Eye-tracking and Youtube: Do Banner Ads Work?

The study “Relationships among Two Visual Attentions and Fixation Duration on an Ad Banner: An Exploration through Eye-Tracking on YouTube” was conducted at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand.  Researchers chose to use subjects that they felt represented a significant portion of YouTube viewers, given that the research was being conducted at a university they simply put out a call for participants. This method of gathering subjects proves effective because it ensures that said subjects are random.

The researchers eventually found 100 participants that were usable for the experiment and had them choose between three distinct clips on Youtube with the only common thread being that all three clips had ad banners. The point of the study was to a) track the correlation between the attention given to the ad banner on the clip vs. the attention to the clip itself and, b) track the amount of time the participants were fixated on the ad banner.  A device called the Miramatrix eye-tracker was used to track the participants eye movement.

*This video is an example of one of the clips that might have been used in the study with an ad banner at the bottom*

In the end the researchers found that generally the attention given to the banner was underwhelming in comparison to the attention given to the clip. This could be due to a number of factors like the content of the clip itself (which, if interesting enough, will deter almost all of the attention from the ad), the placement of the banner, and the fact that the banners are generally smaller and placed on the bottom of the clip where viewers intentionally choose to avoid looking.  The study reported that only 16.777% of all the subjects visual attention was placed on the ad banners while 71.091% was on the clip itself.  Additionally, the average fixation duration of the viewers was 573 milliseconds meaning that, if a participant happened to glance at the ad banner, the average amount of time spent looking at the ad banner was .573 seconds.

One of the major conclusions that the researchers were able to deduce from this study is that there is a positive correlation between the visual attention and the fixation duration of the ad banners.  This means that the more times someone glances at a particular ad banner the longer amount of time that person will spend looking at the advertisement, which is fairly logical.

This study points out how some types of advertising, although placed in a seemingly high-traffic area such as YouTube, may not be as effective or gain as much attention as one would think.  Additionally it reveals the paradoxical nature of this ad banner type of advertising on Web videos in general.  This issue is highlighted through the finding that the ad banners on YouTube clips and the clips themselves compete for viewers attentions, as well as the correlation between fixation duration and visual attention of the ads.  It is questionable whether or not the owner of a particular clip would warrant this kind of competition on their YouTube video because of the potential inattention that it could mean for his or her own content.  Likewise, an advertiser looking to gain a significant amount of attention to an ad banner would be cautious in placing their advertisements on more popular and potentially more “interesting” or attention grabbing videos because of the inattention that the ads might get.

One issue that this study does not address is that not all YouTube videos contain these banner ads and, from our own personal research, often times these banner ads can be hard to find on YouTube today.  One of the possible reasons for this is because different Internet browsers afford different types of ad blocking capabilities such as Google Chrome’s “AdBlock”, which is an add-on to Chrome that completely eliminates these banner ads (and other types of ads) from appearing on one’s screen.  Another reason for this is that YouTube videos have varying types of advertisements placed on their clips, which seems to make the appearance of these banner ads (as well as other types of ads) occur in a very unpredictable manner.

*In case the video shown above did not have the banner ad as discussed these two images are screenshots of a clip with the ad banner shown at the bottom*

The implications of a study such as this are numerous.  One possible implication is that, if more studies like this are done on different types of advertising, especially online advertising, and reveal that specific advertising techniques are actually less effective than they were thought to be, the advertising industry could see major changes take effect in the coming years.  This potential shift could be likened  to the creative revolution in advertising because, if this type of change were to occur, advertisers would be forced to take their advertising efforts to a new level of creativity and thinking.  Consumers could, and most likely will, continue to see advertisements popping up in new places and in all different forms of media.  This implication is further perpetuated by the potentially unlimited amount of areas that the Internet affords advertisers to place their ads.  Especially with the advents in mobile computing technology and social media advertising, the areas that advertising could appear really are endless.

