The Effect of Tv Program Involvement on Involvement With Commercials


C. Whan Park and Gordon W. McClung (1986) ,"The Effect of Tv Program Involvement on Involvement With Commercials", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, eds. Richard J. Lutz, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 544-548.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, 1986      Pages 544-548


C. Whan Park, University of Pittsburgh

Gordon W. McClung, University of West Virginia

[C. Whan Park is Distinguished Professor of Marketing.]

[Gordon W. McClung is Assistant Professor.]


The present study examines the effect of the audience involvement with TV programs on their involvement with the commercials. Two different types of TV program, cognitive and affective, were experimentally created with three different levels of involvement. The results strongly support the debilitating effect of a higher audience program involvement (both cognitive and affective) on their involvement with the commercials.


The contextual facilitation of human information processing has been well documented in the area of cognitive psychology. Several studies have focused on how contextual aspects affect learning (Anderson & Ortony 1975; Barclay et al 1974; Tulving & Thompson 1973) and retrieval (Roediger 1983; Smith et al 1983; Glenberg et al 1973), illustrating the degree to which human memory and language understanding are sensitive to the context within which exposure to a message occurs.

The importance of contextual facilitation is particularly noted in assessing the program effect on audience reactions to advertising (Bandes 1983; Barclay et al 1965; Bello et al 1983; Crane 1964; Davis and Welsch 1983; Kennedy 1971; Krugman 1965; McConnell 1970; Mattes & Cantor 1982; Murphy et al 1979; Soldow and Principe 1981; Webb and Ray 1979; Worchel et al 1975). A principal goal of a television viewer is to view a program in order to fulfill certain underlying needs, rather than to view the commercials aired within the program. As an embedded element in the TV program, a commercial's effectiveness not only depends on its own production merit (initial effectiveness) but also greatly on the audience's reaction to the program. To the extent that contextual cues are important for human information processing and that a TV program affects the audience's commercial viewing, advertising research which is void of the program consideration suffers an ecological validity problem.

Hypothesis Development

The effect of a TV program on an advertisement's effectiveness can be understood with the consideration of: (1) the level of audience involvement with the program and (2) the congruence between program contents and commercial contents in terms of an audience's processing mode (e.g., cognitive and affective processing, Park and Mittal 1985; Park and Young 1986). The present study focused on the former while addressing the implication of the latter in the discussion section.

As audience involvement with a program increases, they are typically expected to allocate more attention to commercials embedded in the program. The relationship between audience program ratings and costs to air commercials in a program are essentially based on this expectation. Findings of television viewers' attentional inertia during program breaks (Anderson 1983) may justify this expectation The present study suggests that this expectation should be, however, examined in terms of the moderating role of the audience's level of program involvement. Individuals do have control over the amount of attention devoted to a particular stimulus whenever such decision is deemed necessary (Kahneman 1973). Jacoby, for example, argued that consumers will not generally be overloaded because they are highly selective in how much and just which information they access. When audience involvement with the program is high, thus requiring a greater processing demand, such needs become genuine. In this situation they will allocate higher levels of attention to the program at the expense of commercial attention. This will lead to lower involvement with commercials than would be expected on a pure attentional inertia basis. We therefore expect a curvilinear relationship between program involvement and commercial involvement: subjects' involvement with commercials will be highest at moderate rather than a low or high level of program involvement. (Subjects' commercial involvement initially increases with increases in program involvement up to a moderate level, thereafter commercial involvement decreases with increases in program involvement.)

