Chung-Ang University, Korea
Sally J. McMillan
University of Tennessee, USA
Interactivity is a key feature of Web advertising that makes this new format of advertising attractive. In spite of increasing research work dealing with this topic, the body of literature rarely shows how consumers think about interactivity and interact with Web advertising. It is important to explore this phenomenon from the consumer’s perspective because consumers are more active on the Web than they are with other traditional media. This chapter presents an overview of previous research about Web advertising and then reports on an empirical study that sought consumer-based understanding of Web advertising. The study explores various meanings of the interactivity of Web advertising drawn from consumers’ everyday lives.
As the World Wide Web has grown in recent years, Web advertising has grown as well and researchers have increasingly investigated the interactivity of Web advertising. Interactivity of Web advertising is currently a central focus of Web advertising researchers.
This chapter introduces the concept of interactivity of Web advertising and investigates how consumers actually think about the interactivity of Web advertising. An empirical study presented in this chapter employs qualitative research methods in order to acquire deep understanding about how consumers think about and deal with the interactive aspects of Web advertising in their everyday lives. Additional comments and suggestions for future research are also presented.
Interactivity is a central concept of Web advertising (WA). Most WA researchers agree that interactivity is a key factor differentiating Web advertising from traditional advertising (e.g., Cho & Leckenby, 1997; McMillan & Hwang, 2002). Because the consumer’s role is regarded as critical on the Web, perceived interactivity — how consumers perceive interactivity on the Web — sometimes gets more attention in advertising research than other venues of interactivity research such as process- or function-oriented interactivity (Reeves & Nass, 1996; Lee, 2000; McMillan & Downes, 2000).
Although researchers consider perceived interactivity to be important, little research to date has investigated how consumers actually perceive and deal with interactive aspects of Web advertising. Some studies (e.g., Sohn et al., 2003; Chung & Zhao, 2003) dealing with perceived interactivity employed experimental research designs that manipulated the level of interactivity — usually creating two conditions, high and low levels of interactivity. Some experiments (e.g., Edwards et al., 2002) used “forced-exposure,” which forced consumers to be exposed to Web advertising in a manner that was consistent with research objectives rather than real-life experiences. Experimental manipulation of interactivity and of message presentation is not consistent with consumers’ actual Web use experiences.
Thus, most research has not yet focused on consumers’ actual thoughts and behavior related to Web advertising and interactivity. Without ample understanding of consumers’ thoughts and behaviors regarding WA, it is difficult for researchers and practitioners to perform their work related to WA. Therefore, investigation of consumer’s perspectives on WA should be a top priority. The meaning of interactivity in Web advertising should be developed with input from the consumers’ points of view. With sufficient understanding of consumers’ insights, researchers can pursue more informed studies in this field and practitioners can develop more effective consumer-oriented WA strategies.
Several different terms referring to Web advertising (WA) are used interchangeably in the literature. Although Internet advertising seems the most general and broad term, Web advertising is the most widely used term in the academic literature. Furthermore, Web advertising is more specific and excludes some advertising formats that are not Webbased (e.g., email, newsgroup commercials, etc.).
The majority of literature on WA has focused on several traditional formats such as banners, pop-ups, hyperlinks, interstitials, and so forth (e.g., Bezjian-Avery, Calder, & Iacobucci, 1998; Brackett & Carr, 2001; Cho & Leckenby, 1999; Hoffman & Novak, 1996, Raman & Leckenby, 1998, etc.). This research stream resides within the mass-media research tradition that positions the Web as a medium, similar to newspapers, magazines, TV, and so on (Hwang, McMillan, & Lee, 2002). From this perspective, the researchers regard the Web site as a carrier of advertising messages in the formats referred to above.
By contrast, other researchers have employed a broader stance toward the concept of WA, which includes the Web site as a format of WA. Singh and Dalal (1999) insisted that corporate home pages should be regarded as a form of advertising based on the comparison between the functional, physical, and conceptual characteristics of WA and traditional advertising. Other researchers (e.g., Bruner II & Kumar, 2000; Hwang, McMillan, & Lee, 2002; Rodgers & Thorson, 2000; Stevenson, Bruner II, & Kumar, 2000) also included the Web site in the realm of Web advertising (see Rodgers & Thorson, 2000, for detailed information about the difference between the Web site and other WA formats). Several representative formats of Web advertising are summarized in Table 4-1.
Rectangular-shaped graphics, usually located at the top or bottom of a Web page. Although banners generally appear in a horizontal position, vertical banners have increasingly appeared in the left- or right-side of the screen. Larger banners are about 7 inches wide by 1 inch deep, and smaller banners are about half as wide by 1 inch deep.