The findings of this study offer insight to the use of eye tracking devices as a method to better understand consumers. This method is not only used to measure eye movement on video, it can be used for all media and this study has succeeded in displaying a clear example of how companies today can benefit from the data collected by it. When brands and companies know what their target market is looking for they gain the ability to garner large amounts of profit which makes experiments like this one integral to the way companies interact and interpellate consumers.  Although this study finds that the ad banners used on YouTube videos may not be a very effective type of advertising, it establishes a precedent for other such studies to be conducted regarding other types of advertising.

Works Cited

Screenshots taken by author at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMnq9HTYynM

Tangmanee, Chatpong. “RelationshipsAmongTwo Visual Attentions And Fixation Duration On An Ad Banner: An Exploration Through Eye-Tracking On Youtube.” Journal Of Global Business Issues 7.1 (2013): 1-6. Business Source Complete. Web. 28 Apr. 2014.



Cologne Commercials: Realistic or Not?

Looking at this Dolce and Gabana Light Blue commercial from a semiotic standpoint allows one to break down the different messages the advertisers might be trying to convey in individual parts of the video.  The opening image of the advertisement is an overlooking shot of a small boat floating in water next to a land formation.  The scene at a glance is what one would consider very exotic because of the seeming remoteness of the location and the crystal blueness of the water.  Also shown in the ad are a man and a woman, both extremely well-tanned and fit, in bathing  suits.  These signifiers could translate into signifieds of exoticness and wealth, as well as many other possible readings.  The music choice for the ad reinforces this exotic theme because of its Italian sound and feel.  It is clear, then, that Dolce and Gabana want to convey to the viewers of this commercial that their product is exotic.

This commercial for the cologne Acqua Di Gio by Giorgio Armani also uses ocean water signifiers along with depictions of a very toned and tanned man.  Interestingly, both advertisements use depictions of water, seemingly to convey “exoticness”, and extremely fit and well-tanned characters.  In fact the following two ads, one for Dolce and Gabana Sport and one for Dior Homme, also contain depictions of men and women being portrayed  in this light.

It is not uncommon for advertisers to use good-looking people in their advertisements, but these specific videos go well beyond the norm and venture into the realm of being completely unrealistic, which causes problems when looking at them from an ideological perspective.  Often times human beings, whether consciously or subconsciously, will take what they see in ads and try to make sense of it in terms of their own lives.  In this way advertisements can largely impact how people construct their identities and how they see the world (Goldman and Papson 85).  The portrayals of the men in the first three advertisements, being extremely fit, tanned, and good-looking, create a normative view of how men should look.  This view can be harmful for men because, clearly, not all men look like this and many men cannot look like this no matter how hard they try.  Along with misrepresenting men in terms of fitness and tanness, these commercials also greatly misrepresent men in terms of ethnicity.  In fact, not a single minority is depicted in any of these ads whether male or female, which clearly would cause problems for identity construction in short and less fit minority group members.

These ads are all clear examples of how modern day advertising has turned from focusing on the goods themselves (as none of the ads actually depict anyone using their products) to focusing on building brands that will stick out in people’s minds.  Similar to the beer ads discussed in Messner and Montez De Oca’s article “The Male Consumer as Loser”, rather than trying to find ways to differentiate their products from their competitors, these cologne ads all use a sort of “lifestyle branding” that appeals more to the senses and emotions of the viewer (Messner and Montez De Oca 1880).  Specifically these ads portray a certain luxurious and exotic lifestyle that is unrealistic to how most people live and act.  The depiction of the man and woman swimming and then engaging in a sensual make-out session in Dolce and Gabana’s Light Blue commercial is an occurrence that likely never happens in average person’s life.  Similarly, the way that the actor Robert Pattinson and the woman in Dior Homme’s commercial are constantly kissing and romantically touching one another no matter where they go is also a lifestyle depiction that not all people engage in.  The settings that these people are shown in, the way they look, and the way they act are all ridiculous exaggerations that both reflect the logic of capital and promote a normative vision of our world through their luxurious misrepresentations.

To create a video that addresses the issues these commercials bring up I would focus on how unrealistic their representations of men and women are.  Playing off the ideological issues I pointed out earlier I would display how each of these ads, although for different products, uses the same themes in terms of how they represent people.  Each of the ads, especially the Dior Homme commercial, uses unrealistic lifestyle portrayals and even, like in the Dolce and Gabana Sport ad, depict human beings acting and clearly posing for the camera in strange ways.  Another issue I would raise is the seeming need of cologne advertisements to not show anyone actually using the product.