This curvilinear pattern is expected to hold across the two types of program involvement. Specifically, previous studies distinguished two types of involvement: cognitive and affective (Park & Mittal 1985; Park & Young 1986). The cognitive motive is utilitarian in nature while the affective motive is experiential (Holbrook & Hirschman 1982). Describing these two motives in the context of a TV program, one watches a TV program to gain knowledge about the particular subject matter, to examine his/her perspective relative to others, to take one's position about an issue, and to entertain his/her intellectual curiosity in the case of the cognitive motive. In the experiential view, the reasons for watching a TV program are essentially aesthetic in nature and hinge on an appreciation of the program for its own sake, apart from any utilitarian function that it may or may not perform. The criteria for experiential viewing encompasses a wide spectrum of feelings and emotions which are not utilitarian in nature, including the value-expressive motive (Park & Mittal 1985; Park & Young 1986). When one indulges in fantasies and aesthetic thoughts by role playing of the character or self-identification with a character, he/she is affectively involved with the program. In an information processing context the cognitive motive fits well with piecemeal processing (Fishbein & Ajzen 1975; Anderson 1965) and the effective motive fits holistic processing (Gestalt school's field dependent processing). Emotional arousal is assumed to precede the information processing in the affective motive (Clark 1982; Bower and Cohen 1982; Leventhal 1982) while such is not assumed in the cognitive motive case. It should be noted that programs may not be clearly cognitive or affective and often they are mixed. The present study, therefore, approaches this more in terms of relative dominance rather than exclusive categorical classification.

When an individual's underlying motive for high program involvement is cognitive, the implication of difficulty in processing commercial information is evident. This is due to the heavy processing demand resulting from the piecemeal method of processing program information. When the underlying motive for high program involvement is affective, such processing difficulty will not be as extensive as is the case with cognitively motivated program involvement. This is attributable to the category-based information processing of program information (Fiske 1982; Mandler 1982). However, the emotional arousal created from the high affective program involvement wv 1 make it difficult for the viewer to get involved with the commercial (continuously paying attention to commercials). This is expected since high emotional arousal tends to last long (Clark 1982) and interferes with the adjustment process required for commercial information processing. Therefore, for two different reasons, we expect a curvilinear relationship between the level of program involvement and the level of commercial involvement for both types of program.


This section provides a general overview of the selection and assignment of subjects, the experimental design utilized, and the operationalization of involvement in terms of type and level.

Subjects for the Experiment

One hundred two female subjects were recruited from the general population for the experiment. Subjects were randomly selected from the telephone directory and contacted by phone. A follow-up letter with directions, confirmation of the scheduled time and reiteration of the level of renumeration for participation was then mailed.

Experimental Design

Two factors are examined in this study for the effects of the subjects' program involvement on their commercial involvement: the specific type of program involvement, and the intensity (level) of program involvement. The experimental design for this research is a 2 X 3 fixed effects model employing two types of viewer involvement with the television program at three levels of involvement intensity. The subjects were randomly assigned to one of the six treatment conditions.

The two types of viewer involvement with the television program were operationalized as:

(a) Cognitive - where the subject is processing issue-oriented information from the television program. Subjects in the cognitive groups will be processing the specific position taken by the main character and/or evaluating the character's position.

(b) Affective - where the subject is identifying with the main character in the television program. Subject's role playing through identification with or projection into the character's situation was manipulated.

The program segments used in the experiment were selected after a review of a series of possible segments by three expert judges. The cognitive program selected for use in the experiment was a 30 minute sequence from Donahue. The affective program selected was a 30 minute sequence from a daily soap opera. The Donahue sequence was a discussion with Maureen Reagan regarding the political implications of the gender gap. The soap opera sequence was from Another World consisting of minimal dialogue with a series of love and relationship scenes embellished by a romantic musical score. The general contents of this program (from the early beginning to the end) consist of the main character recalling pleasant memories about her past love affair with her husband.

Three different television commercials, all represent m g different brands of hair shampoo, were inserted for each program. One commercial was a fictitious commercial which was created professionally while the other two were real ones. The commercial insertions in the program followed the same sequence as in the real program.

Experimental Manipulation

Experimental manipulations on the type and level of program involvement were performed by asking the subjects to follow the specific instructions noted below. For the low involvement manipulation, no distinction was made between the cognitive and affective program involvement (the same manipulation was performed as noted below).

(a) Low Involvement--cognitive and affective:

Thank you for agreeing to participate in this study. I am interested in what people select to read from magazines. To help create a more natural setting I will turn the television on while you are reading from the selection of magazines that have been provided. You may walk around and stretch if you wish, I only ask that you not leave the room. Select two magazines and read at least one article from each of the magazines you have selected. I will return in about 30 minutes to ask you questions about your choice of reading(s) from the magazine(s) that you have selected.

