Laknath Jayasinghe is a lecturer and senior research assistant in the Department of Marketing and Management within Macquarie University’s Faculty of Business and Economics. His paper Everyday Advertising Context: An Ethnography of Advertising Response in the Family Living Room, co-written with Mark Ritson, was named one of 2013’s must read papers by the Marketing Science Institute.
Television advertising remains an important part of the marketing mix for many brands, but how these ads are digested by members of the family hasn’t been well understood, until now.
Our research looked into what motivates viewers at home to respond to, watch, and engage with certain television advertisements, while ignoring others. We also looked at external social influences that occur in the family home to better understand viewing, response and engagement to TV ads.
We did this by analysing the social settings and situations around the television break, enabling us to better understand the impact on advertising response, engagement and consumption.
We viewed a handful of Australian families via an unobtrusive camera in the family living room for two continuous weeks. We also allowed a week of viewer acclimatisation before the actual recording of viewer behaviour began.
We studied the everyday behaviours of consumers within the living space and noted what they did during television program breaks and how they experienced, responded to, and engaged with during real-life advertising broadcasts. These videos provided a real insight into how ads are received by different members of a family.
While ad broadcasts by definition aren’t social events, our research showed they can enhance conversations between family members. In one situation, a father and his eight-year-old son used the ad breaks in the show they were watching together for deep discussions while waiting for their program to resume. The son asked what the father wanted to be when he grew up, which led into a conversation on career aspirations, and then another on moral aspirations to money. During this exchange, the ads were only partially viewed, and looks at the screen were cycled into broader household notions of family wellbeing.
In another example, a young girl admits she pretends to stare at the ads while standing up for her brother, who was being scolded by her father. She often does this to avoid looking at her father when he’s mad in an attempt to diffuse the situation. The many similar viewing strategies in our data set challenge perspectives in advertising research and practice that assume that focused looks at the television screen imply the elaboration of advertising messages.
The time of day can also play a huge part in whether or not television advertising is viewed by each member of the family. A busy mother of four uses the ads as a way to communicate with her children while she’s involved in domestic tasks, such as preparing breakfast. Her children are watching the ads intently. Challenging perspectives that suggest advertising meanings remain constant and are interpreted with exactly the same meaning, we show that the same ad, when viewed in two different moments, is usually engaged with and interpreted in two different ways.
In other situations, the ads are competing with a full gamut of technologies, including smart phones, gaming consoles and tablets.
Our research showed while viewers often use ad breaks for family interaction, the ads are not entirely displaced from attention and viewing is usually incomplete and partial.
Our findings have the most relevance for media planners targeting both out-of-home and home-based viewers, where familiarity with both the social audience and physical viewing setting can largely influence the audience.
The research also found advances in biometric and eye-tracking technology to gauge emotional engagement could be strengthened to account for variances in consumer and household discourse, such as the example of the school girl who pretends to stare the TV to avoid eye contact with her father.
Another interesting research topic would be around the impact of personal video recorders. I’d be keen to see how the relationships between family members influence the extent to which fast-forwarding of ads occur in the family home.