When viewing these commercials one has to wonder, “where is the rest of humanity here?”  Unfortunately for the viewers of these ads, while containing elements meant to make their products appeal consumers, modern day cologne advertisements use unrealistic portrayals of men and women that are ideologically objectionable from the standpoint of the average consumer.  Specifically, these commercials create a false view of real life, represent only a small portion of society, and promote a normative vision of our world and relationships.


Old Spice Refresh

Approaching this Old Spice Refresh commercial from a semiotic standpoint allows the viewer of the “text” to break down the individual messages that Old Spice is trying to convey in each segment of the commercial.  The ad uses many different signifiers that help to position Old Spice Refresh in the viewer’s mind as a product that will help one become more manly.  The manliness of the signifiers in this commercial, which can be likened to the “Italianicity” of the Panzani advertisement described by Roland Barthes, give the viewer the impression that Old Spice Refresh is a very manly product.  One such signifier is the depiction of a man and the Old Spice Refresh can at the 1:33 mark of the video.  Some of the signifieds of this signifier could be manliness, strength, being fit, working out, or being athletic. This advertisement uses many similar signifiers such as the bearded caveman, the man in the suit running with the woman in the black dress, and the man in the black vest with no shirt on.  All these signifiers aim to have similar signifieds of masculinity and work together to convey to the viewer the overall manly feeling of the commercial.

Through its use of referent systems, commodity sign, and fast-paced visual and audio signifiers, this Old Spice commercial is a perfect example of the type of ads described by Goldman and Papson in “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning”.  One of the most prominent referent systems used in this ad is the voice of the narrator.  His voice sounds eerily similar to the kind of narrator voice used in documentaries and informational programs that can often be found on National Geographic, The History Channel, and especially The British Broadcasting Channel.  This referent system generates a sign value of authenticity and legitimateness, which plays along perfectly with the humor used in most of the commercial.  It makes the viewer laugh, but also makes the viewer read the messages being conveyed as truth all at the same time.  This use of humor is not only a great way for the advertiser to appeal to today’s cynical consumer, but it is also a perfect example of media self-referentiality since it uses the same documentary-like narrator character as other programs, which gives reference to The BBC and other media.  In this way not only does the commercial refer to another form of media, but it also has intertextual meaning in that it is not only a video on Youtube, but it is also a commercial on television.  Interestingly, Old Spice and others have used this British-sounding narrator on other occasions in their commercials causing this method to be a sort of cultural cannibalism, which has the potential to make the use of this tactic less desirable in the future due to possible decreases in popularity amongst viewers.

Like in Bill Bernbach and DDB’s work with Volkswagon and Avis, this ad uses tactics that appeal to the cynical consumer..  One way in which Old Spice does this is through the humor and sarcastic tone that the commercial adopts from beginning to the end.  The commercial uses many visual jokes such as the portrayal of a cave man using a computer.  This depiction along with the sarcastic commentary by the narrator saying, “From the dawn of time man has pondered life’s single most important question…” makes this scene quite funny.  The advertisement assumes that its viewers will have an appreciation for this  use of humour and sarcasm, which would make Old Spice advertisements entertaining to watch and would instill a feeling of coolness towards Old Spice in its viewers.  Additionally, this commercial uses a similar approach to that used by Bernbach in his work towards addressing the problem of “conformity and hypocrisy” that can be seen in many advertisements on mass media platforms (Frank 60).  Instead of directly stating the problem of conformity in advertising though, Old Spice uses this comedy and extreme sarcasm as a means of self-mockery and shows the consumer that Old Spice is self-aware of their advertisements.

