Monday, March 15, 2010

Thinking about advertising: memories and anticipations

One of the blogs I follow today reported that water consumption went up dramatically during the end of the second and third periods of the U.S./Canadian hockey game held during the recent winter Olympics. What they were referring to is the proverbial bathroom break. The idea that people use commercial breaks to do things other than watch the commercials is not new. Other researchers have provided similar evidence of such activities during football games in the United States, attributable mostly to beer consumption. Such activities are what I call “routine practices” surrounding media consumption, including bathroom breaks, making phone calls, texting, shifting to another medium while multitasking, or talking to friends or family members in the room, among other social practices.

Other things we do while the commercials are on include thinking, daydreaming, or fantasizing. Think, daydream or fantasize about what? Other things. In my book Advertising in Everyday Life, I write about the kinds of thoughts we have when we consume advertising, mainly thinking about the past (memories) or anticipating the future. There are elements of advertisements (visual, verbal or textual) that serve as cues, sending viewers off to what I like to refer to as “never-never land.”

All of these activities—thinking, talking, texting, etc.—comprise the ritualistic practices of media consumption. It is in this way that consumers are to some extent empowered to do what they want with and through their media experiences. What consumers want doesn’t always go along with what the advertiser desires, which is to have consumers pay close attention to the advertisements. While consumers develop elaborate social practices as a part of their media rituals, advertisers attempt to seek newer ways to contain and control them. This is what I call the “cat and mouse” game between consumers and advertisers. And, with new media coming online, meaning more distractions and the development of additional practices, the system grows in complexity.

It is difficult for some people to get in touch with their thoughts while they are consuming media, but if one practices, over time the skill can be acquired. It’s an interesting exercise through which we learn much about media rituals and about ourselves.


Jojoseph said...

Once whatever I'm watching turns off and goes into a commercial I find myself texting, going back to my homework, checking my emails, talking to my roommate, etc. I actually feel bad for advertisers because possible consumers lives are being distracted by so many other things which doesn't allow their commercial to even be seen. The time I do pay attention to a commercial is when it turns up to be louder then I have the TV which is actually illegal to do, but in all honesty it is a technique to get consumers attention again. It's like my mind is trained to know how long commercial breaks are and to lift my head up from my other activities as soon as the show I'm watching turns back on. I wonder if it's peoples lack of interest in commercials or is it that people are just so caught up and busy with other things that they don't have time to watch a full commercial.

Brianne Sullivan said...

I agree that as soon as the program I am watching turns off, I automatically move on to something else to keep me occupied until the program is back on. Rarely do I sit and actually pay attention during commercial breaks. There are so many other things that can get down during commercial breaks that it is almost like viewers already plan what they need to do in the allotted amount of time before the show returns. The advertisers job has become increasingly difficult with the added pressures and distractions that people of all ages face today. I do not know how much more "unique" or peculiar advertisers can make their ads in order to get and keep viewers attentions.