By the Numbers: It’s not the size that counts (or is it)?

PHD Canada's Rob Young dives into the agency's exclusive research on when screen size matters most.

Rob Young LargeRob Young is SVP of PHD Canada

We’re living in a three-screen world.

PHD, OMD, Touché!, Hearts and Science and Red Magnet, the Omnicom Media Group agencies, collectively conducted a research study to determine if video commercial effectiveness is impacted by screen size. It’s an important issue, because today almost all investment strategies that involve video imply a three-screen approach: the big TV screen, the mid-sized laptop/desktop screen and the smaller smartphone screen.

The multi-video platform comparison process is a bit of a conundrum that involves commercial unit size effectiveness, target audience size relative to commercial cost complicated by how each platform defines audience and impressions.

Now, add to these standard points of comparison the question of commercial screen size effectiveness. Think of this as an effectiveness index where TV screen represents 100.

One common point of view is that commercial effectiveness improves with screen size; the bigger the better.  Other media traders and planners hold to the belief that small, screens that are close to the face promote commercial message focus and commercial recall. Regardless of what side you fall on, if we simply ignore the issue, we default to the “all screens are created equal” thesis.

How we conducted the search for a screen size factor:

We employed a company, Neurons Inc., to apply neuroscience measurement techniques to track consumers’ non-conscious responses and a combination of eye tracking (attention) and Electroencephalogram or EEG (emotional/cognitive) tests were undertaken. The separation of commercials’ creative/message effectiveness impact from the screen size impact, was achieved by selecting “optimized” commercials and rotating these commercials through the screen options, video content options and respondents.

Fieldwork occurred in late 2018 in Toronto among a sample of 120 people (equal gender balance) between 18 and 54 years of age. The study organized the respondents into 12 groupings of 10. These willing study participants were compensated and were exposed to content and commercials carried in the three different screen sizes.

Topline results

Screens are indeed not “created equal.” Different screens are better than others at performing different types of jobs. Three traditional measures of effectiveness were scored for the three screen types: fixation duration (attention), cognitive focus (comprehension and learning) and motivation (interest in and desire for the product).

Here’s how each screen’s effectiveness is expressed, indexed against the TV screen standard of 100.

The TV screen did a better job at capturing overall commercial fixation duration (attention) than laptop (91) or mobile screens (84). On the other hand,  mobile and laptop screens hit higher Cognitive Load (comprehension and learning) scores (113 and 111) then the TV screen (100).

Screen size proved to have little impact on motivation, however.

So what?

Video commercials will have different communication roles and do different jobs for different spots. When trying to determine how to evaluate the video channels according to their screen sizes, ask yourself this before applying to corresponding screen size factors: how should I weigh the screens by size if I have a commercial focused on maximizing…

  • Consumer preference or interest in the product itself (motivational effectiveness)
  • Comprehension or learning about the product or message (cognitive effectiveness)
  • Visual attention (fixation duration)

We have fairly simple answers to each of these questions:

  • Screens of all sizes are equally effective at producing motivational results, so no screen size weighting should be undertaken.
  • For cognitive effectiveness, relative to TV, there’s more weight for mobile screens (over-indexed by 13%) and laptop screens (11%);
  • If you’re looking for visual attention, smaller screens are decidedly less effective. Mobile screens underindex by 16%, laptops by 9%.

Video commercials spring from roles for communications. Let the video commercial’s role drive the screen size weightings.