The power of direct context as revealed by GfK eye tracking

​In a recent paper published in the latest issue of Journal of Advertising Research, Edith Smit and Sophie Boerman (University of Amsterdam) and Lex van Meurs (GfK Netherlands) used GfK eye tracking software to explore the visual impact of 187 magazine advertisements. Their “direct context” work studied not just how the observer looked at the ads, but how they viewed the content in context.

The aim of this research was to establish what elements of each advertisement were able to catch the eye, and whether or not the context of the ad drew visual attention away from the ad. For all advertisements about 150 items were coded to describe the way consumers looked at the advertisements.

It was found that direct context such as editorial content on the opposite page, above, around or under the ad diverts attention from the ad, especially the use of color.

“Context characteristics appeared to influence the visual attention paid to magazine advertisements, especially visual attention paid to the three main elements of advertisements. The color and amount of text in the direct context influenced the magazine reader, who then directed less visual attention to advertisements.”

While the top of the page is often seen as the most effective placement for an advertisement, in this study eye fixations were seen to be drawn to the bottom of the page.

The size of the magazine ad is the characteristic with the largest influence on visual attention. Brand and text elements also determine the level of attention given. Other elements that positively determine attention are: the use of illustrations and photos, a dominant visual on the bottom of the ad, and the use of a headline.

The distance between the brand, visual and text also influences the likelihood of all of these three elements being fixated on.

Finally. the authors’ advice to advertisers who want their ads to attract visual attention is simple:

“Invest additional funds to place a magazine advertisement in the best possible visual context. For example, at the bottom of a right-hand page, next to an article or illustration where that article or illustration does not contain too many colors or too much text.”


Smit, Edith; Boerman, Sophie & Meurs, Lex van (2015). The Power of Direct Context as Revealed by Eye Tracking: A Model Tracks Relative Attention To Competing Editorial and Promotional Context. Journal of Advertising Research (55, 2), p 216-227.

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