Full-screen ads that run in their entirety between two content Web pages. Interstitials interrupt the user’s interactive experience, because they tend to run while the user waits for a page to download. Users have less control over interstitials, for there is usually no exit option to stop or delete an interstitial.
Pop-ups and Pop-unders
A separate window over or under the content that is already on the user’s screen. As compared to the interstitials, pop-ups are more likely to interrupt user’s Web experiences by concealing the content a user interacts with. However, the pop-unders are less likely to interrupt the navigation due to their placement under the content a user experiences. Both can be easily avoided by clicking the exit button on the right upper corner of the window.
An indirect form of persuasion that allows companies to carry out marketing objectives by associating with key content (Rodgers, 2000, p.1). The content of Web sponsorship is not much different from sponsorship in traditional media simply identifying brand name or slogan; the former can be interactive, such that a click of the mouse sends a visitor to the homepage of the sponsor.
Also referred to as hypertext link. Simply a highlighted word, phrase, or graphic that allows users to move to another Website by clicking on the hyperlink. Often embedded in the content itself without taking up large space like banners and pop-ups. Thus, relatively many hyperlinks can appear in a single Web page. It also enforces the user’s control over the navigation.
A carrier of other WA formats as well as a format of WA itself. It affords greater opportunities of experiences than any other WA formats (Rodgers and Frisby, 1998). Because WA does not cover non-commercial messages, the Websites should include some form of commercial message.
Web advertising has been a popular research area in recent years. Specifically, Webrelated research has increasingly dominated many academic domains including marketing, consumer research, communication, information science, advertising, etc. In advertising research, the popularity of Web advertising is clearly confirmed. Major academic journals (e.g., Journal of Advertising, Journal of Advertising Research) and conferences (e.g., American Academy of Advertising Conference) have hosted Web-related research.
Numerous studies (e.g., Brackett & Carr, 2001; Cho & Leckenby, 1999; Cho et al., 2001; Shen, 2002; Sundar et al., 1998) have focused on specific commercial WA formats such as banners, buttons, pop-ups, hyperlinks, interstitials, and so on. Most of them tried to find how to make these WA formats more effective in terms of various consumers’ evaluations including cognition, recall, attitudes, or comprehension of WA messages. Other studies focused on specific technologies that make the Web distinctly different from other traditional media. Those include animation (e.g., Kim et al., 2003), three dimensionality (e.g., Lee et al., 2003; Li et al., 2002), navigation flow (e.g., Chatterjee, 1998; Hoffman & Novak, 1996), and interactivity (e.g., Cho & Leckenby, 1999; McMillan & Hwang, 2002).
Nevertheless, the body of WA literature has been heavily skewed toward studies pursuing managerial implications without thorough consideration and holistic understanding of consumers’ perspectives. In fact, the majority of literature focuses on the effectiveness of Web advertising. In the same vein, this effectiveness-oriented research has limited its research scope within a relatively narrow boundary focusing almost exclusively on traditional WA formats such as banners and pop-ups.
As noted earlier, the importance of interactivity in Web advertising has been widely accepted. In fact, interactivity is central to WA and is a key difference between WA and traditional advertising (Cho & Leckenby, 1999; McMillan & Hwang, 2002; Roehm & Haugtvedt, 1999). The Web is significantly more interactive than traditional media (Bezjian-Avery et al., 1998; Steuer, 1992). Although most traditional advertising media also contain some features of interactivity, the Web brings together various interactive features available in other media and adds new interactive capabilities of its own. Following is a brief review of some of the key literature on the interactive nature of WA.
Although there are a variety of conceptualizations of interactivity, this somewhat complicated construct can be summarized with a few critical characteristics. In general, interactivity enables consumers to control what information they see, for how long, how many times, in what order, and when. McMillan and Hwang (2002), in their scale development of perceived interactivity, proposed that critical characteristics of interactivity are direction of communication (two-way or one-way), users’ control, and time. The direction of communication denotes the concepts of responsiveness and exchange; users’ control refers to how much users can control the content or navigation on the Web; and the time embraces issues such as timely feedback and time required for information retrieval.
Specifically, researchers who examine ways that new media can facilitate interactions between humans often focus on the importance of enabling two-way communication among individuals and the capability of new media for providing feedback (Day, 1998; Pavlik, 1998; Rafaeli & Sudweeks, 1997). Some studies focus on how humans control computers (Murray, 1997; Xie, 2000), while other studies focus on how control systems (such as navigation tools) are designed into new media environments (Laurel, 1990; Nielson, 2000; Schneiderman, 1998). A third type of interactivity identified in the literature is interaction with the messages received both from other individuals and from the computer. A key element of this interaction is time. The interaction with either human- or computer-based messages is influenced by the speed with which messages can be delivered and the speed with which individuals process messages (Nielson, 2000; Vora, 1998).
