Animation & Priming D
Animation and Priming Effects
in Online Advertising
S. Shyam Sundar
College of Communications
Pennsylvania State University
219, Carnegie Building
University Park, PA 16802-5101
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y For General Competition
y The first author is an assistant professor while the other authors
are graduate students at the Penn State College of Communications. All
student authors contributed equally to the preparation of this paper.
y Running Head: ANIMATION & PRIMING
Paper submitted to the Advertising Division
to be considered for presentation at the annual conference of the
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
Chicago, July 30-August 2, 1997
Animation and Priming Effects
in Online Advertising
A B S T R A C T
This study investigates effects of animated versus still presentation of online
advertising in primed versus unprimed conditions within the context of the World
Wide Web. All subjects (N = 41) in a factorial between-subjects experiment were
asked to view online news and advertising material on a website. They were then
tested for their memory of the ad, asked to provide an evaluation of the ad
content and report their general level of emotional arousal. Analyses revealed
significant relationships between priming and ad memory, animation and
subjective evaluations of ad material, and interaction effects between priming
and animation on the arousal measure.
Animation and Priming Effects
in Online Advertising
Unlike the audiences for traditional media, online users are not a passive or
captive audience. They are proactive and less prone to programming
manipulations of the content provider, raising new challenges for the
advertising industry. Advertisers have met this challenge by making use of the
technological possibilities of the Web and innovating the art of advertising in
the process of trying to attract as many online users as they can. Two recent
innovations in online ads are animation and priming.
Increasingly, still ads are being replaced by animated one on the Web. The
general expectation is that animation, with its moving images and dynamic
presence on a website, is likely to attract users' attention more efficiently.
Another enticement is in the placement of ads in a contextually relevant
manner. Online ads are often relevant to the online text that the user has
called up on the Web. For example, if a user does an Alta Vista search of the
keyword "wines," the search results page is likely to be bordered by an ad for
"Virtual Vineyards," a mail-order retailer of wines. The advertiser, in this
case, is hoping that users are primed by their own interest as well as the
non-ad content of the page in such a way that they will be more receptive to the
ad and perhaps click on it to see more campaign and/or sales material.
The purpose of this study is to examine the psychosocial effects of both
animation and priming in Web advertising. This paper will first introduce
online advertising, review the relevant literature on animation and priming, and
propose a set of research questions. It will then present the methods and
results of an experiment conducted to answer those questions. Finally, it will
discuss the findings in their appropriate methodological context.
Since the global Internet became available for use by commercial services in
the early 1990s, a method of advertising has developed that allows both
companies and entrepreneurs to promote their products and services to millions
of consumers in a matter of seconds (Levinson & Rubin, 1995). The Internet is a
worldwide interconnection between millions of computers and computer networks
via phone lines, satellites and other telecommunications systems (Ellsworth &
Ellsworth, 1995; Mathiesen, 1995). Thanks to this connection, advertisers can
place advertisements in a large variety of computer locations ranging from
online services such as Prodigy and CompuServe to the World Wide Web(WWW) and
computer bulletin boards. The market size they can reach is overwhelming
considering the large number of people connecting to the Internet each day. It
is estimated that two new user accounts join onto the Internet every four
minutes, and that by now, the number of people connected to the Internet is well
over 30 million (Levinson & Rubin, 1995).
Online advertisements are typically presented so that consumers first see a
small presentation inviting them to use their mouse to click onto a certain
location, which advances them to another page that will reveal more information
about the product or service. Thus, online advertisers want to create an
advertisement that entices consumers to click and seek more information.
However, this is not advertisers' only goal. Competitors often share
advertising space on a single computer page with numerous other companies and
individuals. As a result, an abundance of information is offered to people on
most Internet pages, and competition to attract users to one particular spot is
tough. A small company with a meager revenue can now compete at an equal level
with corporations ten times its size (Levinson & Rubin, 1995). Computer
advertisers, consequently, want to grab consumers' attention as well as display
a message that is easily remembered and attractive.
Embedding pictures and graphics into computer advertisements is one technique
used to simplify or enhance online presentations (Ellsworth & Ellsworth, 1995).
Yet, with more and more messages including images along with or instead of
textual presentations, an even more unique form of advertising may be desired.
