Appeal of Radio Programs Crucial to Impact of Ads, UB Study Finds

By Sue Wuetcher

Release Date: November 28, 1994 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The more a listener likes a radio show and is actively involved in the program, the more receptive he or she will be to the advertisements aired during the show, a study by a University at Buffalo researcher has found.

The results of the study by Kenneth Lord, Ph.D., UB assistant professor of marketing, are contrary to the results of similar studies on television ads. Those studies found that the more involved a viewer was with the program, the less likely he or she was to recall the ads.

The Lord study -- the first to examine the context effects of radio ads -- was published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science.

In that study, 324 students listened to a half-hour audio recording of a radio program --including embedded advertisements -- in a normal listening situation, such as at home or in a car. The "typical" format included short news and music. The test ad was a 30-second spot for a fictitious brand of toothbrush. Listeners reported their attitudes and levels of involvement using seven-point scales.

Lord said the study demonstrates that program involvement and program liking are linked by a third factor -- commercial-processing motivation -- which is responsible for enhancing the attitude toward the ad and toward the brand name.

"The more involved you are in a radio program, and the more you like it, the more likely you are to pay attention when a commercial comes on," he said. "The deeper you're processing the ad, the greater the likelihood you will detect whether the message has appeal or not." He found that this program-induced motivation to process the message had a positive impact, not only on the attitude toward the claims of the ad, but also on its "non-claim" elements, such as background music.

Lord attributed the difference in involvement of listeners of radio and television ads to a "threshold" phenomenon. Cognitive arousal -- the activation of attentional resources -- is enhanced only up to a certain extent, and then spectators reach a level of distraction, where they no longer process the ad. For example, people become so engaged in certain programs, such as intense football games or cliffhanger mysteries like "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," that they block out commercials, Lord said.

"Very high involvement will distract," he noted. "Radio doesn't have the same visual impact. You don't get that same high level of involvement," he added, noting that radio listeners were never so completely absorbed with the program that they reached the threshold leading to the distraction phase.

Lord said the study suggests that advertisers should understand their target audiences and cannot assume an optimal level of involvement for all listeners.