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Loud and clear: High-energy ads keep viewers tuned in, study shows

“By matching the energy level of ad content with consumers’ state of mind, we believe advertisers can expect higher levels of acceptance and effectiveness of their messages.”

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TV advertising has become not only high-volume, but increasingly high-energy — a trend noticed by academics and practitioners.

A new study from the University of Notre Dame confirms the shift and shows that advertisers should pay attention to components of ad content other than loudness, which has been regulated by law.

More energetic commercials are likely to be tuned in more or avoided less by viewers, according to “High-Energy Ad Content: A Large-Scale Investigation of TV Commercials,” forthcoming in the Journal of Marketing Research from Joonhyuk Yang, assistant professor of marketing at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.

After examining more than 27,000 TV commercials on major U.S. networks from 2015 to 2018 and almost all Super Bowl ads from 1969 to 2020, the researchers noted that, overall, more energetic commercials hold viewers’ attention.

The study measures the energy levels in commercials based on Spotify’s measure of energy in song tracks. Spotify defines energy as “a perceptual measure of intensity and powerful activity released throughout the track. Typical energetic tracks feel fast, loud, and noisy.” The paper’s measure of energy levels in commercials is highly correlated with people’s psychological state of “arousal,” or “the subjective experience of energy mobilization, which can be conceptualized as an affective dimension ranging from sleepy to frantic excitement.”

The top five keywords mentioned by the paper’s survey participants regarding high-energy commercials were “fast,” “music,” “movement,” “upbeat” and “exciting.”

The team first presented a framework to algorithmically measure the energy level in ad content from the video of ads. They then compared this measure with human-perceived energy levels, showing they’re related to the level of arousal stimulated by ad content.

“The positive association between energy levels in ad content and ad-tuning is statistically significant after controlling for placement and other aspects of commercials,” Yang said.

The study also finds the association varies across product categories and program genres.

“High-energy food and beverage commercials are likely to be viewed longer when placed within entertainment and news programs, but not in sports programs,” Yang said, “while energetic health and beauty commercials are viewed for shorter periods of time when placed in sports programs.”

Targeted advertising has typically focused on who audiences are, as well as their locations and behaviors. This study suggests adding another dimension — the emotional or psychological state of the audience.

“By matching the energy level of ad content with consumers’ state of mind, we believe advertisers can expect higher levels of acceptance and effectiveness of their messages,” Yang said. “For instance, advertisers might want to vary the energy level of their ad content between day and night.”

Relatedly, advertisers and television networks boost the audio of ads, making the volume much louder than the programs in which they are aired, assuming this draws attention to the ads and makes people less likely to ignore or avoid them.

This practice became so prevalent that it raised concerns about the health effects of loudness on viewing audiences, leading to regulatory limitations on how much louder ads can be than the programs in which they are placed. The resulting CALM (Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation) Act passed in 2010 limits the average loudness of an ad to no more than the average loudness of the program in which it is aired.

Advertisers and networks, therefore, cannot continue to rely on loudness as a means of attracting attention to reduce ad avoidance. This forces advertisers to figure out ways to be creative in using audio to attract and retain audience attention.

Yang recommends advertisers conduct A/B tests with multiple designs of ad creatives. A/B testing splits an audience to test a number of variations to determine which performs better — for example, showing version A to one half of an audience and version B to the other; or alternating A and B across time.

“Recall that the effect varies across product markets and likely across media outlets, including digital advertising,” Yang said. “I hope this study motivates the initiation of such testing as well as for providing initial guidelines on designing such studies. Also, we want to showcase the importance of careful feature engineering of ad content when relating it to consumer behavior. I would be more than happy to help practitioners who are interested in moving forward.”

Co-authors of the study include Yingkang Xie and Lakshman Krishnamurthi from Northwestern University and Purushottam Papatla from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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Diversity messages may backfire when companies focus on diversity’s benefits for bottom line

Companies that justify their diversity efforts by saying that a diverse workforce will improve their bottom line risk alienating the diverse employees that they hope to attract, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

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Companies that justify their diversity efforts by saying that a diverse workforce will improve their bottom line risk alienating the diverse employees that they hope to attract, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

That’s because such “business case” justifications for diversity can backfire, by making members of underrepresented groups – such as LGBTQ professionals, women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields and Black students – feel that they will be judged based on their social identity if they join the company.

“These business-case justifications are extremely popular,” said lead author Oriane Georgeac, PhD, a professor at the Yale School of Management. “But our findings suggest that they do more harm than good.”

Many companies offer either a “business case” explanation for why they value diversity (e.g., “we value diversity because it will help us better serve our customers and improve our bottom line”), or a “fairness case” explanation (e.g., “we value diversity because it’s the right thing to do”). Georgeac and co-author Aneeta Rattan, PhD, a professor at London Business School, sought to explore how common these two justifications are and how they affect potential employees’ impressions of what it would be like to work at a given company.

