Enhancing television advertising: same-language subtitles can improve brand recall, verbal memory, and behavioral intent

  • S. Adam BraselEmail author
  • James Gips
Original Empirical Research


This research explores how same-language subtitles—on-screen text that matches the spoken language—can enhance advertising effectiveness for television commercials on normal viewing audiences outside of foreign-language or deaf-viewer contexts. A preliminary eye-tracker study shows that same-language subtitles capture disproportionate visual attention, and a first study highlights that same-language commercial subtitles can increase brand recall and memory of other verbal ad information. Three further studies using 12 additional ads reinforce the positive effects of subtitles and show how same-language subtitle effectiveness varies with changes in visual and verbal ad complexity. In addition to showing how subtitles can increase behavioral intent, results also highlight how varying subtitle content affects memory gains and illustrate how subtitles can lead to negative effects in the uncommon situation that brand information is missing from the audio. As the efficacy of television advertising becomes increasingly debated, same-language subtitling is a simple way to boost advertising effectiveness.


Advertising Subtitles Brand recall Memory 


  1. Alexander, P. A., & Winne, P. (2006). Handbook of educational psychology. Mahwah: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  2. Antes, J. R. (1974). The time course of picture viewing. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 103(1), 62–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Becker, S., & Horstmann, G. (2011). Novelty and saliency in attentional capture by unannounced motion singletons. Acta Psychologica, 136(3), 290–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berman, S. J., Battino, B., Shipnuck, L., & Neus, A. (2009). The end of advertising as we know it. In D. Gerbarg (Ed.), Television goes digital. New York: Springer Science + Business Media.Google Scholar
  5. Brasel, S. A., & Gips, J. (2008). Points of view: where do we look when we watch tv? Perception, 37(12), 1890–1894.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brasel, S. A., & Gips, J. (2011). Media multitasking behavior: concurrent television and computer usage. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 14(9), 527–534.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brunyé, T. T., Taylor, H. A., Rapp, D. N., & Spiro, A. B. (2006). Learning procedures: the role of working memory in multimedia learning experiences. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20(7), 917–940.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chaiken, S., & Eagly, A. (1983). Communication modality as a determinant of persuasion: the role of communicator salience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45(2), 241–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cintas, J. D. (2003). Audiovisual translation in the third millennium. In G. Anderman & M. Rogers (Eds.), Translation today: Trends and perspectives (pp. 192–204). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  10. D’Ydewalle, G., & De Bruycker, W. (2007). Eye movements of children and adults while reading television subtitles. European Psychologist, 12(3), 196–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. D’Ydewalle, G., & Gielen, I. (1992). Attention allocation with overlapping sound, image, and text. In K. Rayner (Ed.), Eye movements and visual cognition: Scene perception and reading (pp. 415–427). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. D’Ydewalle, G., Van Rensbergen, J., & Pollet, J. (1987). Reading a message when the same message is available auditorily in another language: The case of subtitling. In O’Regan & Levy-Schoen (Eds.), Eye movements: From physiology to cognition (pp. 313–321). Amsterdam: North Holland.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. D’Ydewalle, G., Praet, C., Verfaillie, K., & Van Rensbergen, J. (1991). Watching subtitled television: automatic reading behavior. Communication Research, 18(5), 650–666.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dowell, J., & Shmueli, Y. (2008). Blending speech output and visual text in the multimodal interface. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 50(5), 782–798.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Drew, D. G., & Grimes, T. (1987). Audio–visual redundancy and tv news recall. Communication Research, 14(4), 453–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ducoffe, R. H. (1996). Advertising value and advertising on the web. Journal of Advertising Research, 36(5), 21–35.Google Scholar
  17. Egeth, H., & Yantis, S. (1997). Visual attention: Control, representation, and time course. Annual Review of Psychology, 48, 269–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Focker, J., Gondan, M., & Roder, B. (2011). Preattentive processing of audio-visual emotional signals. Acta Psychologica, 137(1), 36–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gielen, M. (1988). Perceptie en Ondertitels: De Paravofeale en Perifere Informatieverwerking van Ondertitels [Perception and Subtitles: The Paravofeal and Peripheral Information Processing of Subtitles]. Leuven: University of Leuven.Google Scholar
  20. Itti, L., & Baldi, P. (2009). Bayesian surprise attracts human attention. Vision Research, 49, 1295–1306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ivarsson, J., & Carroll, M. (1998). Subtitling. Simrishamn: TransEdit.Google Scholar
  22. Jamet, E., & LeBohec, O. (2007). The effect of redundant text in multimedia instruction. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 32(4), 588–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jamhouri, O., & Winiarz, M. L. (2009). The enduring influence of tv advertising and communications clout patterns in the global marketplace. Journal of Advertising Research, 49(2), 227–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jensema, C. J., Sharkawy, S. E., Danturthi, R. S., Burch, R., & Hsu, D. (2000). Eye movement patterns of captioned television viewers. American Annals of the Deaf, 145(3), 275–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jonassen, D., & Grabowski, B. (1993). Handbook of individual differences, learning, and instruction. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.Google Scholar