Several recent developments (i.e. animated GIFs, JAVA, and VRML) in software
standards for the WWW have enabled more robust platform-independent web-based
multimedia presentations which incorporate moving imagery and/or allow end-user
interaction with animated graphical objects. Such enhancements are increasingly
employed on commercial web pages in attempts to attract the attention of
This experiment considers whether the animated enhancement of online
advertisements provides an efficient method for catching people's attention,
since the moving image would stand out from a static one. Reeves et al. (1985)
took EEG measures of people!s eye movements to study the attention they gave to
television commercials. They found a correlation between movement in commercials
and higher attention by the people watching them. Their results help
substantiate the claim that motion captures attention.
Specifically, the present study examines subject's recognition and aided memory
recall of animated versus static online advertisements. The experiment also
considers whether animated or static advertisements affect memory of other
material presented concurrently on the computer page. This experiment then looks
at how people judge the advertisements' appearances as well as how they rate
their own arousal levels after viewing the advertisements. The study also
examines the influence of priming on subject response to online advertisements.
Considering the dual-coding theory advanced by Paivio (1979, 1986), it can be
speculated that animated images could facilitate memory. The theory suggests
that since long-term memory consists of both a verbal and visual coding
mechanism, information that is coded by both methods is more likely to be
remembered. For example, according to the theory, pictures would have a greater
opportunity to be dually coded than words alone because images have both visual
and verbal elements. Information stored through dual coding remains with a
person longer because if one memory trace is lost (whether visual or verbal,)
the other is still available (Rieber, 1990b, 1991). Past research has shown
support for the idea that visual aids can facilitate learning in regards to
instructional material (Kobayashi, 1986; Levie & Lentz, 1982; Levin & Lesgold).
Other studies have extended the dual-coding theory to moving images with a
suggestion that animation can facilitate learning via computer-based instruction
(Rieber, 1989, 1990a, 1990b, 1991; Rieber & Hannafin, 1988; Rieber, Boyce &
Assad, 1990). Rieber (1991) suggests that animation portrays motion and
trajectory of an image, and as a result, codes ideas visually by the actual
image and verbally by implied relationships, such as a "slow-moving" or
In Rieber's experiments mentioned above, children, and occasionally adults, who
completed computerized lessons with animated images scored higher than those
conducting the same lessons featuring static images. Yet, it should be noted
that research has also shown learning through animated visuals is dependent on
the task at hand (Rieber, 1990b; Rieber, Boyce & Assad, 1990).
The present study seeks to see if the dual-coding theory can be applied to
animated images and general memory. In other words, will moving pictures aid
memory of material that is not presented as an instructional lesson?
There have only been a few published studies looking at this relationship
between moving images and memory. Kipper (1986) found in an experiment that
people remembered the physical layouts of videotaped scenes more accurately when
they were shot with a moving rather than with a fixed camera.
Despite this support, it has been suggested that motion effects on memory are
dependent on certain types of information and motion (Detenber & Reeves, 1996).
The present experiment considers not only people!s memory of an animated online
advertisement, but also their memory of other material that the advertisement is
embedded within. It is thought that the types of advertisements leading to
higher memory of any aspect of the online page could be significant.
Considering the relationship between animation and appearance evaluation,
little research has been done. The same can be said for animation and people's
arousal level. Detenber and Reeves (1996) studied these two concepts by having
people examine moving and static pictures and then self-report their emotional
responses, two of which were how pleasurable the image appeared and how aroused
it made them feel. The study gave support for the bio-informational theory,
which suggests that certain attributes such as motion, size, shape and color can
produce emotional responses such as fear or happiness (Detenber & Reeves, 1996).
The present study examines if the movement in online advertisements can
influence people!s emotions. The experiment follows prior studies that have
measured emotion (Bradley et al., 1992; Detenber & Reeves, 1996; Lang et al.,
1993) in that it records people!s self-reported visual pleasure and arousal
levels after viewing certain images. These two measures are considered
indicators of people!s emotions.
A difference between the study by Detenber and Reeves (1996) and the present
experiment should be noted. The prior study showed that people rated the still
images more pleasurable to look at and more arousing than those that were
moving; however, the subjects were evaluating pictures displayed alone and not
images embedded among a large amount of unrelated material. It is speculated
that results in the present study may be different because online advertisements
are seen with other varying information presentations. Moving images surrounded
by in a multitude of still images may be judged more attractive or arousing
because they stand out from the other material.
Priming effects are also considered in this experiment. According to Berkowitz
and Rogers (1986), priming is something that not only fosters certain thoughts
in people, but also increases the probability that these ideas and related ones
will come to mind again in the near future.
Priming can be influential when people are first introduced to something, such
as a word or image, and then later use this information or related thoughts when
activating memory processes. Schleuder et al. (1993) found that people who
watched televised news stories primed by bumpers and teasers scored higher on
verbal recognition tests.
