Faculty Mentor

Debra Spear


The hypothesis for this study was that program content would have an effect on a person's ability to recall commercials contained in that program. One hundred and seventy-six college students viewed one of three types of programs: a neutral program, a sexually explicit program, or a program that contained vulgarity. All three programs contained the same commercials. Free recall of commercials and cued recall of commercials was assessed. Program content was shown to have a significant effect on the number of commercials freely recalled and the total number of commercials recalled, thus supporting the hypothesis. Today, advertising is a huge business with over $150 billion spent annually on advertising in the national media (Spotts, Weinberger, & Parsons, 1997). Since 98% of American households own at least one television set (Bushman, & Bonacci, 2002), commercial advertisements contained in TV programs are a very popular form of advertising. Another reason for their popularity is the fact that they can also be very effective. For example, one study showed that thousands of children were able to name more brands of beer than U.S. presidents (Byrd-Bredbenner, 2002). Similar research has already been done in this area and many companies have likely benefited. Everything from how the invention of the remote control caused viewers to not pay attention to commercials (Moriarty & Everett, 1994) to the use of animated spokes-characters in commercials (Peirce & McBride, 1999) has been studied. Advertising during a television program can be very expensive, so advertising companies place a great deal of importance on creating an effective advertisement that is viewed by a large audience. Because of this, it would seem logical that advertisers would pay a higher price to place their ads in programs that are viewed by a large audience. While advertising to a large audience should be a priority for advertisers, perhaps it should not be the only priority. Television program content may have an effect on how well viewers remember that commercial. For example, Bushman and Bonacci (2002) found that televised violence and sex impaired memory for commercial messages. Fumham, Gunter, and Walsh (1998) also found that program content had an effect on commercial recall ability. In addition to commercial advertisements, a similar relationship was found for program content and how well Public Service Announcements were recalled (Pugzles Lorch et al., 1994). The focus of the current study is to investigate the relationship between program content and commercial recall ability. It is speculated that program content will indeed have an effect on commercial recall ability of viewers. Specifically, programs containing vulgar or sexually explicit content will impair viewers' ability to remember commercials contained in the program.

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