A recent study by Faculty of Business professor Tim Jones found that about 13 per cent of the advertisements on Canadian prime time television contain violent content and the majority of this content involves physical, interpersonal violence.
On average, Canadians witness about 18 instances of violence per hour of television programming. There is much discourse around the topic of violence in media, but limited study has been done on violence in advertising.
“Unlike programming that is designed to entertain, advertisements, by their very nature, are designed to be memorable and persuade,” Dr. Jones explained. “Thus, behaviours depicted in ads are often put forth as something to aspire to or emulate.”
Past research has proven that advertising does have a strong influence in shaping some beliefs and behaviours relating to certain products, notably tobacco and alcohol. Given this, it is possible that advertising containing violence can influence beliefs and behaviours related to violence.
In the study, 200 hours of weekday, prime-time programming was recorded over two weeks in 2006. The researchers found that out of 7,717 advertisements, 992 showed a violent behaviour.
The researchers defined violent advertisements as those advertisements that contain any implied or explicit behaviour that is performed with the intent to cause direct or indirect harm – either physical or psychological – to an individual or group.
Dr. Jones said that the effect of violent advertisements on both viewers and brands is a complex issue. “On one hand, the inclusion of violent content in advertisements may increase viewer attention, make ads and their messages more memorable, and enhance brand attitude. On the other hand, violent content may offend some viewers, resulting in negative brand attitude and have negative effects on viewers such as heightened tolerance for violence, violent behavioral intentions, or mean-world perceptions.”
This research was a collaboration with Dr. Peggy H. Cunningham, professor, and Marie Shantz, teaching professor of marketing, with the School of Business at Queen’s University.