Impact of political television advertisements on viewers’ response to subsequent advertisements

Fossen, Beth; Mallapragada, Girish; De, Anwesha

Political advertisements on television can affect viewers and may, consequently, influence the effectiveness of subsequent ads. Such ad-to-ad spillover effects—where one ad influences how viewers respond to a subsequent ad—have drawn concerns from nonpolitical advertisers, raising the question: how do political ads on television impact viewers’ response to subsequent ads? We empirically investigate this question using two outcomes of ad response: ad viewership and online conversations about ads. We use data on 849 national political television ads from the 2016 election and leverage a quasiexperimental design to delineate the effect that a political ad has on the subsequent ad. We show that, counterintuitively, political ads spur positive spillover effects. Specifically, ads that follow a political ad, compared with ads that follow a nonpolitical ad, experience an 89% reduction in audience decline and thus air to larger audiences. Additionally, we find evidence that viewers engage in more positive online ad chatter about ads that air after political ads, with these ads experiencing a 3% increase in positive chatter after the ad. Our investigation contributes to research on advertising that has yet to explore ad-to-ad spillover effects and, more broadly, provides insights into how political messages influence consumers.