First, the researchers gathered the online diversity statements of every company on the Fortune 500 list and used artificial-intelligence-based language analysis to analyze whether each statement presented primarily a business case or a fairness case for diversity. Overall, they found that about 80% of the companies offered a business-case justification for valuing diversity, while less than 5% offered a fairness-case explanation; the rest made no public diversity statements or did not offer any justification.

Next, the researchers conducted five online experiments in which they asked job seekers from three underrepresented social identities – LGBTQ professionals, female STEM-job seekers and Black students – to read business-case or fairness-case diversity statements from fictional companies and to answer questions about how much belonging they anticipated feeling there, and how much they would want to work there.

On average, the researchers found that among the LGBTQ professionals, female STEM-job seekers and Black students, reading business-case diversity statements undermined participants’ anticipated sense of belonging to the company, and in turn, their desire to join the company, compared with reading fairness-based diversity statements or diversity statements that provided no explanation.

Further analyses found that one explanation for why the business-case justifications affected these participants was that it increased participants’ “social identity threat,” or their concern that the company would see and judge them, as well as their work, in light of their social identity.

“On the surface, this rhetoric may sound positive,” Georgeac said. “However, we argue that by uniquely tying specific social identities to specific workplace contributions, business-case justifications for diversity justify the fact that organizations may attend to individuals’ social identities when forming expectations about, and evaluating, their work. In other words, business-case justifications confirm to women and underrepresented group members that they must worry about their social identities being a lens through which their contributions will be judged. And this is threatening to these groups.”

Some of the experiments in the study also compared the responses of members of underrepresented groups to those of well-represented groups. The researchers found that the business case may sometimes also threaten members of some well-represented groups.

“Men in STEM showed no differences in their responses to the different types of diversity justifications they read, but white Americans after the murder of George Floyd did appear to be threatened by the business case, relative to the fairness case or no case. This seeming discrepancy across well-represented groups is fascinating and calls for further investigation,” Georgeac said.

“The Business Case for Diversity Backfires: Detrimental Effects of Organizations Instrumental Diversity Rhetoric for Underrepresented Group Members Sense of Belonging,” by Oriane Georgeac, PhD, Yale School of Management, and Aneeta Rattan, PhD, London Business School, appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

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Study finds empowering workers can backfire

To be clear, this isn’t an argument against empowering employees – that’s still a good idea. Rather, this is highlighting the fact that empowerment by itself isn’t enough.

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There is an increasing body of work demonstrating the benefits of empowering workers, but a new study finds that efforts to empower employees need to be coupled with efforts that allow those employees to do their jobs well. If institutional obstacles make it difficult for workers to thrive, empowering them can lead to unethical behavior.

Empowered employees are workers who have been given considerable discretion regarding their work and who feel that their work is meaningful. Research has found that empowering workers leads to better job performance, greater creativity, and improved employee retention, among other benefits.

“We wanted to know if there were circumstances where empowered employees would use their increased power and discretion to behave unethically – and we found that there are other things leaders need to do if they want to garner the benefits of empowerment and reduce associated risks,” says Brad Kirkman, co-author of a paper on the study.

“To be clear, this isn’t an argument against empowering employees – that’s still a good idea. Rather, this is highlighting the fact that empowerment by itself isn’t enough.” Kirkman is the General (Ret.) H. Hugh Shelton Distinguished Professor of Leadership in North Carolina State University’s Poole College of Management.

To explore potential risks associated with empowerment, the researchers focused on “hindrance stressors,” which are work demands that make it difficult for employees to do their jobs well. Hindrance stressors include things like red tape, unclear job tasks, conflicting requests from supervisors, or coworkers getting undeserved rewards or promotions.

The researchers hypothesized that if employees are empowered but face significant hindrance stressors, they could become “morally disengaged.” This, in turn, could lead to unethical pro-organizational behavior, such as lying to make their company look good, withholding negative information from customers or clients, or concealing information from the public.

To see if there was any relationship between empowerment, hindrance stressors and unethical pro-organizational behavior, the researchers conducted two studies.

In the first study, the researchers enlisted 344 adult workers as study participants. The workers were initially asked how empowered they felt at work and to what extent they faced various hindrance stressors. Two weeks later, the study participants were asked questions that were designed to assess their moral disengagement and to what extent they might engage in unethical pro-organizational behavior.

“We found that the more hindrance stressors empowered employees faced, the more likely they were to become morally disengaged and to engage in pro-organizational unethical behavior at work,” Kirkman says. “In other words, empowered employees felt pressure to pay back their organization, but when they were thwarted from doing so due to hindrance stressors, they said they would behave unethically in order to do so.”

Because the first study was purely hypothetical, the researchers then conducted a second study to see whether hindrance stressors actually influenced empowered workers to behave unethically.

