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Zapping Behavior during Commerciai Breaks

The impact of consumer channel switching, or "zapping," on the effectiveness of TV

commercials is addressed. Among the more significant findings in this research is the

resuit that nonzappers can recall more of the brands advertised than zappers.

Furthermore, for brands that are successfully recalied by zappers, those piaced

toward the end of a commercial break achieve the highest levei of recail.

ALAN CHING BlU TSE CONSUMERS CAN ALWAYS avoid television advertis- ing repetition. During wearin, additional expo-
The Chinese University ing by physically leaving the room or engaging in sures to an advertisement have a positive effect,
of Hong Kong. Shatin. other activities, such as talking to other people while at a certain point, wearout effects dominate
Hong Kong around or performing household tasks, or elec- when these exposures cease to have a positive ef-
alan@baf.msmaii. tronically by pressing a button on the remote con- fect—tir may even produce a negative effect. Sid-
cuhk.edu.hk trol to change channels. Channel switching during darth and Chattopadhyay (1998) found a U- or
commercials, also known as channel surfing, chan- J-shaped relationship between repeated exposures
nel grazing, or zapping, has become a potentially to an advertisement and the probability of zap-
serious problem for advertisers. ping, with zapping elasticity reaching its mini-
Zapping on the television advertising industry mum value at around 14 exposures and increasing
has been studied by many researchers (e.g., Heeter rapidly thereafter. The length of advertisements
and Greenberg, 1985; Kaplan, 1985; Yorke and was studied by Patzer (1991), Singh and Cole
Kitchen, 1985; Greenberg and Heeter, 1987; (1993), and Pieters and Bijmolt (1997), while the
Greene, 1988; Ainslie, 1989; Boilier, 1989; Gilbert, number of channels subscribed was studied by
1989; Sylvester, 1990; van Meurs, 1998). The ma- Walker and Bellamy (1991) and Weimann (1995).
jority of these studies have focused on the descrip- Zufryden, Pedrick, and Sankaralingam (1993)
tion of the extent and pattern of zapping behavior found that commercials aired during prime-time
and profiling the zapping-prone audience. How- have a slightly higher likelihood of being zapped.
ever, few strong conclusions can be drawn because Kaplan (1985), Heeter and Greenberg (1985), and
RUBY P. W. LEE Siddarth and Chattopadhyay (1998) found higher
these studies used self reports of viewing behav-
Washington State levels of channel switching for commercial pods
ior. Later studies by R. D. Percy and Company (see
University around the hour/half-hour mark than at other
Danaher, 1995) used actual zapping behavior from
people meters rather than retrospective self- times. More recently, van Meurs (1998) looked at
reports, but still it is difficult to make conclusive the program before and after the break, program-
statements because all data were aggregated. ming on the other channels, and characteristics of
the commercials within the break. Finally, the me-
Regarding the determinants of zapping behav-
diating effects of attitudes toward advertisements
ior, Stewart and Fursc (1986) and Biel (1990) find
were studied by MacKenzie, Lutz, and Belch
that the ability of the advertisement to provide
(1986) and Lee and Lumpkin (1995).
new and useful information affects the levei of
zapping. Pechman and Stewart (1988), Schumann A few other studies looked at the effect of zap-
et al. (1990), and Goldberg et al. (1993) look at the ping on advertising effectiveness. For example, the
wearin and wearout effects produced by advertis- Gallup and Robinson study by Greene (1988)

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ZAPPING BEHAVIOR

found that zapping does not adversely af- . . . zapping is defined iiere as commerciai avoidance
fect recall of advertising because viewers
need to focus attention on the TV set to where individuals viewing television programs switch
switch channels. However, this study is
limited by its use of a survey-based mea- channels or physically leave the viewing room or concen-
sure of day-after TV commercial recall as
well as potentially biased self-reported trate on doing some other things while the commercial is
data about viewer zapping behavior. An-
other study by Zufryden, Pedrick, and being broadcast...
Sankaraiingam (1993) found that zapped
commercials are significantly more effec-
tive than noninterrupted advertisements viewing by the audience is because there increase advertising effectiveness when
vvith respect to their impact on brand- is a reaction time lag between viewers zapping occurs.
purchase behavior, owing probably to a sensing the outset of a commercial break In the next section we present the meth-
heightening of viewer attention to the TV and picking up the remote controi to odology used in collecting the data for
set at the time of a zap. In contrast to Zu- change to another channel. Similarly, empirical analysis. We conclude with a
fryden, Pedrick, and Sankaralingam's those at the last positions would also have discussion of the implications of our
study. Speck ar\d Elliott (1997) electroni- a higher chance of being recalled when findings.
cally tracked the viewing behavior of a viewers come back to the television at the
sample of 1,000 homes. They found that time when the program is about to resume METHOD
zapping is indeed a potentially significant after the commercial break. Because of re- A total of 360 telephone interviews were
problem for advertisers. cency effect (Duncan, 2000), advertise- conducted at the end of each commercial
In summary, it is clear that zapping is a ments placed at the end of a commercial break within programs at TV prime time
fairly widespread phenomenon anci po- break should be more easily recalled than between 8:00 to 10:30 p.m. from Monday
tentially of considerable concern to adver- advertisements placed at the front posi- to Friday in March in Hong Kong by a
tisers. However, results of studies of the tions, when view^ers are interviewed at the team of five interviewers. Respondents
impact of zapping on advertising effec- end of a commercial break. Hence, it is were aged 15 and over and were watching
tiveness are inconclusive. Hence, the first interesting to test the following hypothesis: one of the two Chinese channels before
objective of this study is to look into ad- the interview. If there was more than one
vertising effectiveness concerning zap- H2: Advertisements placed at the last member in the household who was over
ping using brand recall as a measure of positions within a program 15, the one whose birthday fell next was
effectiveness. This gives rise to the first achieve a higher level of brand interviewed. The interviews were con-
hypothesis in this study: recall than those placed at the ducted by telephone immediately after the
other positions. end of each commercial break. Respon-
HI: Nonzappers can recall more ad- dents were asked to recall the brands that
vertised brands thzm zappers. To control for commercials aired at the were just advertised.
hour/half-hour mark and those aired at About 95.8 percent' of the people in
Despite the fact that zapping is a uni- other times, we only look at those aired Hong Kong watch the two free local Chi-
versal phenomenon, little work has been within a program when the recency effect nese channels—the Jade TV channel and
done on how to increase advertising effec- discussed above would be the strongest. the Asia TV channel. Hence, the choice of
tiveness under habitual zapping behavior. Our research contributes to the litera- these two channels as the central foci of
On introspection, one method that seems ture in the following ways. First, we try to the study should generate a good and rep-
to be useful in dealing with the problem is resolve the conflict in the literature re- resentative sample for the purpose at
to place an advertisement at the starting garding the effect of zapping on advertis- hand.
positions of a commercial break. The rea- ing effectiveness. Second, our study is a
son why advertisements placed at these pioneer one looking into the placements
'This is based on a receipt telephone survey conducted by the
positions may increase their chance of of advertisements in commercial breaks to author iifiiig a sample of 120 respomtcitts.