A primary feature of interactivity is that it enhances the consumer’s role in media consumption. Consumers can select (or click) any individual WA content whenever they want and search for commercial information to help them make purchasing decisions. Moreover, consumers can give feedback or personal information about themselves (e.g., to get catalog, to ask for customer service, etc.). They also determine how long to stay at a Web site. In other words, the duration of advertising is up to consumers, not to advertisers. In the case of a Web site as a WA format, consumers can revisit whenever they want.
Consumer-controlled commercial content is an important characteristic of WA, and is enhanced by other benefits of interactivity such as two-way, timely communication. This co-participation by both marketers and consumers enables WA to be customized to fit the consumer’s needs and is one of the critical benefits of WA (Roehm & Haugtvedt, 1999). While consumers can hardly control the marketing communication flow and messages in traditional media, the customization of commercial information for consumer’s needs is increasingly allowed on the Internet. Marketing researchers (e.g., Sterne, 1995) also argue that the Web is a pull medium, not a push medium (pulling consumers to the messages instead of pushing messages to the consumers). It totally depends on consumer’s volition to continue surfing. In short, how WA is perceived and dealt with varies by consumers along with a variety of navigation flows across different consumers.
As stated earlier in this chapter, it is critical for both researchers and practitioners to understand consumers’ thoughts and behavior about Web advertising – particularly with regard to its interactive nature. An empirical study presented in the following section is an early investigation of this phenomenon using a qualitative approach, which is a beneficial methodology for researchers seeking a deeper understanding of a specific phenomenon.
In order to avoid any possible mistakes that ignore potentially critical aspects of interactivity in Web advertising, the study takes a somewhat wide-open stance toward the definition of Web advertising. We define Web advertising as “any messages related to products (including services and companies) found on any Web sites.” Although this definition of WA sounds broader than any definitions available in the literature, it is helpful for the current study for several reasons. First, because the study aims to explore the meaning of WA from the consumer’s perspective, it is not advisable for the researchers to define WA based on their own perspective. Second, some authors also argue that consumers define a variety of commercial messages related to products and services as advertising and that for this reason the traditional definition of advertising should be changed (e.g., Schultz & Barnes, 1993; Richards & Curran, 2002).
Two qualitative research methods were employed, participant observation and depth interviews, to explore consumers’ perceptions of interactive WA. A total of 27 users of the Web participated in the study and their actual Web navigation was observed and analyzed. They were purposively recruited in a large Southeastern university campus. Some participants were recruited in classes and others were approached in campus areas such as the library and computer labs and agreed to participate on their own volition. All potential participants were screened prior to participation. The primary selection criterion was that participants used the Web regularly for activities other than email. Their ages ranged from 21 through 56 with even distribution of gender. Each participant was asked to navigate two to three Web sites that they frequently visit in their everyday lives. These Web sites were provided to the researchers prior to the observation session so that researchers could be familiar with the content of the Web sites. The navigation sessions were performed either in consumers’ usual Web-access locations, such as apartments, or in university labs. Each individual session, including Web navigation for participant observation and depth interview, lasted about an hour.
During participants’ navigation sessions, researchers asked unstructured questions based on the contexts and activities. Questions were designed to investigate what participants thought about and how they interacted with components of Web advertising. After the observation session, depth interviews were conducted to explore participants’ experiences and thoughts about interactivity of Web advertising. In order to provide sufficient contexts and meanings of interactivity of Web advertising, the scope of investigation in this study was expanded to all possible aspects of Web advertising.
Web navigation behavior was recorded with screen-capture software. Thus, researchers could observe how participants moved within a Web site and across multiple Web sites. All dialogue during the navigation and the depth interview sessions were also voice-recorded and transcribed later. Grounded theory’s (Strauss & Corbin, 1994) coding methods were employed in analysis of the study. Briefly, open, axial, and selective coding methods were performed to explore and investigate the themes related to interactive aspects of Web advertising.
Major themes related to the interactivity of Web advertising found were “Controllable” and “Real-Time Communication.” Each theme revealed a variety of meanings under different contexts with several WA formats. For example, “Controllable” included not only a sub-theme of “Customizable” related to customizability of WA content or the WA itself, but also another sub-theme of “Having many options” which referred to the fact that consumers have a variety of choices in dealing with WA content.
Additionally, although not being part of these two major themes, other critical themes were also found and they were strongly related to these two themes. Figure 4-1 summarizes these critical findings: how consumers think about and behave with the aspects of interactivity on WA in their everyday lives.
Figure 4-1: Themes relating with interactivity of Web advertising
Sub-themes: Controllable, Manageable, Choice, Variety, Customizable, Personalized
R (Researcher): Why do you like this site?