  26. Kalyuga, S., Chandler, P., & Sweller, J. (2004). When redundant on-screen text in multimedia technical instruction can interfere with learning. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 46(3), 567–581.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kirino, E., Belger, A., Goldman-Rakic, P., & McCarthy, G. (2000). Prefrontal activation evoked by infrequent target and novel stimuli in a visual target detection task: an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Journal of Neuroscience, 20(17), 6612–6618.Google Scholar
  28. Kolmogorov, A. (1968). Logical basis for information theory and probability theory. IEEE Transactions on Information Theory, 14(5), 662–664.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Koolstra, C. M., Peeters, A. L., & Spinhof, H. (2002). The pros and cons of dubbing and subtitling. European Journal of Communication, 17(3), 325–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kothari, B., & Takeda, J. (2000). Same language subtitling for literacy: Small change for colossal gains. In S. C. Bhatnagar & R. Schware (Eds.), Information and communication technology in development (pp. 130–151). New Delhi: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  31. Kuppens, A. H. (2010). Incidental foreign language acquisition from media exposure. Learning, Media and Technology, 35(1), 65–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Loewenstein, J., Raghunathan, R., & Heath, C. (2011). The repetition-break plot structure makes effective television advertisements. Journal of Marketing, 75, 105–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Loftus, G. R., & Mackworth, N. H. (1978). Cognitive determinants of fixation location during picture viewing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 4(4), 565–572.Google Scholar
  34. Macinnis, D., Moorman, C., & Jaworski, B. J. (1991). Enhancing and measuring consumers’ motivation, opportunity, and ability to process brand information from ads. Journal of Marketing, 55, 32–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. MacKenzie, S., Lutz, R., & Belch, G. (1986). The role of attitude toward the ad as a mediator of advertising effectiveness: a test of competing explanations. Journal of Marketing Research, 23, 130–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia learning (2dth ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mayer, R. E., Heiser, J., & Lonn, S. (2001). Cognitive constraints on multimedia learning: when presenting more material results in less understanding. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93(1), 187–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Moreno, R., & Mayer, R. E. (1999). Cognitive principles of multimedia learning: the role of modality and contiguity. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91(2), 358–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Perego, E., Del Missier, F., Porta, M., & Mosconi, M. (2010). The cognitive effectiveness of subtitle processing. Media Psychology, 13(3), 243–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pieters, R., & Wedel, M. (2007). Attention capture and transfer in advertising: brand, pictorial, and text-size effects. Journal of Marketing, 69, 36–50.Google Scholar
  41. Pieters, R., Wedel, M., & Batra, R. (2010). The stopping power of advertising: measures and effects of visual complexity. Journal of Marketing, 74, 48–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Rayner, K. (1998). Eye movements in reading and information processing: 20 years of research. Psychological Bulletin, 124(3), 372–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Rundle, C. (2000). Using subtitles to teach translation. In R. M. Bollettieri Bosinelli, C. Heiss, M. Soffritti, & S. Bernardini (Eds.), La Traduzione Multimediale: Quale Traduzione per Quale Testo? [Multimedia Translation: What translation for what text?] (pp. 167–181). Bologna: CLUEB.Google Scholar
  44. Sacharin, K. (2001). Attention! How to interrupt, yell, whisper, and touch consumers. New York: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  45. Schmidt-Weigand, F., Kohnert, A., & Glowalla, U. (2010). A closer look at split visual attention in system- and self-paced instruction in multimedia learning. Learning and Instruction, 20(2), 100–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Shachar, R., & Anand, B. (1998). The effectiveness and targeting of television advertising. Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, 7(3), 363–396.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Singh, S., & Cole, C. (1993). The effects of length, content, and repetition on television commercial effectiveness. Journal of Marketing Research, 30, 91–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sohl, G. (1989). Het Verwerken van de Vreemdtalige Gesproken Tekst in een Ondertiteld TV Programma [Processing foreign spoken text in a subtitled television program], Unpublished licence thesis, University of Leuven, Belgium.Google Scholar
  49. Stewart, D. (2009). Marketing accountability: linking marketing actions to financial results. Journal of Business Research, 62(6), 636–643.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Strasheim, A., Pitt, L., & Caurana, A. (2007). Psychometric properties of the Schillinger Viewer Response Profile: evidence from a large sample. Journal of Advertising, 36(4), 101–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Suwazono, S., Machado, L., & Knight, R. T. (2000). Predictive value of novel stimuli modifies visual event-related potentials and behavior. Clinical Neurophysiology, 111(1), 29–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wissmath, B., Weibel, D., & Groner, R. (2009). Dubbing or subtitling? Effects on spatial presence, transportation, flow, and enjoyment. Journal of Media Psychology, 21(3), 114–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Yuviler-Gavish, N., Yechiam, E., & Kallai, A. (2011). Learning in multimodal training: Visual guidance can be both appealing and disadvantageous in spatial tasks. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 69(3), 113–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Zekveld, A., Kramer, S., Kessens, J., Vlaming, M., & Houtgast, T. (2008). The benefit obtained from visually displayed text from an automatic speech recognizer during listening to speech presented in noise. Ear & Hearing, 29(6), 838–852.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Zhou, S. (2004). Effects of visual intensity and audiovisual redundancy in bad news. Media Psychology, 6(3), 237–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Academy of Marketing Science 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Marketing DepartmentCarroll School of ManagementChestnut HillUSA
  2. 2.Information Systems DepartmentCarroll School of ManagementChestnut HillUSA

Personalised recommendations