Emotion has also been related to priming in studies suggesting that emotionally
related primes can influence people's feelings and actions (Berkowitz, 1990;
Bower, 1981; Lang, 1979; Leventhal, 1984). Thus, an emotionally positive prime
could lead to a good evaluation of related concept or a certain type of
behavior. Yi (1990) found that people who were primed with positive information
regarding computers judged computers more positively than people who were
exposed to negative computer attributes.
This study examines subject response to animated versus static online
advertisements that are either primed or not primed with related verbal and
visual content prior to exposure. Researchers want to know which of the
advertisements people remember more accurately, and which presentation leads to
better memory of material shown along with the advertisement. The experiment
also notes which advertisement (primed or not primed) people judge more
favorably concerning appearance, and which produces higher arousal levels.
Based on the review of literature, the following research questions are
R1: Will an animated online advertisement aid people's memory of that
advertisement more effectively than a static version?
R2: Will an animated online advertisement aid people's memory of content
surrounding the advertisement more effectively than a static version?
R3: Will an animated online advertisement lead to more positive evaluations of
its appearance than a static version?
R4: Will an animated online advertisement lead to higher arousal levels than a
R5: Will priming of an online advertisement aid people!s memory of that
R6: Will priming of an online advertisement aid people's memory of content
surrounding that advertisement?
R7: Will priming of an online advertisement lead to more positive evaluations of
R8: Will priming of an online advertisement lead to higher arousal levels?
R9: Does an interaction effect exist between animation and priming effects in
regards to online advertisements?
Forty-one undergraduate students enrolled in a senior level criminology course
at the Pennsylvania State University participated in the study. The students
were told that the study concerned on-line presentation of media content and
that they would be given extra credit for their participation. Students were
asked to select a convenient session from among four sessions offered at
one-half hour intervals between 5:30 and 7:00 on a Tuesday evening. All
participants had at least some Internet exposure, since each had a computer
access account. Thirty-four men and seven women participated in the study.
Subjects were distributed among conditions by preference for sign-up times only.
No attempt was made to distribute subjects evenly by gender or any other
The manipulated variables in this study were 1) animated versus static online
presentation of the advertisement and, 2) primed versus non-primed introduction
to the online material reviewed by the subjects.
Effects were measured via questionnaire for subject!s memory recall of both
advertising and news item content; by Likert scale for subjective evaluation of
the test material on several dimensions; and by a SAM scale for self-report of
general level of emotional arousal at two points during the experiment.
Four experimental sessions were conducted during consecutive half-hour periods
on a Tuesday evening during the fall semester. As the students arrived for each
session at the study location, they were greeted in the hallway by one of the
researchers. An initial orientation of approximately seven minutes duration was
conducted for each group in order to explain the study, receive informed consent
for subject participation, and to read specific instructions for procedures to
follow. For two of the groups, instructions included a verbal prime related to
the content of the advertisement used in the study. Instructions to the other
two groups omitted the verbal prime.
While still in the hallway, all groups were asked to complete a SAM scale to
indicate their present general level of emotional arousal, to be used as a
baseline for comparison to later measurement. The subjects were not forewarned
of the later SAM measurement.
The students were then taken into a computer training lab and asked to sit at
any available computer and await further instructions. For the two primed
groups, a page captured from an online version of Gourmet Magazine was already
on the screen as they were seated. The page included a masthead for the
magazine, a color photograph of green bell peppers, and a listing of article
titles and department headings available on the web site. On screen above the
Gourmet page were the printed instructions Please wait until instructed to do
so, then click here to start . For the unprimed groups, a blank page containing
only the printed instructions was on the screen as they were seated in the
The students were read instructions that said the researchers were interested
in online presentation of media content. They were further instructed, that when
asked to do so, they should click on the start instructions which would bring
the online material for the study. Subjects were asked to try to review the
subsequent material as they would any other newspaper or magazine, and to
continue reviewing the material for the seven minutes allotted for the task.
Subjects were also told that the researchers were only interested in the front
page presentation of the material, and that all links embedded in the material
had been deactivated, as indeed they had been.
Once instructed to begin, the students were presented with a modified front
page of news and related items captured from washingtonpost.com the online
version of the Washington Post. The page was in the format of a typical online
newspaper with an identifying masthead at the top, and text and colored pictures
underneath. The text dealt with actual news and feature stories. The page
selected for use in the study was chosen because the authors felt that there
were very few exceptional or uniquely dated news stories that would have been
subject to greater risk of outside contamination for purposes of recall testing
(as was much of the election coverage current immediately prior to the study,
The resulting page layout extended beyond the depth of the computer screen,
requiring students to use the browser to pull down the page to reveal all of
the content to be studied. Students were instructed that this would be the case
and all subjects were observed scrolling throughout the material as required
during the study.
