The impact of commercial auditory formal features on audience attention, memory, and evaluation

Date of Completion

January 1997


Business Administration, Marketing|Mass Communications




Pioneering studies suggested that auditory formal features (e.g., novelty level of audio quality, and frequency of sound character changes) affect audience information reception. This dissertation addresses whether and how auditory form novelty and complexity have unique, content-independent impacts on audience information processing and advertising effectiveness, and examines 23 proposed relationships among auditory formal features, information processing, memory retention, and commercial evaluation.^ Using Fourier frequency spectrum analysis, this study developed objective measures of the two formal features. Attention was measured by reaction time to the secondary task. This method is superior in unobtrusiveness, accuracy, and continuity in time. To examine the content-independent impacts of formal features, Experiment I employed time-compression and time-expansion to alter formal features of a commercial while keeping its content, voice pitch and balance unchanged. The former method decreases, while the latter increases, the commercial presentation time. To disentangle the possible interactions between formal features and presentation time, and to remove the possible confounding impacts from time-altered contents, Experiment II used spectrum modification method which keeps content, presentation time, and voice pitch and balance the same.^ One hundred and forty-one undergraduate students participated in this study. Data collection was designed to simulate a real radio audience situation. Four non-aired radio commercials were tested in two experiments. Seven sets of statistical analyses at commercial, experiment and the whole project levels generated convergent results toward the 23 hypotheses. Results presented in the dissertation were from the last set of data analyses at the whole project level.^ For low involvement commercials, increase in form novelty enhances, while increase in form complexity is generally detrimental to, audience information processing and advertising effectiveness. Despite low attention to radio commercials, attention has a strong positive impact on audience information retention and commercial evaluation. Strong memory representation (i.e., high recall and recognition scores) leads to high evaluations of advertising from memory (i.e., attitude toward the advertising and attitude toward the brand). This study explains the inconsistent results in 40-year time-compressed commercial literature. Findings on auditory formal features can also be applied to other audio-visual media. ^