viewers are not expected to sit quietly and watch commercials as they usually do when viewing a programme of interest to them, because commercials are frequently used by the audience as intermissions for conversation (Austin 1986; Lawrence, et al 1986). In most cases one would expect the conversation during commercial breaks to be about matters other than the commercials to which the viewers are exposed. This might be due to at least two causes. First, most TV commercials are of low involvement type from which the audience do not seek information about the product or the brand advertised (Krugman 1988). Second, audience control over TV ad exposure is low (due to the high pace of TV commercials) (Krugman 1967; Wright 1981). The above argument indicates that the effect of distraction will be more when the audience is in the low involvement situation. Mitchell (1983) argues that if the need for a particular brand is a relatively low-level goal, then relatively unimportant stimuli from the environment may cause a distraction effect. However, if the goal is important, the distracting stimuli may have little effect.

In the literature of marketing it is rare to find studies about the effect of distraction or the tools of distraction (Baron, et al 1973). In the literature of Psychology, one can find a number of studies about the effect of distraction on persuasion ( e.g. Janis and King 1954; Janis, et al 1965; Zimbardo 1965; McGuire 1966; Osterhouse and Brock 1970; Zimbardo, et al 1970). The research on distraction stems from Allyn and Festinger's (1961) finding that forewarned subjects tended to be less persuaded than non-forewarned. Festinger and Maccoby (1964) commented on this finding and pointed out that differences between the two conditions other than forewarning might produce these findings. They explained the differences as due to distraction. They pointed out that instructing the non-forewarned subjects to evaluate the personality of the speaker (as was done in Allyn and Festinger 1961) might distract them from effectively counterarguing, thereby leaving them more vulnerable to persuasion. The results of subsequent distraction research generally support this interpretation.

Findings of research on the effect of distraction on persuasion are contradictory. While some studies found that distraction enhances the persuasive impact of the message, other studies found the opposite. These contradictory results may be due to the particular form of distraction used (Miller and Baron 1969; Miller and Levy 1967) or due to factors that cause distraction to reduce message comprehension (Breitrose 1966; Gardner 1966; Haaland and Venkatesan 1968; Vohs and Garrett 1968). For the distraction to have a positive impact on persuasion, the message should be comprehended (i.e. attended to) (Baron, et al 1973). Many studies failed to find positive correlation between distraction and persuasion because the distraction interfered with recall of message (Breitrose 1966; Gardner 1966; Zimbardo, et al 1969; Haaland and Venkatesan 1968). In these studies, distraction interfered with recall because distraction would be more likely to divert attention from the content of a dull or non-involving message than from an inherently interesting one (Baron, et al 1970). Another explanation for the inconsistent effect of distractions on recall concerns whether subjects focus on the message or the distraction. Zimbardo, et al (1970) found that distraction increased the impact of a persuasive message only when audience attention was directed at the message. Contrariwise, when the audience was set to attend to the distraction, this reduced both recall and persuasive impact in comparison with a non-distracted control. These contradictory findings about the relationship between distraction and persuasion indicate that such a relationship is complex (Baron, et al 1970). However, the point on which almost all studies agree is that distraction reduces attention (Peterson 1988; Hoffer 1988; Ryder 1987; Krames and McDonald 1985; Matthew, et al 1990) and recall (Heroux, et al 1988; Aubarn and Swasy 1988; Sulivan, et al 1986; Percy 1983; Weisberg, et al 1986; Vadehra 1983). Such a negative correlation between distraction and attention/recall is likely because distraction reduces audience concentration (O'Malley 1989; Jones 1989; Glazer 1988; Sonnenberg 1990; Reed 1987; Wood 1987) on the message since it divides their attention between commercials and other stimuli (i.e. distracters) (Gardner and Raj 1982). This argument is supported by Maclnnis and Jawoski (1989) who argue that: as a limited cognitive resource (Boadbent 1977; Kahneman 1973; Mitchell 1983; Moray 1967; Norman and Bobrow 1975) attention can be allocated in varying degrees to the ad (termed in this study the primary task) or to secondary tasks such as conversation or other environmental stimuli (Mackenzie 1986). For this reason it has been suggested that lab settings do not reliably test the effect of distraction because in lab settings subjects usually attend fully to commercials, while in fact distractions are high in home television viewing (Comstock 1975). The negative association between distraction and attention has also been emphasized by Mitchell (1983) who argues that: as the amount of distraction increases, the attention available for processing the information from advertisements will decrease, which will lead to the reduction in the evaluative processing and comprehension of the message. This finding is supported by Gardner and Raj (1982); Festinger and Maccoby (1964); Osterhouse and Brock (1970) who found that high levels of distraction lead to low opportunity to respond to the advertisement.

