Cinema adverts have no impact when audience is eating popcorn

A new study may have advertisers scrambling to rethink how to get their marketing messages to cinema audiences.

A team of researchers in Germany suggests brand-pushers could be wasting their time trying to impress cinema-goers who are snacking on popcorn or chewing gum when exposed to adverts.

Dr. Sascha Topolinski of the Department of Psychology at the the University of Wuerzburg, and colleagues, write about their findings in a recent online issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

A mechanism often used by marketers is to encourage brand preference by exposing consumers to adverts that simply convey positive messages about the brand they are trying to push.

Previous studies have suggested that when we are exposed to words and phrases, we subvocalize them – even if we don’t repeat the words out loud, we are saying them to ourselves in our head.

But if our mouths are otherwise engaged – such as chewing gum or popcorn – at the time of exposure, this interferes with the subvaocalizing and we don’t retain the message, something the researchers call “oral interference”.

In their study, Dr. Topolinski and colleagues showed adverts for foreign brands to a cinema audience made up of participants who ate popcorn, chewed gum, or just ate a single sugar cube. The popcorn and gum groups were the oral interference group, and the sugar cube consumers were the controls, for comparison.

When they assessed the participants a week later, the team found the controls were more likely to show higher preference and physiological responses for the brands they had been exposed to than for new brands.

However, this was not the case for the participants who had been been chewing gum or eating popcorn – for them the adverts had no effect.

The researchers suggest these findings could extend to talking – if participants are talking while the adverts are on, then this is the same type of oral interference.

So maybe advertisers should ban eating and talking in cinemas? There are perhaps many filmgoers who might welcome such a move, but not necessarily for the benefit of advertisers!

Source: Popcorn in the cinema: Oral interference sabotages advertising effects, Abstract, Sascha Topolinski and others, Journal of Consumer Psychology, published online 29 Sep 2013.