Does Web Advertising Work? Memory for Print vs. Online Media

By Sundar, S. Shyam; Narayan, Sunetra et al. | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

Does Web Advertising Work? Memory for Print vs. Online Media


Sundar, S. Shyam, Narayan, Sunetra, Obregon, Rafael, Uppal, Charu, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


Is memory for an advertisement related to the medium in which the ad was viewed? A between-subjects experiment (N = 48) was designed to answer this question. One-half of the subjects was exposed to a print newspaper front-page with two news stories and one advertisement whereas the other half was exposed to the online version of the same content. Results showed that print subjects remembered significantly more ad material than online subjects.

The recent and rapid growth of web advertising into a multi-billion dollar industry1 has sparked renewed interest in the age-old question: Does this new medium work better than traditional media in spreading the advertiser's message? While this question is of obvious practical importance to media planners and other advertising professionals,2 it raises more fundamental theoretical questions about cognitive processes for media scholars: Do people remember advertisements on the internet any differently-or perhaps better-than they do ads in newspapers and television? How much memory do they have for online ads compared to print ads? Are these memory differences, if any, unique to advertising content or are they generalizable to all content?

The present investigation makes an effort to address these questions through a controlled experiment designed to measure memory differences for identical content transmitted via different media. Specifically, the experiment measures recall and recognition of advertising as well as news story content on a newspaper front page and compares it with recall and recognition of the same content presented on a website. The purpose is to track differences, if any, in incidental memory for print and online ads while controlling for memory differences for other, non-ad content. The independent variable is medium, with two values: print and online. The dependent variable is incidental memory for ad content. The control variable is memory for news story content. The research question maybe summarized as follows: For media consumers, controlling for story memory, what is the relationship between the type of medium and the level of memory for advertisements?

This article will first explicate the concepts of medium and memory in the context of advertising effects. It will then present the methods and results of an experiment designed to answer the above-mentioned research question. Finally, it will discuss the findings with a view to enhancing academic understanding of the psychological effects of online media.

Almost all classical models of communication have conceptualized "medium" as a transmission vehicle, channel, or device through which messages are transmitted from senders to receivers.3 Implicit in this conceptualization is the idea that the medium of communication is a variable capable of altering the nature of communication between senders and receivers. McLuhan was among the first to problematize "medium" when he proclaimed that the psychosocial effects of media on audiences far outweigh the effects of message content.4 He theorized that technologies in general and media technologies in particular were transmitting their own messages, which were much more powerful and all-encompassing than the effects of "content" on the masses. With a broad social-psychological sweep that would forever change generations of humans, new media introduce changes in scale, pace, and pattern into human affairs. "The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts, but alter sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance."5

The advertising profession, more than any other media enterprise, has long recognized the psychological effects of media technologies by explicitly comparing different media while making campaign decisions regarding media mix.6 This is especially the case since the arrival of the latest "new media," meaning computers and the Internet.7 In addition to measuring various media for their relative reach of audiences,8 the advertising industry keenly pursues audience reactions to different media by trying to assess the "standing of the media vehicle" in the minds of the audience. …

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Does Web Advertising Work? Memory for Print vs. Online Media
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