There was a time not too long ago when advertisements before films occurred only before the lights went down. They were usually slideshows of still images, or short videos. Next, the lights would dim and the previews would begin.
This changed at some point in time (a turning point that eludes this writer’s memory) when they began showing full length TV commercials once the lights dimmed. The first time, it was noticeably odd. Now, it’s difficult remembering a time without them (unless you go to the Ritz).
It’s actually during these commercials that I eat the majority of my movie snacks. Maybe just to pass the time until the previews, or the film. But my actions have become the focus of a study in Germany. It concerns the effects of popcorn on advertising.
Eating Disrupts Learning
The University of Cologne conducted a study that involved participants being invited for a movie viewing in theaters. Before the film began, they were shown commercials—foreign commercials. During this time, half the participants ate popcorn. The other half either chewed gum or were fed a single sugar cube (sounds like an odd choice, but there’s a reason for it).
A week later, the researchers followed up. They presented images of the products seen in the advertisements before the movie. Those that had only the sugar demonstrated “higher preference and physiological responses” for the brands advertised. The popcorn and gum eaters/chewers showed no evidence of the commercials’ effects.
Understanding the Results
At first, it seemed weird that they showed only foreign ads. Then it began to make sense—at least in my reasoning. Domestic commercials wouldn’t have been a good measure. The participants would be used to seeing those ads or would’ve been well aware of those products already. You could’ve then argued that the participants didn’t respond to them because they weren’t novel.
The scientific reason for this lack of response is fascinating. Your mouth performs an almost subconscious action when perceiving information. Scientists call it subvocal pronunciation. When someone encounters a new name their lips and tongue instinctively simulate pronouncing the name.
In layman’s terms, the participants with the gum and popcorn were too busy eating to perform this action. The ones with the sugar cube, which they either chewed once or let dissolve before swallowing, could perform this action.
What are the implications for advertisers? Researchers concluded that ads would remain unsuccessful in situations involving oral interference i.e. snacking or talking. Maybe advertisers will revive the old subliminal messages that started in the 1950s before they were debunked.
Another question: does this only hold true for ads? For products and brand names? Or does it occur for all images? If the last is true then that means if you’re eating during the introduction of characters’ names in a movie you’ll not recall them later. Imagine the detrimental effects to advertising TV dinners may have caused when they were intended to do the opposite!?!?
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