Oh, Good! A Commercial!

Feb 27, 2009 11:33am

Follow this logic: A television show, even one you like, becomes more enjoyable if…it’s interrupted by commercials. It doesn’t matter what the commercials are, or whether they’re any good — just the fact of the interruption makes the show seem better. This is the argument put forth by Leif Nelson, Tom Meyvis and Jeff Galak, in the Journal of Consumer Research.  The abstract of their paper is HERE.  (The rest of the paper is by subscription only.)  The key to their thesis is a psychological pattern called "adaptation," the notion that people get bored with anything — even something they like — and a break from it revives their pleasure. "Although consumers do not foresee it, their enjoyment diminishes over time. Commercial interruptions can disrupt this adaptation process and restore the intensity of consumers’ enjoyment," the authors write.  Nelson is a professor of marketing at the University of California, San Diego; Meyvis and Galak are at NYU’s Stern School of Business. To test their thesis, the researchers recruited NYU undergraduates and had them watch a 1981 episode of the old sitcom "Taxi."  (Why "Taxi?"  Because today’s college students are too young to remember it when it first aired.)  The volunteers who saw it with commercials — the inane stuff that runs when a show is in syndication — reported that they liked it a lot more than those who saw it with the breaks edited out. Sean Gregory, over at Time, has some fun with this.  Doesn’t it sound like great P.R., after all, for beleagured advertisers?  Not so fast, says Nelson: "The strong feeling people have against commercials is truly ubiquitous. It swamps everything."

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