How Physical Activity Affects Consumers’ Advertising Receptiveness

Plenty of studies have explored the eye-catching effects of moving advertisements on consumers. But what if it’s the consumers themselves who are in motion, instead of the ads? More than ever, people are viewing ad content while on the move, as digital ad spend outpaces spending on traditional media for the first time this year. Yet until recently, no one had examined how consumers’ activity level might influence their receptiveness to advertisements.

The results of a recent study show that brands can benefit from targeting on-the-go consumers—opening up new avenues of possibility for contextually relevant mobile advertising. The study, published in the Journal of Advertising Research, found that consumers who were in motion were more likely to have a positive reaction to an advertisement and its sponsor brand than those who were sedentary. “Different types of physical activity, such as walking around in a waiting area at a railway station, walking upstairs in the subway and doing cardio exercise in a gym, had positive effects on advertising effectiveness,” the study says.

Building on the premise of grounded cognition—the idea that what’s happening with the body also affects the brain—study authors theorize that physical activity creates a heightened state of arousal that can be transferred to the advertisement itself, resulting in a more positive response to the ad content. “These (positive) effects were moderated by the relatedness of the advertising to the physical activity,” the study found.

One of the more interesting, if a bit counterintuitive, findings: Advertising that was less related to the consumers’ current physical activity elicited a more positive response than ad content that more closely mirrored the activity taking place. So an ad viewed while on a treadmill, for instance, would do better to depict a group of people playing basketball than a person walking or jogging, while a subway platform banner would ideally avoid showing a crowded rush-hour scene.

What do these new findings mean for advertisers? Perhaps the most straightforward application would be to simply boost signage in places where people are typically walking or working out, such as parks, gyms, malls and transportation hubs. But this approach has its limitations, necessitating a one-size-fits-all advertising approach that inevitably leaves some potential consumers at the margins. Instead, the study’s authors envision innovative strategies for reaching active people via the mobile devices that are moving right along with them.

“The most interesting opportunities going forward are likely in digital advertising,” the study says. “Using fitness trackers or smart watches, brands and advertisers can capture data on pulse, activity level and positioning that can help them not only tailor the advertising message to the consumers’ preferences and context, but also target consumers when they are physically aroused.”

GumGum offers a full suite of tools tailor-made for reaching consumers on the go, from attention-grabbing embedded video ads to in-image and in-screen frames that border editorial content without taking away from user experience. Going one step further, our contextual targeting capabilities use computer vision to enable brands to customize advertisements based on the on-page content being viewed—delivering the most relevant ads at the most appropriate time. 

Coupled with the knowledge that physical activity increases consumers’ advertising receptiveness, these products can help brands grow their reach and engagement by showing mobile users ads that they actually want to see, when they want to see them. And that’s the kind of good news that keeps us all moving forward.

Illustrations by Nicholas Roberts