(b) Moderate Cognitive Involvement:

Thank you for agreeing to participate in this study. While viewing the following program I would like for you to watch a discussion between Maureen Reagan and Phil Donahue. I would like for you to try to come to an understanding of Maureen Reagan's viewpoint.

(c) Moderate Affective Involvement:

Thank you for agreeing to participate in this study. I would like for you to watch a program where the main character is called Rachel. While you are watching the program try to identify with Rachel and think about how you feel. Rachel will be the first character you will see.

(d) High Cognitive Involvement:

Thank you for agreeing to participate in this study. While viewing the following program I would like for you to pay specific attention to the arguments advanced by Maureen Reagan and the sequence of events. Her arguments, the subsequent discussion with Phil Donahue and your position concerning the discussion will be an important part of the questions I will ask you after the program.

(e) High Affective Involvement:

Thank you for agreeing to participate in this study. I would like for you to watch a program where the main character is called Rachel. While you are watching the program try to identify with Rachel and think about how you feel. Rachel will be the first character you will see. The program starts at a point in time where Rachel's husband is missing and assumed dead. Try to think about a situation in your past where your loved one has been missing. Imagine you are Rachel as you are watching the program and go through Rachel's experience to the fullest of your ability. [It should be noted that at the beginning of this 30 minute sequence it became evident that her husband was still alive. The balance of the program was dedicated to a romantic memory sequence.]

Measurement Instruments

Prior to the main experiment each subject was asked to indicate their level of interest in watching a particular type of programs. Subjects' level of interest in watching daytime soap operas, talk shows, television, movies, and business news were measured on a 7-point scale ranging from "very uninterested" (1) to "very interested" (7). In addition, subjects were asked their date of birth to determine their age.

After viewing the program subjects were asked a series of questions including the involvement measures. Subjects were asked to respond to a series of descriptive scales according to how they perceived the television program. The items consisted of 7-point semantic differential descriptors relating to irrelevant/relevant, means a lot to me, means nothing to me, matters to me/doesn't matter, uninterested/interested, significant/insignificant, vital/superfluous, essential/nonessential. Subjects were then asked to respond to the same descriptors according to how they perceived the commercials.


Manipulation Check of the Subjects' Random Assignment

Tests for the randomization of subjects across the 2 X 3 design consist of measures in two key areas (1) the degree of interest in television watching, and (2) age. The mean differences (the degree of interest in television watching) across groups were not significant (F = 1.00, p<.39) with an overall mean value of 17.88 (28 represents the highest possible score). The respondent group's overall expressed interest in television viewing was slightly above the neutral level of 16. The second test of random assignment was to examine age differences between and within groups. A random distribution of age was thought to be important because of the possible difference in the sensitivity of the issues (both of cognitive and affective program issues) to subjects of different ages. The average age of respondents was 30 with 5 nonresponses. There was no significant difference in the age of respondents across the six treatment conditions (F = .952, p<.419).

Manipulation Check of the Experimental Group

Two experimental manipulation checks are called for in the present study. They are the type of program involvement (cognitive vs. affective), and the level of involvement (low, moderate, and high). Pretesting of the manipulations consisted of several stages from relying on 'expert' judgments for prescreening to pretesting with subjects which were not part of the main experiment. The results reveal support for a conclusion of effective manipulation as discussed in the following sections.

Type and Level of Involvement Manipulation. An array of approaches have been utilized in the manipulation of subject involvement from increased payoffs to levels of personal relevance. Measures of the effectiveness of these manipulations have consisted of single item measures of level of interest, importance, personal relevance, or multiple item scales (e.g., Zaichkowsky 1985). These traditional measures of involvement may not be equally sensitive to differences in the underlying motives for involvement such as cognitive and affective motives. These measures are expected to be more sensitive to cognitive involvement as opposed to affective involvement. For example, to go through emotional experiences by projection into the situation of a television character may not be viewed as 'important' though the intensity of emotion may be high when compared t-o the political ramifications of the gender gap. However, the emotional experience from projection into the characters role will still be sensitive to measures of importance across levels of increasing affective involvement. This leads to an expectation of higher scores on the measures of involvement for the cognitive involvement group than in the affective involvement group although the measures will still capture relative differences in the level of involvement.