P (Participant): Because it’s full of art schools and it can narrow my search down and just give me a list of schools that are what I’m looking for instead of having to just to search blindly. (Liz)
First, the “Controllable” theme found in this study, as the literature also conceptualized, is about how consumers can manage and control the content of Web advertising. The sub-themes within this category were “Customizable,” “Manageable,” “Personalized,” “Choice,” and so forth. Consumers usually liked Web ads that they could customize and that had content personalized for their own needs.
Consumers preferred to have Web advertising under their control. Thus, they revealed negative responses when they were not able to control a Web ad, while positive evaluations were noted when they could control Web ads.
The “Controllable” theme in many cases meant, “Having many options (or choices)” and “Customizable.” Especially valuable were features that enabled searching and gathering product information during online purchase processes. The ability to customize content also led to positive responses. Based on their personal preferences, they often used this “Customizable” function to pick content relevant to them.
Look great. Pick a color and size. Okay, and I love yellow, yellow’s my favorite color, so that would be the first thing I’d notice. (Lauren)
I like it because I can get news headlines, I can check my stock markets, I can check my favorite sports teams, my weather, everything in one place and as you said I can set at the bottom, I can change what I see. I don’t have to go surfing here and there to find it. (Daniel)
Some popular features that most Web sites provide facilitate consumer control of WA content. Specifically, some features such as “search” and “categorizing” functions could make consumers feel they have control over WA content. In addition, in order to fulfill specific needs, participants liked to customize their information seeking in advance. The content they usually look at is considerably selective because of this prior customization.
You can go down to the bottom and you can set up, you can add all kinds of things. Like I have — all of these are just local theaters so I can see what’s playing what time things like that. Back up here I have the weather…. (Joseph)
So it says choose an area and I need the UT area so I click UT, I want two bedrooms step three I’m going to click all price ranges and search. And this is the apartments index. (Liz)
And you can even look, uh, a couple of months ahead to see what’s coming out in the future. (Tylor)
As observed during the navigation sessions, most participants were good at handling their Web sites’ content. This concept emerged when they could customize the content with a variety of choices that Web sites provided. As shown in Figure 4-1, the theme of “Easy,” which mainly represents consumers’ self-confidence of dealing with Web content, was strongly associated with “Controllable” in positive way. The following example shows how a participant was good at customizing the content provided by a third-party Web site in order to find the specific product information he wanted.
R: Okay. Could you tell me about your interest in cars that you get information about cars?
P: Uh, yeah. I went to a site called Auto Trader dot com, and uh, they’ve got a system that, I mean somehow, you type in your zip code and the area, the radius that you would wish to travel like say, you want Knoxville and everything in a 100 mile radius and they’ll give you all the cars for sale within that 100 mile radius and you can look at a picture of the car a lot of times and it always tells you about the cars and how much it costs. (Ryan)
This self-confidence of Web navigation prevailed throughout most participants regardless of their Web expertise because they were very good at controlling their favorite Web sites. For example, news Web sites such as cnn.com and msn.com usually contain a great deal of information, but participants who often visit these sites thought that they were skillful enough to pick up what they want to and need to read. In fact, their navigation processes through “information-abundant” Web sites was very fast.
R: What do you see here [www.cnn.com]?
P: No. Scrolling down, scrolling down, scrolling down. Nothing interesting on this part of it. So, I’m going to scroll back again. (Anthony)
Although participants were good at controlling abundant and various kinds of information, the variety of options and information was not always as good. Information overload could evoke negative evaluations. There seemed to be an optimal level of information for participants, but it varied among participants and was also different based on context. What is perceived as a “Controllable” amount of information cannot be generalized in a simple way.
I do think it’s hard to maneuver around, as there is so much stuff. (Sarah at Priceline.com)
Often, participants liked to compare the Web with other information sources in terms of how easily they could control and manage content.
R: Is the information from the Web about the companies or products much different from information from other sources such as people, newspapers, magazines, or TV?
P: I don’t think it’s different. They are basically same thing, but you can find those information more efficiently on the Internet…they are more personalized information. Because if you go to a store, you have to listen to salespeople’s sayings. Even though that’s not the information you are looking for, sometimes you listen… but here in the Internet I can use whatever. There’s no need to do so. (Ashley)
Ashley showed how personalized acquisition of information could be better achieved on the Web than with sales people. She prefers the sense of total control on the Web to the weak control in visiting the real store.
While participants revealed positive evaluations for “Controllable” aspects of various WA content, they apparently disclosed negative responses toward less “Controllable” content. In fact, they strongly disliked what they could hardly control during their Web navigation. The less “Controllable” WA formats were only slight obstacles for consumers who were controlling their own navigation processes.
