Ads during violent programs are less effective, research shows

Maria Ball

The research of an ISU professor is giving advertisers a reason not to run commercials during violent television programs.

Brad Bushman, associate professor of psychology, reviewed 12 studies testing whether people remembered commercials after watching a violent TV show.

His results showed that people who watched a violent movie couldn’t remember details of commercials or recognize brand names as easily as those who watched a non-violent movie. This suggests sponsoring violent programs may not be a wise investment for advertisers, he said.

“If advertisers know that people are less likely to remember their ad, they may think twice about sponsoring violent programming,” Bushman said. “Why show an ad if the audience can’t remember your ad?”

Nearly 2,000 men and women participated in the study when a random clip was shown of either a violent movie such as “Die Hard,” “Single White Female” or “Karate Kid III,” or a non-violent movie such as “Field of Dreams,” “Awakenings” or “Chariots of Fire,” with the same commercial messages. After watching the movie, participants were asked to recall details from commercials featuring products like Wisk laundry detergent, Plax mouthwash and Krazy Glue.

“People had poor memory for commercial messages if they were embedded in a violent program,” said Bushman, who conducted four of the 12 reviewed studies.

John Eighmey, professor and chairman of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, said the findings weren’t surprising because of the type of commercials which were shown to participants.

“Any time you show drama against boredom, you’re going to find a difference,” he said. “I’m not surprised that violence would win against Wisk.”

Colleen Phillips, graduate assistant in psychology, said advertisers might now consider buying media space with networks which feature non-violent programming, such as PAX TV and The Family Channel, because of the research.

“It might encourage advertisers to look at a wider variety of programs to sponsor, instead of just violent programs,” said Phillips, who helped Bushman compile the research.

Bushman said participants didn’t remember the ads, which were selected because of their broad market appeal, because viewing violence increases anger.

“When people are in a bad mood, it takes a lot of effort to repair their mood,” he said. “If people are spending all this effort trying to repair their mood, they might be less likely to notice commercial messages.”