A 7-item involvement scale, which was adapted from Zaichkowsky's recent work, was applied for the manipulation check of the type and level of program involvement. The results (Table 1) show higher involvement scores (X = 29.22) for the cognitive group than for the affective group (X = 19.53) with a significant effect (F = 19.95, p ' 0.001). Equally interesting is the difference in the involvement scores across the three levels of involvement. For both types of program involvement there is a significant increase in the involvement score in accordance with the level (F = 9.26, p < 0.001).



Hypothesis Testing

To test the hypothesis, analysis of variance was performed using the degree of involvement with the commercials shown during the television program as a dependent variable. The results (Table 2) reveal a significant main effect of level of involvement (F = 4.03, p < 0.02) and an interaction effect of level and type of involvement (F = 5.113, p < 0.01). An examination of the main effect reveals, however, that there is an overall curvilinear relationship between commercial involvement and the level of program involvement. The mean scores show an increase in involvement with the commercials as subjects' involvement with the affective program increases from the low (15.82) to the moderate level of involvement (29.29). There is a decrease in subjects' expressed level of involvement with the commercials at the high level of affective program involvement (to a level of 26.47). The mean scores show a marginal decrease in the level of commercial involvement as cognitive program involvement goes from low to moderate (24.88 to 24.82). There is then a decrease in the expressed level of commercial involvement (to 22.65) as program involvement increases to the high level.



The relationship between the cognitive program involvement and involvement with the commercials at the low and moderate levels is in an interesting contrast from that between the affective program involvement and involvement with the commercials at the same levels. The reason why there is no increase in involvement with the commercials from the low to the moderate level may be due perhaps to the subject's greater sensitivity to cognitive strain with the cognitive program than with the affective program. However, for the cognitive program the hypothesis of the present study concerning the effect of the high program involvement on involvement with the commercials is still supported.

The directional presence of the interaction effect is accounted for by the difference in commercial involvement between the subjects in the two types of programs and their level of involvement with the program. When the subjects watched the cognitive program at a low level of involvement, their involvement with the commercials was higher than those who watched the affective program (t = 2.52, p < 0.0017). This may be due to the fact that at a low level of involvement, it is easier to process information of the cognitive program than the affective program since the former does not require emotional arousal, which is difficult to achieve at a low level of involvement. This appears to have carried over into involvement with the commercials. However, at the moderate and high levels of involvement, the direction of involvement with the commercial is reversed (t = -1.28, p < 0.211, and t = -1.27, p < 0.212 for the moderate and high levels of program involvement, respectively). This is due perhaps to difficulty in maintaining attentional focus on both the program and its commercials by subjects who watched the issue-oriented TV program.


Program involvement and involvement with commercials do not necessarily coincide. The relationship between the two is subject to the level of involvement with the program.

At a high level of involvement with the program subjects, involvement with commercials was reduced, compared with subjects who were moderately involved with the program. The curvilinear relationship between program involvement and involvement with the commercial suggests that high involvement with the program has a mitigating effect on subjects' involvement with the commercials.

Several important implications for brand and advertising managers are evident from the results of the present study. Particularly at issue is the question of ad placement within a specific program to maximize ad effectiveness. This issue cannot be adequately addressed by utilizing program ratings and audience demographics since an essential aspect of program-commercial message processing relates to the intensity of viewer involvement with the program and advertisement. To address this issue the advertiser must carefuLly examine the intensity of viewers' involvement with the program within which an ad will be aired.

Although the results of the present study suggest that high involvement with the program has a mitigating effect on subjects' involvement with the commercials, their expressed involvement with the commercials and the effectiveness of the commercials may not necessarily be equated. The relationship between the two may be further mediated by the degree of congruence in processing node between the program and commercial while being subject to the level of the subjects' program involvement. This needs to be addressed in future studies.


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C. Whan Park, University of Pittsburgh
Gordon W. McClung, University of West Virginia


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13 | 1986

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