As shown in Figure 4-1, the theme of “Intrusive” was strongly associated with “Controllable” in terms of its negative evaluation. Web ads, especially the traditional Web advertising formats such as banners and pop-ups, were “Annoying.” “Intrusive” Web ads made consumers annoyed because of their less “Controllable” characteristics. Thus, “Controllable” is negatively related with “Intrusive” characteristics of Web ads. Consumers felt more negative feelings with Web ads as the level of “Intrusiveness” got higher and the level of “Control” got lower. Nonetheless, “Controllable” cannot be understood without consumers’ perspectives. In fact, what is “Controllable” and what is not “Controllable” varied by people and contexts.
R: With some big screen ads, you cannot control or exit out for a few seconds. Did you experience that? What do you feel about that?
P: I dislike that. Viewers should have to sit there and look thru or download or a certain clip start to play but I don’t know. I dislike it; it’s taking up the viewers time and you can’t get rid of it just doesn’t seem ethical. (William)
The negative evaluation was usually toward most traditional WA formats (e.g., banners, pop-ups, interstitials, etc.) due to their “less-Controllable” and “more-Intrusive” characteristics. In addition, the Web sites as a format of WA also sometimes made participants irritated due to information overload.
The Web comes up here and there’s no X to get rid of it and if I click here it still doesn’t go and it won’t let me click into anything else so it’s stopping me from doing anything and that really annoys me because the other banners I’ll just click out and that’s the end of them and also this Web site has a lot of like bookmakers — you know bookmakers, like a betting shop — they’ll pop up and then when I’m closing out I’ll find like 10 of them here so each page I’ve gone onto a new pop up has come up and that I find very irritating. (Emily)
In fact, Emily got annoyed because pop-up ads continuously appeared although she already decided not to follow the pop-up ads in previous pages. Following pages seemed to ignore her decision. Non-controllable characteristics in the Web site — no exit option and continuous popping-up ads — increased her level of annoyance.
No I didn’t want China, I wanted Charleston. That’s from China? Those are expensive plane tickets. I guess that Knoxville’s not on here. (Jessica)
As exemplified before, this continuous appearance of pop-ups, although being clicked off at the first appearance, makes consumers feel they are losing their control over navigation.
I don’t even look at it because once you click on one of those banners, all these other things start popping up and you get sucked into this whirlpool. (Anthony)
Yeah, if I can find what I’m looking for, if I can’t that’s really annoying to me. Or if I get bogged down in popup ads, I hate that. (Tom)
The most “Annoying” and “Intrusive” format, the interstitial, also made participants feel most out of control. There are different types of interstitials in terms of their levels of “controllability.” Most of them allow people to exit immediately (by providing an exit or close button), while others do not provide any methods to exit. The latter is less controllable than the former. A participant in the following example used an extreme method to exit from a highly uncontrollable interstitial.
R: Did you see any kind of the whole screen ads, which did not allow you to click X exit button?
P: Yeah I have seen one.
R: So in that case,
P: Uh, I pushed uh control alt delete and uh
R: Oh really?
P: And uh, closed it through that. (Ryan)
Interestingly, this participant decided to close his Web browser instead of waiting for the interstitial to be gone. He did not want to wait for the interstitial disappearing automatically, so used an extreme method to get rid of it. This very active rejection of WA format also confirms how much “Uncontrollable” WA formats are disfavored.
Regarding the control over what they did not need, usually pop-ups, an interesting metaphor was provided by the following participant.
I always just click out of it [a pop-up ad]. I mean if it says, “click this button, you win a million dollars,” I wouldn’t click it. Some people have that feeling that they have to just see what it’s about. I don’t have that feeling. If my telephone rings and I miss it, it doesn’t freak me out like it does some people. I let it go to the machine. So it doesn’t bother me to ignore a button that says, “click on this you’ll get a million dollars just for clicking.” I would never click because I just don’t believe it. It’s advertising and it’s probably going to create some cookie and I don’t know some virus or something. (Emily)
Before accepting the message in both cases (picking up the phone and clicking through the pop-up ad), she had perfect control over them. It seems very easy for most consumers to control pop-up ads in most cases, although they experienced somewhat uncontrollable occurrences. Based on their experiences, they were not likely to accept the pop-ups because they did not want to face unintended occurrences.
“Controllable” is a critical component of interactivity, thus is central to the Web. It is important to consumers that they be able to control WA messages. This was related to the overall preference of the WA format. In fact, what is less “Controllable” is more “Annoying,” while what is more “Controllable” leads to “Easy” experiences. Providing numerous options and information can be considered “Controllable” content; however, overloaded information and options can become “Uncontrollable,” which led to negative responses.
