Marketing Faculty-Student Team Researches TV Advertising

Research benefits from first-ever Edgren award for a marketing scholarship project.

By Michelle Westlund ’83, senior content specialist

July 13, 2018 | 12:30 p.m.

Marketing Faculty-Student Team Researches TV Advertising

Associate Professor of Business Mary Ann Harris has been involved in the advertising field for 30 years.

If you watch the Super Bowl mainly to see the commercials, you’re in good company. Mary Ann Harris, associate professor of business, watches many programs just to see the advertising. In fact, sometimes she watches only the ads.

Harris has been involved in the advertising field for 30 years, and has observed the industry change from highlighting features and benefits to telling stories and providing entertainment. For her thesis research a decade ago, Harris studied the impact of storytelling on advertising effectiveness. In summer 2017, with the help of Bethel’s Edgren Scholarship program, she collaborated with business marketing major Morgan Johnson ’18 to study ad stories again, this time focusing more on the cultural implications of these entertaining messages.

The stated goal of the Edgren research was to better understand the values advertisers convey as they entertain and persuade. Harris and Johnson wanted to find out if there were dominant values in advertising, especially ads considered effective in reaching large numbers of viewers. Using a coding system, they studied 386 award-winning television ads, rating them on 10 categories of advertising appeal (such as profit, health, and love/romance) and perceived values (like power, benevolence, and conformity). Justin Bonano ’18, a finance and marketing major, assisted with the coding.

Their results indicated that more than 50% of ads conveyed a “strong perceived value.” The values of benevolence, achievement, security, and power were the most likely to be perceived. And the ads’ messages were found to appeal strongly to viewers’ sense of fun, with 31% of the ads studied conveying this message in some way.

Harris and Johnson concluded that overt values are evident in the ads they studied, and that ads may both protect established views and push the envelope. “Benevolence was a dominant value that showed up across many product categories,” says Harris. “While we weren’t surprised that advertisers were focusing on helping others, we did see more of a protective posture versus one of extending to others outside the audience’s own world.” It’s these kinds of findings, they say, that motivate them to keep investigating the topic.

The project was interdisciplinary, says Harris, utilizing research techniques from mass communications and leveraging Johnson’s skills in analytics. “We also found great support and partnership from outside Bethel,” she continues. “We’re excited to take the research to the next step, looking at other media channels and conducting primary research with creators themselves.”

“Being able to work collaboratively with Dr. Harris gave me confidence in my research abilities and created an incredible mentorship opportunity.”

— Morgan Johnson ’18, business marketing major and Edgren Scholars Award recipient

Beyond their research findings, the faculty-student partnership was significant in other ways. The funding received by Harris and Johnson was the first-ever Edgren Scholarship awarded to a marketing scholarship project, providing a precedent for theoretical research opportunities that help prepare interested business students for graduate school. This effectively complements the department’s already strong emphasis on real-world experience in preparing students for business careers after graduation.

In both cases, students engage in hands-on learning that gives them a distinct advantage as they pursue their post-graduation goals, whether in business careers or graduate school. “Being able to work collaboratively with Dr. Harris gave me confidence in my research abilities,” says Johnson, “and created an incredible mentorship opportunity.”

Student Research Opportunities

The Edgren Scholars Program funds up to four research partnerships in which College of Arts & Sciences students and faculty work on summer scholarship projects. Find out more about faculty-student research opportunities at Bethel

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