2 6 JOUIiflflL DF RDOEBTISIflG RESEflllCH May . June 2 0 0 1


ZAPPING BEHAVIOR

Respondents in this study were selected . . . it pays for advertisers to place their advertisements
from the telephone directory using a 1 to
5,000 systematic random sampling. The near the end of a commercial break even if it is more
use of systematic random sampling is jus-
tified, because in Hong Kong virtually all costly to do so.
families have a telephone with very few
having an unlisted number. and other strategies designed to enhance
Since the term zapping has been used to in order to maximize its recall rate by zap- the attention-getting characteristics of ad-
refer to somewhat different viewer behav- pers (H2), it was found that of the brands vertisements and thereby reduce conmier-
ior by different authors, a clear opera- that could be recalled by the zappers in ciat avoidance (e,g., see Pahwa, 1990).
tional definition of the term is required for the sample, 77 percent of these brands Clearly, the attractiveness of the pro-
this study. The term zapping has been were advertised in the last two positions, gram would affect the level of advertising
used to connote "channel sv^'itching" by while only 4 percent were advertised in recall at the different positions where we
Kaplan (1985), "fast forwarding of video- the first two positions. T-tests show that place our advertisements. If the program
taped commercials" by Tauber (1985), advertisements placed at the last two po- is not attractive, then advertisements at
"physically leaving the room" by Cronin sitions have a significantly higher recall the last positions might not achieve the
and Menelly (1992), and so on. To avoid rate by zappers than an advertisement same high level of recall as we have ob-
confusion, zapping is defined here as placed at other positions (p = 0.000). tained in this study. Hence, further study
commercial avoidance where individuals should be conducted to look into the ef-
viewing television programs switch chan- DISCUSSION fects of program attractiveness on zap-
nels or physically leave the view^ing room In this study, we focused on the impact of pers' level of recall as well.
or concentrate on doing some other things zapping behavior on advertising effective- Another variable worthy of future in-
while the commercial is being broadcast ness measured by the percentage of suc- vestigation is the commercial breaks
(for example, having conversation, pre- cessful brand recall, as well as the best around the hour/half-hour mark versus
paring refreshment, washing dishes, and position to place an advertisement during commerciai breaks within a program.
a commercial break. Logically, the level of recall for advertise-
Among the more significant findings in ments put at the last positions of commer-
EMPIRICAL RESULTS this research is the result that the majority cial breaks within a program should be
Of the 360 respondents interviewed, 69 of of respondents switch channels during higher than those at the hour/half-hour
them watched every advertisement dur- commercial breaks. Regarding the impact mark, because viewers do not want to
ing a commercial break. The rest (80.8 per- of zapping on advertising effectiveness, miss any part of the program they are
cent) avoided the advertisements in one the data obtained from this study support viewing and would very likely switch
way or another and were therefore classi- the hypothesis that nonzappers tend to re- back when a commercial break is about to
fied as zappers. call brands more correctly than zappers. end. The tendency to switch back is par-
HI was tested by first computing the Meanwhile, it was found that placing ad- ticularly strong if the program is attrac-
vertisements toward the end of a commer- tive. Again, further research is needed to
percentage of brands that could be cor-
cial break would maximize its recall prob- substantiate fhese assertions. i^^
rectly recalled by zappers and nonzap-
pers. The percentage for nonzapper was ability by zappers. The latter result sug-
found to be 23.25 percent and 2.91 percent gests that it pays for advertisers to place AiAN C. B. TSE is an associate professor of marketing

for zappers, A paired difference f-test their advertisements near the end of a at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, His current
commercial break even if it is more costly
shows that nonzappers can recall more of research interests are web cottimercials, customer
to do so. This should be done together
the advertised brands than zappers at p = relationship marketing, and data mining.
with the more commonly used techniques
0.0506. This is logical because when a
such as "roadblocking" (i.e., placing com-
commercial is zapped, part of the message RUBY LEE is a Ph,D, student at Washington State
mercials on all major channels at a given
is lost, and recall ability should be lower. University. Her research interests include consumer
time), "commercial wraparound" (split-
Regarding the best positions to place an behavior, international marketing, and organizational
ting a 30-second commercial into two 15s),
advertisement within a commercial break behavior.

May . June 2 0 0 1 JOOflllRL OFflDOEflTISinGRESEfleCH 2 7


ZAPPING BEHAVIOR

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