Sub-Themes: Tell Me, Conversation, Live, Fast, Updated
If there is something specific I am interested in, I can set this up so that anytime a new item with a key word, like I was looking, at one time, for a Nikon camera, so I can punch in keywords Nikon and tell it to email me anytime. (Chris)
“Real-Time Communication” represents two-way communication without time delay between consumers and users, advertisers, and the system. As distinctive characteristics of the Web, “Real-Time Communication” is perceived as an important feature of WA. Participants considered that some WA messages talked to them in interactive ways, and this interactive way represented “Real-Time Communication.”
There are two different kinds of two-way communication in terms of the time delay: “Live (synchronous)” and “Have-to-Wait (asynchronous)” communications. Although both are performed in two-way communication, the difference is whether there is a time delay or not. The following example shows how these two types of two-way communication mean different things to a participant.
They also have something on here that‘s interesting, that’s called live auctions. I’ve never had much luck with it but they will have featured auctions where you can bid online at the same time that the auction is taking place wherever it is. …I can bid and see what the current bid is, and try to bid, and win the item…they’ll watch the screen and if somebody bids higher than the current bidder on the floor so you can actually, it’s like being at the auction. The only times I’ve ever tried to do it, I only managed to do it once but you have to be on here at the right time, you have to look for when the auction is going to be held so its usually more of a pain than anything but its kind of interesting when you can get on there. Again, here’s collectables to give you an idea. (Chris)
In most cases, participants disliked “Time Delay” and preferred “Fast” processes (e.g., loading texts, images, and files, navigating through Web sites, etc.). The following case shows how “Time Delay” could lead to rejection of a WA message.
I would typically look at any links that somebody has suggested I go to. Now often those links are very interesting once I found them and I just click back out. Here’s another one I’d noticed. I am not gonna go here, because it tells me it’s a big download. I am not gonna take time to go there. (Jacob, at Amazon.com’s music trial site)
In fact, participants talked frequently about the speed of loading the information on the Web. How fast a WA component loads was a critical factor for them to decide whether they accept the content. The “Time Delay” was largely due to large volume of Web components such as “big download” and it was sometimes also determined by the connection conditions (e.g., connection line such as modem and LAN, computer hardware’s performance) each participant had. Rapid development of relevant technology to resolve this problem is going to be made over time. However, this negative response to more “Time Delay” may continue to exist for a while because consumers’ expectation toward synchronous communication may also get higher as the technology advances. The following example shows how big files with “fancy graphics” are rejected.
At home I have a 56K modem but normally I get on it at about 24 and I have a 300-megahertz computer so if I get onto one of these Web sites that has really complicated graphics it takes a long time to download them and I’m not that patient. So a lot of times I just leave sites and never see the information I was looking for and never see the product because it takes so long. I don’t need all the fancy graphics. I need the information. (Chris)
Usually, what is not “Fast” is “Annoying” to participants. Some components on the Web could deter their navigation process and participants disliked these components. Popup ads were often regarded as a barrier to their navigation. Due to their intrusions or interruptions, participants felt their navigation got slower and blamed the pop-ups.
R: How do you feel about that [pop-up]?
P: I hate those things. My computer’s not the best at home and so when those things pop up it slows down quite a bit, I get frustrated with them. (Ryan)
Although synchronous communication is preferred in many cases, “Fast” is not always good. Sometimes, participants did not mind waiting.
R: You can get it with a cheaper price?
P: Cheaper price, yeah. Uh, now you have to wait to get it as opposed to going to the store, you just buy it and then you have it but I’ve gotten some really good deals on cards that I wouldn’t be able to find around here and I don’t exactly mind waiting, as long as I get it. (Tom at eBay)
Another venue of “Time Delay” appeared in the sub-theme of how frequently WA content is “Updated.” Participants showed a strong preference for “Updated” product information on the Web. As compared with other mass media, participants thought that product information on the Web is more “Updated” with current information in relatively “Real-Time” fashion. The difference was clearly shown in the comparison with other traditional media.
P: If there’s a recall and the magazine came out two weeks ago and they have a current recall you can find the product recall on the Web site but the ad was printed before they knew that there was going to be a recall.
R: Recent information?
P: Current information and more detailed information. (Chris)
In fact, as compared to other media, participants perceived that the Web gives them the most opportunity for updated product information. In many cases, participants needed current information about products they planned to purchase, and the Web’s capability of updating product information was regarded as superior to other media.
Furthermore, many participants checked “What Is New” on their frequently visited Web sites even if they did not have a specific target product that they planned to search. They tended to focus on newly updated content first and preferred frequent updating. The Web sites with “Time Delay” updating trends were less preferred.