Included among the items on the page, adjacent to the masthead, was an
advertisement designed for the experiment. The product featured in the color
advertisement was Gavalia Kaffe. The ad pictured a steaming coffee cup, and
offered a recipe for cappuccino brownies to those who clicked on the ad. As with
all other links on the page, the recipe link was deactivated. In the animated
condition, the text "Recipe!" repeatedly wrote itself onto the screen, letter by
letter. In the still condition, the ad was identical except that the image was
static, with the text "Recipe!" fully revealed.
Immediately after the seven minutes allotted for review, the students were
asked to stop perusing the online material and complete another SAM scale on
paper that had been placed face down adjacent to each computer prior to their
admission to the room. The students were then taken by another member of the
research team to another location, where they were asked to complete a
questionnaire to test recall and recognition of both advertisement and news
content and appearance. In the recall and recognition questionnaire, subjects
were asked six questions (three open-ended and three multiple-choice) concerning
the content and appearance of the ad. Six additional items (also three
open-ended and three multiple-choice) tested their memory of the news items and
feature listings on the page.
Additionally, the students completed a ten item Likert evaluation of various
perceptions of the appearance and quality of the news items, as well as
responses to the advertisement.
Responses for the dependent measures were tabulated as follows:
For each item on the recall questionnaire, a value of 1 was assigned to correct
responses and a value of 0 was assigned to incorrect responses and to unanswered
questions. The six ad-related recall items were scored separately from the six
news-related memory items.
The Likert items were scored on a scale of 1-5, with the the scale applied to
each item so that higher scores reflected more favorable evaluations.
The SAM measurement also used a 1-5 scale for self-report of general level of
emotional arousal. The lower extreme indicated an unaroused state and higher
numbers indicated more highly aroused states. A single SAM differential
measurement was derived from the two measurements taken. The SAM differential
reflected the net increase or decrease in self-reported arousal from the
baseline measure taken during subject orientation to the measure taken
immediately after subjects reviewed the online material.
Data analysis revealed three significant findings relating to questions R3, R5
and R9. No significant results were found for R1, R2, R4, R6, R7 and R8.
Priming and ad memory
In contradiction to our expectations for R5, primed subjects exhibited poorer
ad memory than unprimed subjects when the ad memory scale was reduced to the
three items that showed significance among the six total ad memory items on the
questionnaire: F(1,40)=5.9362, P<0.05. Animation had no significant influence
on this effect.
Animation and subjective evaluations of the advertising
In partial support of our expectations for R3, subjects from the animated
groups rated the ad less of a nuisance and less likely to be confused with news
content (these were the only two significant items among the ten Likert items
administered) than did subjects from the static condition: F(1,39)=5.6162,
P<0.05. Priming had no significant influence on this effect.
Priming, animation and arousal
In answer to R9, regarding interaction effects, there was a transverse
relationship between priming and animation on the SAM differential arousal
measure, such that either one of the conditions alone resulted in higher arousal
than either the combination of both conditions or the absence of both:
F(1,40)=3.9872, P=0.0532. Least squares means for the condition pairs were as
follows: unprimed/static = -0.625; unprimed/animated = 0.4; primed/static = 0.0;
primed/animated = -0.364. Negative means reflect decreases in reported arousal
in the post-exposure measure. The interaction effect might therefore be more
correctly stated as the presence of either condition alone results in less of a
decrease in reported arousal than either the combination of both or the absence
Of the significant results reported, two directly involve the animated versus
static variable, which, for reasons discussed below, must be viewed with
suspicion. It is hoped that the methodological flaws of the study outlined
below will prove to be educational to other scholars as they attempt
effects-type investigations in this new medium.
Computer system responsiveness
During the animated sessions, the responsiveness of the computers used was
significantly slower than that observed in the static ad sessions. Increased
network overhead caused by multiple simultaneous attempts to access files
comprising the animated advertisement, each of which initiated a higher
bandwidth network transaction compared with that of the static version, was the
source of the problem. Subjects in the animated condition had to suffer tedious
and frustrating delays in system response, while their counterparts in the
static trials had minimal, if any, delays from network overhead. These delays
were not trivial. While it may be argued that similar delays exist for many
real-world users of the WWW, who have relatively low-bandwidth dial-up
connections to the net, any comparison in our study between the animated and
static conditions nevertheless is confounded with the comparison of relatively
responsive systems in the static condition with laboriously unresponsive systems
in the animated condition. We need to ask Were the results due to the enhancing
presence of animation or the distracting presence of extreme network delays?