All the above studies suggest that the effectiveness of a commercial depends on the environment (i.e. distraction) in which it is shown (Vadehra 1983).

From the literature one can see that there are two types of distraction which might reduce the level of attention to and recall of an ad. The first type is the 'indigenous' distraction, that is, an integral part of the message which is seen by the audience as irrelevant to the message. For example introduction of an irrelevant 'noise' (such as a whistle, car sounds, laughter, etc.) into a message (see Petty and Brock 1981 for a review). Studies investigating the effect of this type of distraction argue that distraction influences message acceptance by reducing the attention allocated to processing the main point of the message, and further, because the distraction is an integral part of the message itself, that different elements of a message compete with each other for attention (Mackenzie 1980). The second type of distraction which may also reduce attention and recall is the 'exogenous' distraction, which is that caused by the external environment in which the commercial is aired, e.g. conversation with others, reading newspaper, eating, etc. (Zimbardo, et al 1970; Baron, et al 1973; Silverman and Regula 1968; Wright 1981; Krugman 1988). According to the above argument it is hypothesized that:

H1. NV is expected to play a significant role in determining the recall of Muslims for TV commercials. Specifically, a negative association is expected to prevail between number of viewers and the audience's recall of TV commercials.

The negative impact of distraction on attention and recall might be amplified when viewers are exposed to a commercial which is against their interest or belief (ie. contentious ads) (Baron, et al 1970; Krugman 1988). Krugman argues that as a result, the audience may permit the medium to continue its role as a source of entertainment and relaxation but may adopt some lines of defence. Here, Krugman suggests three lines. First, searching channels or zapping. Second, overt distraction. That is, creating opportunities for distraction by stimulating irrelevant (to the TV) opportunities to talk, cook, eat, or care for children. Krugman considers this line of defence as the most efficient and comfortable for the audience. Third, covert distraction opportunities, when eyes are on screen but thought elsewhere and waiting for what comes next. According to Krugman, the audience may choose this line of defence when other distractions are not available. This argument led to the development of the second hypothesis:

H2. The negative impact of NV is expected to be higher when viewers are exposed to commercials thought to be against their belief.

3. THE METHOD

3.1. The Dependent Variable

In this study, recall was used to determine the effectiveness of advertisements. The popularity and importance of using recall as a measurement of advertising effectiveness is emphasized in a number of studies (e.g. Young and Robinson 1987; Keller 1987; Klein 1990; East 1984; Blair et al 1987; Vadehra 1983). There are two types of recall measures used to evaluate the effectiveness of an advertisement. The first is "unaided" and the second "aided" recall, with "unaided" being a much stronger measure of effectiveness. The assumption about the strength of unaided recall is based on the belief that a longer lasting impression has been made when a subject freely recalls the advertising. In this study ad effectiveness was measured in terms of unaided recall, where subjects were asked to freely recall and list all the product categories, brand names and ad contents of the test commercials (Van 1986; Belch and Belch 1990; Debora 1983; Martin 1987).

In this study, recall was measured immediately after the experiment. Morgan and Judson (1982) argue that the test of immediate recall enables the researcher to get a solid, accurate indicator of the attention-getting ability of the commercial. Because the commercials used in this study had not been aired in Bahrain before, but were for known products and brands, therefore, greater weight was given to the recall of the message contents rather than brand or product category. Specifically, for each brand name and product category, a correct recall was coded 1 while the incorrect recall was coded 0. For the message content, a score of 4 was given to the subjects who were able to recall 100% of the message, 3 (75%), 2 (50%), 1 (25%), and 0 (0%). The total scores obtained by each subject for a specific commercial were considered a measure of his unaided recall for that commercial.

4. SAMPLING FRAMEWORK

Three months before the main experiment a specially designed religious scale was distributed to 400 university students, aged between 20 and 30. From their answers to the religious scale, they were classified as strict and lenient Muslims. Then from each of these, 400 subjects were randomly selected to serve as a sample of this study. To have as more experimental settings as possible, the 800 subjects were selected from 800 families on which the experiment was administered. Size of the sample families ranged between 3 and 12 members. Family members below the age of 2 and above 60 were not counted in considering the factor of NV. This was because of the expectation that these members may not be sources of distraction during commercial breaks.

