Overstimulating demand

Interactive ads online may lead to greater customer dissatisfaction

Websites that allow customers to interactively try out a product–clicking the mouse button and freezing a moving scene via a virtual digital camera, for example–tend to be more effective at boosting sales than static advertisements, studies have shown. But a recent U.S. report warns interactive advertisements might also lead to greater customer dissatisfaction.

According to the December issue of the University of Chicago's Journal of Consumer Research, customers who test out a product online are more likely to believe the product can perform functions that it can't. University of Washington marketing professor Ann Schlosser showed half of her 173 subjects a website that simply displayed pictures and text about a digital camera. The other half visited a website where they could look through the camera virtually, zoom in and out and take pictures. Afterward, both groups indicated what they thought the camera could do from a list of real and false attributes.

Interestingly, those who tried out the camera interactively, chose more features the camera didn't actually have, selecting, on average, 53% of the false attributes. “The more vivid the advertisement is, the more you encourage people to use their imagination–and imagine things that aren't real,” explains Schlosser.

The impact of “false memories” from advertisements can be damaging enough to a company's reputation for advertising executives to be concerned, says Schlosser. Customers feel cheated when their product expectations aren't fulfilled, and may avoid the brand or company in the future.

According to Schlosser, more companies are seeking out interactive advertisements as a way to reach the viewers who skip TV ads via TiVo technology. Such companies may find themselves dealing with a bizarre complaint: customers who are angry because the product isn't the same one they dreamed up while surfing online.