R: What kinds of content do you read?
P: Usually reading news and what’s going on in fashion and also like they have some updates about like fashion have some updates about styles and current make up trends stuff like that. (Grace)
As compared to traditional mass media consumption contexts, participants were considerably less patient with time delays. In the context of traditional mass media consumption, there is an expectation of waiting to acquire the information they wanted to get. However, thanks to the “Controllable” benefits of the Web, there is no need to stay with unwanted items. Basically, consumers on the Web are impatient in terms of “Time Delay.”
R: When it takes a long time to download something, what do you do with it?
P: I just close out of it.
R: Close it?
P: Yeah. I am very impatient so if it doesn’t come up fast then never mind. (Anna)
If I check my email and I happen to be online, I have gone there [online casino site through a pop-up ad], and actually played with the play money a little bit but its too slow for me so its not something I enjoy very often, because its too slow. (Chris)
This category has close relationships with “Controllable” as well as other peripheral themes such as “Fun” and “Relevant.” Consumers used “Real-Time Communication” WA functions with customizing and controlling the content in order to get relevant information. Most “Real-Time Communication” features with “Customizing” or “Personalizing” functions could make consumers enjoy interacting with WA formats (“Fun”). Moreover, this “Real-Time Communication” of WA could expedite consumers’ searching for and obtaining product information efficiently (“Easy”).
This theme category is also firmly based on the fundamental characteristic of the Web as a medium. Participants thought that the Web is more interactive than any other mass medium and they liked to get product information in interactive ways.
R: Do you like to see that kind of video on all your things on the Web?
P: Yeah, I think it brings a more interactive feel to it. Like watching a television screen.
R: Why do you like it?
P: Clicking on all these icons and reading stuff. It’s like you know you’re interacting with a person on there.
R: With another person?
P: Yeah, it’s kind of interesting. (Jessica)
In this case, “Controlling” proves to implement “Real-Time Communication,” and this “Interactive” feature makes the participant experience “Fun.” She felt “Interactive” with reading and watching the video clips showing remodeling a house with a variety of construction and interior goods. Although it seemed like a television show, she felt that she was interacting with a variety of choices provided by “icons.” It functioned like VOD (Video-On-Demand), which is one of the most interactive formats available on television.
As shown in this example, the term “Interactive” often emerged to represent the theme of “Real-Time Communication.” Another example shows how the Web interactively functions to deliver the message to consumers.
P: Do you see any differences between product information on the Web and in other media?
R: … nobody’s ever gonna get out of a TV and talk to you, I mean they will but they won’t call you by name. Of course, you’ve got newscasters that say, “call this number for information about this” or something, you know, you see that sometimes. Or on the home shopping networks, you know, you’ll have people trying to sell you things. But you know when you get on the Web sometimes like my fiancée, she’ll get on the Internet, on MSN Explorer and it’ll be like, “Good Morning, Jennifer.” I’m like what’s going on, you know, I mean when she first got it I was like it’s kinda weird, it calls you by your name, but it’s kinda a personal way of interacting with the consumer.
P: What do you think about that style?
R: It’s pretty interesting and…. It’s a nice way to interact with consumers. (Andrew)
In Andrew’s case, “Personalized” and interactive communication were used simultaneously. These are two distinctive concepts that were used together, and yielded a positive, “Fun” (interesting) response.
Another example shows how “Controllable” can be used with a “Real-Time Communication” feature: “E-mail Feedback.” On an organization’s Web site, the following participant used an e-mail feedback service to get information about the organization.
You can put your own name and your own e-mail and then you know they’ll e-mail you or send you information. (Liz)
“Real-time communication” also enables the WA content to be created and modified by consumers as well as advertisers. Thanks to the two-way communication capability, they not only read others’ opinions about products but also post their own opinions. Some participants enjoyed posting their opinions about products on the bulletin board on third-party Web sites (e.g., Amazon.com). The participatory behavior on the Web makes them happy. The message board about product information on the Web is totally constructed by consumers. Thus, they not only acquire useful information about the products they are interested in but also provide the information to other consumers. The product information on the Web is created and developed by consumers as well as sellers.
R: What do you feel about other people following your message (in Amazon.com’s customer review board)?
P: Oh makes me happy. I am glad to know that I started a conversation that people are interested in …. (Jacob)
“Real-Time Communication” represents the way to get product information on the Web. Participants preferred WA’s “Two-Way” communication and liked “Fast” loading without any unnecessary waiting process. In most cases, this theme helped WA messages receive positive evaluations from consumers.