5. THE EXPERIMENTAL VIDEO TAPE

The design of the experiment required selecting six commercials: 4 test commercials and 2 Filler commercials. For the test commercials it was necessary to find two pairs of commercials (to contain one contentious and one non-contentious ad for the same product and brand). A similar procedure was followed by Aaker and Buzzone (1985); Kilbourne, et al (1985); and Bello, et al (1983). A thorough review of the Islamic law reveals that the possible contentious elements of an ad seem to be of two types. First, those which are explicitly prohibited (eg. alcohol, gambling and nudity). Second, those elements whose lawfulness and prohibition is controversial (eg. music, dance, songs and women revealing their figures). It is not wise to study the first type because it is already restricted to be shown in the televisions of almost all the Islamic countries. Therefore, in this study, ad contentiousness was defined and manipulated on the basis of the second type (ie. the controversial elements). In this study, contentious ads are those which contain more of the controversial elements, while the non-contentious ads are those which relatively less of the controversial elements. As for the filler ads, all of them had to be non-contentious and for two different products and brands. The reason for requiring the filler ads to be non-contentious was to take an extra precaution in dealing with strict Muslims and to ensure their participation in the experiment. In other words, it is likely that strict Muslims will avoid giving attention to all the commercials in the pod if they feel that the majority of the ads are against their belief.

With the help of five independent judges, the required ads were selected from a pool of 226 commercials obtained from Egypt, U.S.A., U.K., and Cyprus. Out of the total, the judges selected two pairs of commercials for "Coca Cola" soft drink and "Shamadan" chocolate bar as suitable test ads, while the ones chosen as filler ads were for "Polo" mint and "Chiklettes" chewing gum.

For the experiment, two popular programmes were used: "Around the World" and "Candid Camera". The popularity of these two programmes have been revealed by an earlier pilot study. Bahrain TV was approached and for each of these programmes one of earliest episodes was obtained. The reason for using old episodes was to make the experiment more interesting by showing people films which they had either not seen before or could not remember in detail.

Having selected the commercials and the programmes, the ground was ready to make up the experimental video tapes. The design of the experiment entailed making up two films. These films were designed to be similar to what people actually see in GCC televisions. The two films were similar in all the elements except for the execution of the test ads. Film 1 contained contentious and film 2 non-contentious test commercials. Both tapes contained two simulated station breaks that included various ads comprising the experimental treatments. In each tape the two station breaks contained exactly the same commercials but in a different order. In the two station breaks, the same messages were repeated in order to make sure that the difference in subjects' recall of the test commercials was due to the level of attention paid to them and not to the problem of retention. This is because repeating the same message facilitates retention (Delozier 1976; Weber 1972; Simon 1990). The reason for this might be partly because if a consumer does not pay attention during a given exposure to an ad simply because of the circumstances (high distraction, not yet interested but soon will be, or the like), he or she is likely to pay attention during subsequent exposures (Krugman 1972). The videotaped elements employed in this study were edited and combined by a professional, in such a way as to realistically represent the transition from one television programme to another.

6. THE PROCEDURE

The selected families were contacted and a convenient time for an in-home experiment (Lawrence and Wozniak 1989; Greene 1988; Stewart and Furse 1986- page 39) was arranged. Each of the two tapes was viewed by 400 subjects (200 strict and 200 lenient Muslims) and then their responses were compared. Throughout viewing the administrator stayed out of the viewing room to make the audience act normally while watching TV. To produce the conditions of a normal viewing environment, the study was described as one in which university researchers were studying the attitudes and opinions of Bahraini families regarding the quality of television programming. Respondents were told that the videotaped programmes they would watch were actual TV programmes already broadcast, and that since the researchers were interested in finding out how people felt about them in conditions as similar as possible to watching at home, the programmes would be shown complete with the sorts of announcements and commercials with which they would be seen at home. Respondents viewed the 30-minute videotapes, and immediately afterwards they filled out a questionnaire that included a series of questions about the programmes, their own recall of the test commercials, their familiarity with the commercials used in the test, and their loyalty to the brands used in the test commercials. After the quantitative test, verbal reports were obtained with a free response format. That was to enhance what was obtained by the quantitative test (Gorn 1982). In administering the in-home experiments and the post-experiment questionnaire, interviewers were extensively trained to perform similar routines in an attempt to minimize interviewer bias.

TABLE 1

SUMMARY OF ANOVA AND CORRELATION COEFFICIENT FINDINGS FOR THE EFFECT OF NV ON RECALL

7. THE RESULTS

Before analyzing the results, two things should be mentioned. A special questionnaire (administered after the main test) established that 90% of the subjects were unfamiliar with the test ads and that 88% did not evince any loyalty to the brands shown. Furthermore, 89% of strict Muslims claimed that they deliberately gave less attention to the contentious ads because they contained elements against the Islamic principles. On the other hand, 96% of lenient Muslims reported that their response to the ads was unaffected by their contentiousness. These facts had additional value to the estimates of recall.