The tactics employed in this commercial all aid Old Spice in carrying certain ideologies through our culture.  One concrete example of this can be found at the 2:42 mark in the commercial where a man is depicted leaning against a woman with Old Spice Refresh flying in from the background.  This man and woman positioned with the image of the product are signifiers for a range of signifieds such as wealth, beauty, success and happiness.  The positioning of these images connotes the feeling that if one buys this product then he will be able to attain what these people have.  Through this chain and others, the commercial promotes the normative vision that people should look like this and if they do not, then they are doing something wrong.  This commercial tells the viewer that this is how the world should be and, through buying these products, you can be like this too.


Historical Analysis: Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better

This 2007 Gatorade commercial features two famous athletes, Mia Hamm (USA Women’s Soccer) and Michael Jordan (NBA), competing in a compilation of sporting activities to the tune of “Anything you can do I can do better”.  All the while, Michael and Mia taunt one another and drink Gatorade, which also seems to bead off of their bodies as if they are literally sweating Gatorade as they are playing.  Due to how gender roles are portrayed in the ad, the ad’s usage of professional sports icons, its “soft sell” style of advertising, and other  characteristics, this commercial is a fitting example of what a contemporary ad looks like.

Probably the most significant factor that makes this commercial a contemporary ad is its usage of cultural references, specifically its use of very famous professional athletes Mia Hamm and Michael Jordan.  This endorsement tactic was not widely introduced into advertising until after the World War II era which immediately marks the ad as being from the contemporary category.  Not only does it depict these athletes as themselves in the ad, but it  them simply playing different sports (their own sports of soccer and basketball included) and drinking Gatorade.  This is significant because, rather than having Michael and Mia talk and deliver information about Gatorade, the commercial simply depicts the athletes playing and drinking.  This non-informational “soft sell” style of advertising is  very typical of the contemporary ad category where as the more “hard sell” and informational types of ads were much more common in the depression era and other earlier ad categories.

Another significant characteristic of this ad is Gatorade’s usage of gender roles, specifically in pitting Mia Hamm against Michael Jordan in what seems an evenly matched competition.  Advertisements use of gender roles in previous ad categories, like the Depression and WWII eras, could likely be considered  sexist and often portrayed women in stereotypical positions such as cooking or cleaning.  Oppositely, this contemporary ad puts a professional female athlete (the notion of which might not have existed in earlier categories) and a professional male athlete on  equal levels by showing them defeating one another in different sports competitions.  In the final moments of the commercial Mia even throws Michael to the ground in a martial arts match, which further marks this ad as being part of the contemporary era of advertising.

Finally, this ad can also be read as using a bit of humor, which is also characteristic of  contemporary ads.  The way the two athletes interact with and taunt each other in the commercial can be considered quite comical depending on how one looks at it.  At the :13 second mark, Mia taunts Michael saying, “Had enough?”, and then at the :21 second mark, Mia clearly darts ahead of Michael without having an even start to their foot race.  These points in the commercial, culminating in the judo-flip by Mia to Michael at the end of the video, make the commercial quite funny to watch.  Overall, this ad is clearly not meant to tell us about Gatorade’s product or inform us on its benefits, but it is also meant to entertain.


Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better: Gatorade

This 2007 television commercial for Gatorade was one of the most iconic and memorable ads from my childhood.  It features two famous athletes, Mia Hamm (USA Women’s Soccer) and Michael Jordan (NBA), competing in a compilation of sporting activities to the tune of “Anything you can do I can do better”.  All the while, Michael and Mia taunt one another and drink Gatorade, which also seems to bead off of their bodies as if they are literally sweating Gatorade as they are playing

What made this commercial so memorable was the thought of being able to compete against my childhood hero, Michael Jordan, in these sports.  Mia Hamm contending with Michael in this ad was inspiring to watch for a young male athlete and made me think that I might also be able to hold my own against Michael if only I had some Gatorade to fuel me!  Clearly, Gatorade did an excellent job of placing these two icons together because I highly doubt that I was the only young athlete with this same kind of thinking.

Another interesting aspect of this ad is that it places a man and a woman against each other, but competing at equal levels.  Neither Michael nor Mia win all of the events but seem to split wins, which connotes a message that men and women are equal.  Being a male, I cannot say for sure, but one can imagine that this ad must have been equally or more inspiring for young girls in sports than it was for young boys.

Jan P.