This question cannot be answered with any confidence.
Neither is the influence of these delays straightforward or predictable. It is
reasonable to suspect that end-user frustration from delayed system response may
adversely influence the subjective evaluations for which the Likert items were
devised. But in our study, subjects in the animated condition found the
advertisement less distracting than in the static condition. Would not the
presence of extreme network delay in the animated condition cause the opposite
reaction on distraction measures? Intuitively we could say that it might if the
subjects were aware of the animation as the cause of the delay, and if they
evaluated the Likert items with that awareness foremost in their minds.
However, perhaps it is not too convoluted to hypothesize that given the
magnitude of network inconvenience observed in the animated condition, any other
distraction or inconvenience pales by comparison, resulting in a decreased
likelihood that subjects in the animated condition would attribute significant
nuisance factors to any of the content, advertisement included. An analogous
situation might be worrying about some lint specs on your blazer when a passing
car has just splashed by and covered you with mud.
The delays also may have been sufficiently distracting to influence recall
measurements for the animated condition, though no significant relationship
between animation and ad memory was discerned in our analyses. For instance,
subjects who are investing a lot of mental energy in thinking "Why is this
screen so pokey?" may not have much attention left for other cognitive tasks.
The SAM scale requested self-report of a general level of emotional arousal,
which according to subject interpretation could include frustration, anger, or
boredom resulting from having given up on trying to access nearly inaccessible
In short, the observed network problems were of sufficient magnitude and
duration, and were unique to the animated condition, so as to call into question
any results based on the animation independent variable. Our research questions
R1, R2, R3, R4 and R9, all of which explicitly consider animation, remain
The post-exposure SAM scale
Seven minutes were allotted for the the students to review the online material.
The Washington Post page used in this study included very brief headlines and
lead paragraphs for each story or item displayed. Most of the items included
embedded links for allowing readers to pursue further information on the story
if desired. In order to limit potential variations in exposure, these links
were deactivated for our study. All of the front page material could be read,
but perhaps not studied, in a much shorter period of time.
The post-exposure SAM scale was administered at the end of the seven minute
review . By this time, many subjects may have become bored or frustrated with
repeated review of the dead-end lead items included on the page.
Accuracy of the recall measures
For several of the recall items, subjects were able to supply answers that were
neither unambiguously right nor unambiguously wrong. For instance, when asked
What did the on-line advertisement offer to those who clicked on it?, at least
one subject replied Nothing, the link was deactivated. The answer clearly is
a correct response, however, it doesn!t address recall of add content at all.
Coding for such ambiguities was handled consistently as each case arose, but
more thorough pretesting could have refined our measurements and avoided such
Considerations for future research
In retrospect, it is worth questioning whether content recall, while perhaps
useful for testing theoretical constructs, is a meaningful measure of
advertising effectiveness within the context of the WWW. The web equivalent of
print space advertising is the initial presentation as would appear in the
margins of on-line news services, for example. These initial unrequested ads
merely serve as enticements for users to click on the ad, thereby requesting
more involvement with the advertiser. Users then are provided with additional
information or specific offers, often after progressing through several layers
of presentation. When evaluating the effectiveness of initial panels in an ad
chain, the response of interest to the advertiser is more likely behavioral
(i.e. did the user click on the ad) than cognitive (i.e. did the user remember
my offer). Depending on the nature of the product or service advertised, deeper
layers (those presented after the initial response by the user) may have
different criteria for success (i.e. did the user place an order; was the user
favorably impressed with our company!s presence; was the information clear and
concise; etc.). As different levels may have different goals, animation or
other formal attributes of the presentation may operate differently at different
levels in the chain. What serves as an enticement to click on the initial level
may turn out to be a detrimental distraction on another level.
The effects of the tradeoff between animated presentation and network
performance caused by the higher bandwidth demands of enhanced graphical
presentations remains a valid area of study with potential for practical
application in web site design. In our study, the two inadvertently were
co-mingled. The web community in general is aware of the limitations of shared
network resources. Nevertheless, trading performance for animated and
graphics-intensive presentations occurs with ever-increasing frequency on the
WWW, as companies and individuals compete for the attention of apparently jaded
web surfers. Future studies that isolate these effects could help determine the
nature of the tradeoff, both in terms of end-user perceptions and advertising
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