To test the hypotheses, a series of Correlation Coefficient and Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) tests were run in an effort to understand the relationship between the mediating factor (ie. nv) and the measure of advertising effectiveness (ie. recall). For ANOVA, NV was recoded and then manipulated at two levels: High NV (top quartile) and low NV (bottom quartile).

The findings of correlation coefficient shown in Table 1 indicate a strong negative association between NV and recall of the test commercials. On the other hand, ANOVA results indicate that, for both test ads, subjects who viewed the ads in high NV environments scored lower recall than those who viewed them in low NV environments. In all situation, the difference between the recall scored in high and low NV environments was significant. All the above findings support Hypothesis 1.

The second Hypothesis expects the negative effect of NV to be more when subjects are exposed to an ad which is against their belief. To test this hypothesis, two correlation coefficient tests were run . The first was for the subjects viewed the contentious ads (N = 400) against those viewed the non-contentious ads (N = 400).For both test ads, findings indicate that in the former situation the association between NV and recall was stronger (for T1: r = -.9 and for T2: r = -.94) than in the latter situation (for T1: r = -.6 and for T2: r = -.66). To make sure whether AC gives boost to the negative effect of NV, a second test was run for the subjects classified into strict and lenient Muslims. Findings of this test indicates that in the case of strict Muslims, contentious ads provoked a higher negative association between NV and recall than non-contentious ads. On the other hand, for lenient Muslims, results show that in both conditions of ad contentiousness the correlations between NV and recall were very close. The findings of the second test are summarized in Table 2.

The findings of the above two tests relating to Hypothesis 2 indicate that NV is likely to play a more significant role where Muslims are exposed to contentious ads. In other words, a positive correlation is expected to prevail between the negative effects of NV on recall and level of advertising contentiousness. All these support Hypothesis 2.

Although all the above findings give support to H2 but they should be interpreted with reservation. This is because this hypothesis could be best examined through measuring the amount of distraction in different AC conditions. Unfortunately, this was not manageable in this study. Therefore, as an alternative, distraction was proxied by NV.

8. CONCLUSION

This empirical research investigated the effects of an important cultural factor (NV) on the response of people to TV commercials in the GCC countries. Results indicated that this factor is significant in determining ad effectiveness. Subjects viewed commercials in high NV environments scored a higher recall than those viewed them in relatively low NV environments. The results also indicate that the sensitivity of viewers toward the elements of an ad may give boost to the negative effect of NV. In other words, the more contentious an ad is the more it may cause Muslims create conversational opportunities to talk to other viewers. This may result in more distraction which means more attention being deviated from the ad. From the findings of this study one can understand that the factor of NV may create an environment in which the effectiveness of TV commercials is negatively affected. Having established this, can advertisers do any thing about it? One way might be to change the NV environment, which is impossible. Therefore, the problem (of less attention) must be dealt with through other solutions. The findings of this research suggest that one possible solution might be through the manipulation of the content of commercials which is entirely under the control of the advertisers. The results of this study suggest that this might help greatly to improve ad effectiveness in the GCC countries. That is, a non-contentious ad might be more effective than a contentious one. Airing non-contentious ads may help to reduce the amount of distraction (created by viewers) during commercial breaks, and thus increase the attention paid to the commercials. However, the results about the proposed relationships between advertising contentiousness and distraction can be more reliable by measuring the amount of distraction in environments with varying degrees of ad contentiousness. This, which was not manageable in this study, might be a fertile ground on which future researches can elaborate.

TABLE 2

SUMMARY OF CORRELATION COEFFICIENT FOR THE ROLE OF AD CONTENTIOUSNESS IN DETERMINING THE ASSOCIATION BETWEEN NV AND RECALL

According to the definition of AC used in this study, almost all the commercials shown on the Gulf states television are contentious. The results of this study may give a signal to the advertising companies operating in the Gulf to review their current strategies in developing TV commercials for this region. These companies should be aware that there is a possibility to improve the effectiveness of their messages by developing ads which contain few or none of the elements which Muslims consider against their belief. To identify these contentious elements from the Muslims' point of view, advertisers should not only rely on the government regulations for TV commercials but, also, need to respond to the views of people.

The findings of this study also delivers a message to those researchers who may wish to conduct advertising studies in the Islamic countries in general and the Gulf countries in particular. To those researchers, the findings of this study suggest that the mediating role of cultural factors, such as number of viewers, in advertising effectiveness should not be overlooked even when studying the role of other relatively narrower factors (e.g. clutter, ad length, income, program context, etc). Ignoring the role of cultural factors may over/underestimate the effects of other factors.

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Authors

Mohammed Al-Mossawi, Manchester Business School, U.K.
Paul Michell, Manchester Business School, U.K.



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 1993



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