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Users Better Recognise Neutral Banner Ads

Users Better Recognise Neutral Banner Ads

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Marketers often make ads bright and catchy. However, scientists from HSE University have found out that banner advertising on websites should be neutral in order to influence users more effectively. The results of the study have been published in the Frontiers in Psychology journal.

The internet provides people with unlimited access to information. Technology development and the introduction of the internet into everyday life have made training and work much easier and provided opportunities for long-distance communication and online purchases. All of this involves processing a huge amount of information, both relevant and not.

Every day, people face large amounts of information. Mental processes adapt to these conditions so that we avoid information overload. Users may simply not notice advertising banners and similar interface elements, despite their obvious showiness. Marketers face this problem in practice, while cognitive psychologists have a research interest in it.

It is believed that emotional stimuli can attract a user's attention. Therefore, a high level of emotional arousal, positive or negative advertising valence (the degree of positive or negative reaction that an image causes) would help to better recognise banners on a website. However, the opposite situation is also likely: since banners are usually specially created to induce emotions, this, in turn, can cause ‘banner blindness’.

Frol Sapronov and Elena Gorbunova, researchers at the HSE Laboratory for Cognitive Psychology of Digital Interface Users, studied the influence of valence and arousal of advertising on the phenomenon of banner blindness. In two experiments, participants were asked to find information on a website featuring different banners. In the first experiment, the banners had the same valence, but caused different intensity of emotions. In the second, the valence was different, but the emotions were of the same intensity.

The created website imitated the real website of the student council. It contained information about the main goals of the organisation, positions, and opportunities to become a member of the team. The participants had to find a link that would allow them to apply for participation in the activities of the student council. To do this, they had to browse the site content, then click on the link to a page with questions and answer them. The questions helped the researchers to find out whether the respondents had seen banners on the site. It turned out that the respondents remembered banners with different excitability equally, but they remembered banners with neutral valence better than negative or positive ones.

When visiting a site, people browse all interface elements: design, text, menus and advertising banners. Marketers often try to make advertising bright and catchy, and the necessary information turns out to be neutral. The scientists concluded that the valence of the banner may be one of the factors influencing the assessment of information as relevant. Banners with neutral valence don’t have any positive or negative affective information, and therefore are not perceived by users as a typical banner advertisement aimed at attracting attention. That's why they pay attention to them, taking them for something important.

The authors believe that user experience influences banner memorisation. People notice them, and also know in advance about their existence and placement. However, banners do not get to a later stage of information processing and are not remembered. Experience tells the user that bright and emotionally charged images in certain parts of the webpage contain unwanted information. Therefore, the phenomenon of banner blindness may be caused not by the fact that human attention is limited, but by the fact that people deliberately ignore information they don’t need.

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