The empirical study presented in this chapter suggests a variety of meanings of interactivity of Web advertising (WA) from consumers’ perspectives. Although the major themes of interactivity found in this study are also provided in other literature (e.g., McMillan & Hwang, 2002; Liu, 2003), the current study calibrates each of major concepts of interactivity in the context of WA. In fact, the findings enable researchers to have a deeper and wider understanding about what those constructs of interactivity really are. A simple definition of concepts of interactivity on WA is not enough for WA researchers and practitioners to understand this complicated and dynamic phenomenon. With the findings of this study, researchers can specifically investigate each construct, which consists of interactivity on WA. For example, future research can examine different levels of the “Controllable” aspect of corporate Web sites (or any WA formats) in terms of “Having many choices” and “Manageable” and explore relationships between those constructs and “Self-confidence” level. A variety of possible themes about consumer behavior on the Web in general could provide sufficient contexts that help researchers to understand why consumers behave in certain ways regarding WA content. As argued earlier, many researchers still investigate the role of interactivity in yielding effective WA executions (e.g., increasing the preference of banners) in manipulated contexts such as experimental research designs. In reality, consumers are not exposed to banners and popups without context. Banners are placed within a Web site and pop-ups appear on a Web site. The Web site is, in many cases, a frequently visited one. Accordingly, those WA formats can be easily ignored. Because the consumer is actively in control of the Web visiting experience, it is less meaningful to investigate effects of banner messages in experimental conditions.
The study suggests various venues for future research. Future studies should investigate the role of each element of interactivity and the relationship among various variables found in this study. As described in the previous section, “Controllable” and “Real-Time Communication” consist of various different sub-themes. For example, “Real-Time Communication” includes “Updated” WA messages, “Live (or Time-Delay)” communication regarding WA, and so forth. Often, these sub-themes could yield positive responses from consumers, but sometimes they did not. In order to discover how to develop a WA strategy in effective ways, these concepts and their relationships are critical.
Most early studies and even some recent works (e.g., Bezjian-Avery et al., 2000; Cho & Leckenby, 1997) reported that the interactivity of WA could positively affect the consumers’ WA evaluations in most cases. However, it is also argued that the interactivity is not always positively associated with WA effectiveness (e.g., Dholakia, 2000; Liu, 2002, 2003). The current study also showed that sometimes consumers preferred a little delayed presentation of WA. The paradigm of interactivity research seems to be experiencing a change regarding its effects on consumers’ evaluations of WA.
In order to examine which levels or which types of interactivity are most effective, it is important for researchers to have reliable and valid tools to measure the interactivity of various WA messages. Because the research on interactivity in WA is in its infancy, researchers have measured the interactivity of various WA messages with their own scales created without any scientific scale development procedure. However, scales to measure interactivity have recently been developed (McMillan & Hwang, 2002; Liu, 2003). Although these scales are not completely perfect, future researchers are likely to adopt these scales and some efforts are also needed to modify and redevelop the scales to have better examination across as many WA formats and contexts as possible.
Furthermore, based on how consumers think about and interact with WA, research is needed to explore a variety of Web features relating to interactivity (e.g., search function, site map, chat, bulletin board, etc.) and classify them into conceptual categories. Classification of specific Web features can hardly last for long because numerous Web features emerge and disappear with the rapid development of technology.
Researchers should also examine how these various themes of interactivity evolve with the rapid development of relevant technology. For example, the theme of “No Delay” may wane over time due to technological advancements. Nevertheless, consumers are still likely to want to find their relevant content as fast as possible. The loading time is not the sole issue in this phenomenon.
Another venue of interactivity study is more critical. Although most researchers agreed that (perceived) interactivity would take a positive role in Web advertising effectiveness, this notion of positive effects is questioned in recent studies (e.g., Liu & Shrum, 2002). As disclosed in the study presented here, some highly interactive Web advertising formats were less preferred (e.g., information overloaded Web sites). With this notion, other critical factors that affect the preference of interactive WA, such as the ability to process information or to navigate through Web sites, should be also considered in future studies. It is necessary for researchers to investigate this recent suggestion and determine how to optimize the level of interactivity.
This chapter examines the consumer perceptions of the interactivity of Web advertising. As the Web provides an environment in which consumers can be actively involved, it is necessary to understand how they actually behave on the Web. The chapter, with its qualitative research approach, provides depth of understanding about how consumers think about and interact with WA.
Specifically, two major themes of “Controllable” and “Real-Time Communication” were found, and they represent how consumers think about and interact with various WA messages during their usual Web navigation. Future researchers can benefit from the findings. In fact, these themes are not simple concepts as the literature frequently presented, but consist of a variety of different sub constructs. Most of all, the current study provides consumers’ thoughts about interactivity so that future studies can examine any part of interactivity on the Web in the context of the big picture. Without an understanding of the consumers’ context, studies risk limited and distorted outcomes.
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