Traditional assumptions about how and why users and non-users of a brand consume that brand’s advertising have been challenged by a new eye-tracking study comparing attention levels and recall among different consumer groups.

A study of 700 adults in the US conducted by The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, part of the University of South Australia, used eye tracking as a proxy for the levels of attention that consumers gave to advertising they were shown for brands in a range of categories.

Participants were then asked about which brands they recalled having seen advertised during the exercise, and the results were compared across consumer groups who were categorised as being either heavy users of the brands involved, light users, or non-users.

The study tested the traditional belief that people who already use a brand pay more attention than non-users when they see it advertised, and it is this extra attention that reinforces their relationship with the brand and encourages them to keep buying. The flipside of this idea – that people who don’t already use a brand tend not to notice its advertising – has been used to explain why it is so difficult for brands to recruit new users with ads.

But this latest research indicates that a more nuanced phenomenon is taking place: heavy, light and non-users all give varied levels of attention to brand advertising, the study found. But heavy users still had strong recall of the brand when asked about it later, regardless of how much attention they had paid to the ad, because they already had strong impressions about the brand that were triggered by whatever small elements of the advertising they had noticed.

For non-users and light users – a lucrative pool of potential future buyers of these brands – recall could be just as strong, but only among those who had paid more attention to the advertising.

“These results suggest that when potential and light customers give more attention to the brand’s advertising, they are capable of brand identification and recall,” the researchers said.

“It is therefore important for brands to create advertising that attracts and draws attention from non-users and light users. Advertising to these potential customers provides an opportunity to build memory structures that will eventually improve recall and may increase their propensity of purchasing the brand.”

The project was partially supported by the Australian Government with a Research Training Program scholarship. 

Sourced from The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute