Psychster Inc. Study Shows That Some Brands Backfire When Advertised with Edgy Entertaining Content.

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A new whitepaper by Psychster Inc. finds that ad agencies prefer to place ads on entertainment websites over sites that inform, educate, or engage users in other ways. But Psychster’s multivariate scenario experiment revealed no scientific foundation for this preference. In fact, ads for a leading bank backfired when displayed on a humor site targeted to college students: the bank was seen as significantly less modern, honest, classy and cool, and users were significantly less likely to click, than when the identical ads were displayed on education sites.

Ads for a leading bank backfired when displayed on a humor site targeted to college students: it was seen as significantly less modern, honest, classy and cool, than when the identical ads were displayed on student-resource sites.

A new whitepaper by Psychster Inc. finds that by a 6 to 1 margin, ad agencies prefer to place ads on sites that entertain over those that educate out of a belief that users who are entertained are more likely to buy. But Psychster Inc. found no evidence for this view.

Using a multivariate scenario experiment, Psychster Inc.'s David Evans Ph.D. and Eden Epstein Ph.D. compared reactions to identical ads (for a leading bank, soft drink, and computer company) displayed on either entertainment sites or education sites. The sites were carefully chosen to target the same college-age audience, but to have maximally different content. The entertainment sites featured funny articles, pictures, and videos, whereas the education sites offered book summaries and study guides. Bookrags.com agreed to let their site be one of the education sites tested, and to help fund the recruitment of 662 respondents from a disinterested 3rd party panel company.

“Ads for none of the three brands performed significantly better on the entertainment sites than on the education sites in terms of how well they were perceived and recalled, or in how much they motivated a click.” reported Dr. Evans. “In fact, ads for the bank somewhat backfired when displayed on the entertainment sites: it was actually seen as less cool, opposite what an agency would intend. Users seem to be saying ‘You’re a serious company that looks silly if you’re not on a serious site.’”

“We were happy to offer resources for this 3rd party study and are not at all surprised by the results,” said Ryan Mulcahy, Vice President of Ad Sales at BookRags Media. “Publishers in this space have an audience of smart, wealthier than average, driven and engaged users in a brand safe environment – something increasingly hard to find online.”

Dr. Evans concludes, “We’ve recently seen major retailers removing their Facebook pages for poor performance. I think their experience echoes the findings of this paper: some sites put people in what psychologists call an ‘appetitive’ frame of mind where they are looking to acquire goods and services. But some sites do this less so, perhaps entertainment and social sites among them.”

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David Evans

Ryan Mulcahy
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