Media Effects Research Lab - Research Archive

Does web advertising work? Memory for print vs. online media

Student Researcher(s)

Sunetra Narayan (Masters Candidate); Rafael Obregon (Masters Candidate); Charu Uppal (Masters Candidate); Shuanghong Wu (Masters Candidate)

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar


Sundar, S. S., Narayan, S., Obregon, R., & Uppal, C. (1998). Does web advertising work? Memory for print vs. online media. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 75(4), 822-835.

Sundar, S. S., Narayan, S., Obregon, R., & Uppal, C. (1997, August). Does web advertising work? Memory for print vs. online media. Paper presented at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Chicago, IL.


The rapid growth of web advertising has sparked renewed interest in the question: Does the new medium work better than traditional media in spreading the advertiser's message? While this question is of obvious practical importance to media planners and advertising professionals, it also raises fundamental theoretical questions for media scholars: How much memory do people have for online ads compared to print ads? Also, are these memory differences, if any, unique to advertising content or are they generalizable to all content? The present investigation attempts to address the above questions through an experiment designed to measure memory differences for identical content transmitted via different media. Specifically, it measures recall and recognition of advertising as well as news story content on a newspaper front page and compares it with recall and recognition of the same content presented on a website.


Given the paucity of past research on incidental memory for advertising content, no specific hypotheses are proposed for the present study.


Forty-eight participants took part in a between-participants experiment. They were exposed to the front page of a fictitious newspaper featuring two news stories and one advertisement. Half the participants read the page in print form while the other half read the same content in online form. Both the experimental conditions were identical in content as well as layout. After participants read the page, their memory for ad content as well as story content was measured by a battery of recall and recognition questions administered via a paper-and-pencil questionnaire.


Participants exposed to the print version of a newspaper front page remembered significantly more advertisement material than participants exposed to the same front page online. The study also found that participants in print and online conditions were not statistically different in the amount of news story information they remembered.


An important theoretical implication of this study is that in order to find differences between two media, it is not necessary for the media to differ in their modality (since both print and online media, at least in this study, shared the same mode of text). A clear implication for advertisers is that incidental memory for ad content is significantly lower in online medium compared to print medium. An important practical implication of this study is that, in order for web advertising to work, advertisers have to do more to attract readers than they would in the print medium. For example, animated ads as opposed to still ads might be needed to attract online users.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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