Making an Impression

Understanding the impact of crowd density on attention to advertising

By Taewon Suh and Rick Wilson

It's easy to ask, "Is my ad good?" Another more basic question is just as important: "Will anyone notice it in the first place?"
That's the question at the heart of a research paper by Dr. Taewon Suh and Dr. Rick Wilson, associate professors in the Department of Marketing. They used facial recognition software to collect data on how long shoppers paid attention to a video-ad­vertising kiosk in a mall, and to quantify the changing human density around the kiosk over the day.
The data surprised them. As crowd density increased, shoppers' attention to the marketing kiosk went down ... and then back up again. It turns out that at a certain level of crowdedness, people start noticing ads more, although they have less attention to devote to them (most of their capacity is dedicated to other functions, such as navigating the crowd).
Knowing this, marketers can plan cam­paigns that harness the high number of impressions from a crowded location and turn them into higher quality impressions. With digital advertising, for instance, marketers might implement two versions
of their message: a short, easy-to-con­sume version for high-density times and a longer version to display when crowds are light and consumers have more attention capacity. Thinking strategically about ad locations and crowd densities lets mar­keters work with the circumstances, not against them.
Suh recognizes the importance of connect­ing real marketing campaigns to data­driven evidence like this. His goal is "to bridge the gap between theory and practice by collaborating both with practitioners and academicians."
"The industry needs to drive more toward strategic thinking," agrees Wilson - on the level of individual ads and even the specific time of day. Wilson sees these extra details as opportunities, not obstacles: "More so than any other form, out-of-home advertising can be three-di­mensional and it can reference its physical location or what consumers are doing when they encounter it. The potential for creativity is limitless. It can be art, and the world around it, its canvas."