Ad fatigue: why is this ad annoying me?

Have you ever seen an ad so many times it starts to get on your nerves? Mumbrella's Calum Jaspan looks into ad fatigue, and whether being over-exposed to some branding could end up having the reverse effect on consumers.

Has an ad ever annoyed you so much that you need to turn over the channel when it comes on?

While watching this year’s NBA Finals on streaming platform Kayo, it dawned on me that I had been watching the same five or six ads on repeat across the Playoffs campaign for two months was starting to irritate me a little. 

My flatmate and I ended up muting the TV at each ad break, of which there are a lot of during a basketball broadcast.

I wanted to look into why this might be, and whether overexposure to particular ads might end up doing the opposite that the campaign intended.

While Kayo broadcasts the same sport coverage that features on Fox Sports, Streamotion (and Kayo) CEO, Julian Ogrin told me this week that the ads shown on the platform differ to those on Foxtel. He said the spots are sold to corporate partners as a separate offering, tailored to Kayo’s audience in order to have maximum impact. 

Last year, when Streamotion appointed Mindshare to its above the line media buying, Foxtel Media’s Mark Frain said that on Foxtel, ads get noticed. “You could be one of up to 60 ads in an hour on free to air BVOD, or 1 of 4 on Foxtel Go. I know where I’d rather be.

“Your ad can appear at 15% screen coverage on Facebook, or 100% on Go and Kayo.”

While this tailored offering might give higher exposure to commercial partners, it also results in viewers, like myself, seeing the same ad at every break more or less.

For ads with a jingle, like Four N Twenty’s ‘We’ve been there for it all’ campaign, which featured heavily during the NBA Playoffs coverage, they have the potential to get old very quickly.

Same could be said for anyone watching basketball during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on Seven, and subsequently saw the Paramount+ more times than they care to remember

When asked about the ad placement strategy during the playoffs, head of marketing and communications at Foxtel Media, Nicole Florio said that Kayo works to ensure it has the right partners for the brand and audience, with the right creative and frequency to ensure the greatest brand engagement. 

“Occasionally, to prevent unnecessary repetition of ads we serve the ‘we’re on a break’ screen instead.”

Then, while watching Australian Survivor on 10 Play last week, I was also shown the same ad for ViacomCBS’ Paramount+, promoting new series ‘Two Weeks to Live’ three times in a single ad break. The same ad was shown multiple times in other breaks throughout the episode in what I assumed must have been a mistake. 

When contacted about why this may have occurred, a Network Ten spokesperson said that 10 Play is continuing to invest in an experience “that offers advertisers innovative and impactful solutions while engaging audiences with non-intrusive ads”.

The spokesperson also said that 10 Play ads are served by Google Ad Manager, while also working closely with programmatic sources to help ensure their campaigns are set up correctly. 

We have made great strides in ad serving through a close working relationship with Google implementing their DAI solution and other initiatives, and are committed to investing and growing in this area along with the technology.”

While this explanation makes perfect sense, it does not change the fact that the programmatic mistake resulted in me muting the TV, when the ad break came on. Let me be clear in saying that I don’t think these ads are necessarily annoying. The first time I saw them they didn’t strike me as that, however it was the frequency of delivery that changed my reaction. 

To get an insight into how this might play out for consumers, I asked Dr Melissa Weinberg, associate professor at the Institute for Social Neuroscience, and Dan Monheit, co-founder at Hardhat and behavioural economist. 

Weinberg spoke about the Mere Exposure Effect, which describes how we can have a preference for certain things, simply because we are familiar with them. 

Dr Melissa Weinberg

Repetitive advertising taps into this phenomenon. However, the key word here is ‘mere’. If we are merely exposed to something (eg. driving past a banner on the highway everyday on the way to work) then the exposure is largely subliminal. The same would go for a subtle ad that we see on TV every now and then – we’re being exposed to the information, but it doesn’t elicit an affective response.”

There does become a point though, where it goes beyond this, and becomes annoying.

Monheit says that various studies have determined that the average adult sees anywhere between 4,000 to 10,000 ads in a single day.

“Let’s be honest. Just getting noticed within this daily onslaught is a pretty good effort. Getting noticed so much that we annoy a person to the point of boycott would be a rare feat indeed.”

In these rare cases, Weinberg said we are no longer being ‘merely exposed’, we are being consciously bothered by the ad, which creates an association between the negative emotional response and the ad. 

“This would typically cause us to mute or change the channel when we are exposed to the annoying ad.” 

Does this mean we will be put off that product though?

Dan Monheit

“However, I believe this would only cause us to be annoyed by the ad, not the product. It’s not the product that’s annoying, it’s the ad, and we are somehow able to separate the two,” said Weinberg. 

Monheit said that while one part of our brains (prefrontal cortex) might end up deciding that a particular piece of branding annoys us, it’s the more primal, and emotionally driven part (reptilian brain) that “calls most of the shots”, often opting for safety “above almost anything else”. 

This is what makes the prominent and consistent use of brand codes super critical. People don’t need to interact or even notice the ad for the Mere Exposure Effect to work its magic. They do however, at a subconscious level at least, need to know what the ad is for, and brand codes are the most efficient way of conveying that.”

Weinberg said that she had a similar experience to me while catching up on Survivor, in turn getting repeated ads for Google, Apple and Woolworths.  

“The tune on the Google ad particularly annoyed me, and would get stuck in my head. So I didn’t like the ad. But I also had no idea what the ad was actually for until I decided I would consciously watch it and find out.”

“In sum, I have no ill-will towards Google (possibly because of a history of inoffensive exposures), but I still can’t stand that ad.”

So, is having an ad that annoys, or having an ad repeated too often in a specific time frame likely to put viewers off that brand next time they are in the market for the product? Weinberg doesn’t think so.

“Ultimately, I believe that if you have a need for the product, the desire to eliminate your need will likely override the negative emotion associated with the ad.”


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