AdvertisingPeer-Reviewed Research

Hearts And Minds

A mug full of marshmallow hearts

•    Twenty-first century advertising has been shaped by two seismic events: the ubiquity of the internet and the crash of advertising revenues in the 2008 global recession. 
•    Much advertising research still focuses on the psychological approach that leads to the best messaging.
•    But researchers increasingly need to think instead about what medium – internet, TV, movie ads, radio, newspapers and magazines – works best with the elements of a given marketing strategy.

A chocolate factory with global ambitions wants to sell its new candy bar. Should its marketing army take an emotional approach? Or should it tout chocolate’s nutritional benefits? And, most importantly, where should that message appear – in a newspaper ad, on the radio, online?  After all, if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it really make a sound?

Consciously or not, such decisions have been largely shaped by two seismic events in the 21st century. The first was the rise of the internet. The second was the thundering crash of ad revenues during the 2008 Great Recession. As a result, the success of that new chocolate bar could rid on how well its marketers understand and manage these influences.

In a widely-read new study, Rice Business professor Wagner Kamakura joined colleagues Salvador Del Barrio-García and Teodoro Luque-Martínez of the University of Granada to examine which media work best with different advertising approaches. The team pored over annual media budgets for all advertisers in Spain in the 21st century over 154 major product categories and eight different types of media, including the internet, magazines, newspapers, and television, among others. 

The implications of the media choices have special import in Spain: while Spain represented the world’s 9th largest advertising market in 2005, it dropped to 16th place in 2015. Printed media suffered both before and during the economic crisis, while shares of revenue dedicated to internet advertising rose dramatically. Meanwhile, television, outdoor media and radio saw only slight increases in their media budgets.

The problem with most advertising research, according to Kamakura and his team, is that it is primarily focused on messaging. Emphasizing the relative merits of mind and emotion, researchers tend to skimp on a more concrete question: which media work best for a given strategy? With the rise of the internet and the lingering symptoms of the 2008 recession, the scholars argue, the advertising industry needs to consider both message and media.

In Spain, as print media began to deteriorate during the first decade of this century, so too did print advertisements. By 2015, the internet dominated the Spanish advertising market, to the detriment of newspapers, magazines and inserts and the ads that screen during movie previews. The dominance of the internet as an advertising medium has been a global phenomenon.

Nevertheless, other media still have their advantages, depending on the advertising needs dictated by the type of product advertised. Magazines, for example, are good conduits for high-risk purchase decisions, the kind that require consumers to think deeply before buying. Magazines’ alluring photo layouts can also bolster advertisers from fashion brands that emphasize visual content. 

Conversely, while the internet and television captivate consumers who need an emotional connection to a product, they, too, can function as intellectual media. Internet search optimization, for instance, is useful for picky shoppers intent on making the most rational choice. Advertisements associated with sports TV confirm the traditional idea of TV as a non-rational medium, one that activates the parts of the brain that process primal emotions. Radio, finally, offers advertisers its own charms: research shows radio messages need relatively small exposure frequency to influence consumer choices. 

With such complex choices, advertisers need to start aligning their strategies not only with consumer psychological states, but also with the right communication media to tap into them. To help guide this alignment, Kamakura and his team developed a framework that helps advertisers select the proper media for their campaigns, based on the characteristics of their product/service and the capabilities of each medium.  They also argue that researchers themselves must delve ever deeper into which configurations of print, radio, social media and search engine optimization help specific strategies hit the elusive sweet spot. 


Wagner A. Kamakura is the Jesse H. Jones Professor of Marketing at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

To learn more, please see: Del Barrio-García, S., Kamakura, W. A., Luque-Martínez, T. (2019). A longitudinal cross-product analysis of media-budget allocations: How economic and technological disruptions affected media choices across industries. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 45, 1-15.