How Clutter Affects Advertising Effectiveness

Peter Hammer, Erica Riebe and Rachel Kennedy
Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science

INTRODUCTION

“Clutter” describes the level of advertising and other nonprogramming material within a medium (Speck and Elliott, 1998). Advertising clutter across media is at an all-time high and now has reached daunting proportions in many countries (White and Dawson, 2007). Some observe that a more cluttered environment reduces advertising viewing (Webb and Ray, 1979), increases avoidance (Speck and Elliott, 1998), impairs advertising memories (e.g., Cobb, 1985; Webb and Ray, 1979), inhibits the ability of audiences to correctly identify the brand (Zhao, 1997), and has an undesirable impact on emotional responses to advertising (Mord and Gilson, 1985; Zhao, 1997).

Despite clutter being a concern for advertisers, it remains under-researched (Brown and Rothschild, 1993) with some inconsistencies in available studies (see Table 1). One report found a large negative correlation between clutter and brand recall (Webb and Ray, 1979), and another could find no clutter effects on memory (Brown and Rothschild, 1993). Such conflicts can be attributed to varying approaches (i.e., experiments versus real world), definitions of clutter, as well as measures of response (Zhao, 1997)—all of which suggest the need for further research.