For this second study, the researchers recruited 394 workers as study participants. Study participants were asked to imagine that they were acting on behalf of a fictional workplace. The description of the fictional workplace varied: some descriptions were of an empowered workforce, while other were not. Similarly, descriptions varied in the number of hindrance stressors in place. The participants were then told that they would be participating in a contest, where the winner received a $1 million cash prize for their fictional employer.

Researchers then gave the participants a list of 10 anagrams and told them to solve as many as possible. However, none of the anagrams were actually solvable. The researchers wanted to see which study participants would lie about having solved the anagrams.

The researchers found that when participants had an empowering leader but also faced higher hindrance stressors, the probability of cheating increased by 75% compared to when participants had a leader who did not empower them. However, when employees had an empowering leader but few hindrance stressors, the probability of cheating decreased by almost 30% compared to participants who had a leader who did not empower them.

“The take-away message here is clear: empowerment is critical for today’s knowledge economy, but leaders also need to remove the types of obstacles that prevent their employees from exercising their empowerment,” Kirkman says.

“And if there are hindrance stressors that management can’t address right away, leadership needs to help employees develop coping strategies to deal with the resulting frustration.”

The paper, “The Hidden Dark Side of Empowering Leadership: The moderating role of hindrance stressors in explaining when empowering employees can promote moral disengagement and unethical pro-organizational behavior,” is published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. The paper was co-authored by Tobias Dennerlein of the University of Navarra.

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Strong finish in Q1: McDonald’s Philippines poised for full recovery in 2022

In the first quarter of the year, McDonald’s Philippines achieved double-digit sales growth of 29% versus the same period last year driven by strong same store sales growth of 22%. 

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With the Philippine economy in an upward trend, quick service restaurant giant Golden Arches Development Corporation (McDonald’s Philippines), majority owned, and operated by McDonald’s Master Franchise Holder, Dr. George T. Yang (Chairman & Founder) and Kenneth Yang (President & CEO), is poised for sustained growth and recovery in 2022.

Coming into 2022, McDonald’s remained resilient and sustained its recovery momentum in the first quarter of the year despite the Omicron surge in January.  It continued its commitment of being a trusted partner of the Filipino community with its safe, quality food, innovative services, focus on supporting its employees and communities in need, and being a partner of the government in navigating through the pandemic. 

“We’ve overcome the challenges of the past 2 years because of strategic investments on innovations we made before the pandemic, which enabled us to serve a safe and frictionless omni-channel experience for our customers. We are confident that this will continue to drive our growth in 2022,” says President & CEO Kenneth Yang. 

In the first quarter of the year, McDonald’s Philippines achieved double-digit sales growth of 29% versus the same period last year driven by strong same store sales growth of 22%. 

The company has also achieved 100% of its sales recovery plan versus 2019. 

“With the ease of restrictions that enabled consumer mobility and confidence, we’re very happy to welcome back more of our customers in our stores.” Yang added. Dine-in sales experienced a double-digit increase from February to March of this year and continued to pick up in April as more areas shifted to lower Alert Levels and election campaigns were in full swing.

YTD March, drive-thru and delivery continued its strong performance both experiencing double-digit growth in sales and guest counts. 

Growth across all channels is enabled by the company’s initiative to roll-out cashless solutions. To date, 86% of its store base are equipped with cashless. 

Robust momentum towards growth

McDonald’s kept its focus on improving the quality and safety of its food and service across all customer channels. It was underscored with initiatives that the company implemented in support of its employees, owner operators and partners. 

To ensure safe restaurant operations throughout the pandemic, McDonald’s launched the M Safe program in 2020. According to the company, the principle of M Safe is that if their employees are safe, they will keep customers safe.  

Aside from compliance with all government mandated health and safety protocols, McDonald’s rolled out its employee vaccination program with education initiatives and providing access to the vaccines. 100% of its crew and managers have been fully vaccinated, while 70% of NCR employees and 50% of employees outside NCR have already been boosted. 

“Nothing is more important to us than people—our customers, our crew, and managers. It is an imperative to have safety programs in place consistently. Keeping our people safe allows us to serve a better customer experience,” said Yang. 

McDonald’s has also remained a committed partner in creating a positive difference in communities where they operate.  

McDonald’s Philippines through its charity of choice, supports Ronald McDonald House Charities Philippines’ (RMHC) Kindness Kitchen initiative. The Kindness Kitchen began in 2020 where the charity served McDonald’s meals to frontliners and indigent communities. It has served over 700,000 hot meals and continues to do so today.

The company has also been an active partner of the government in navigating the pandemic through a private and public consortium, Task Force T3. It provided support to its Ingat Angat campaigns that aimed to drive awareness on health and safety protocols, importance of vaccination, and building consumer confidence as the country transitions into COVID-19 as an endemic.  

Furthermore, McDonald’s takes a step in doing better for the environment with sustainable restaurant innovations through its Green & Good platform. The company opened its first full Green & Good store in the country in 2021, a store designed using green construction and utility efficient solutions with bike-friendly features to meet the needs of cyclists like a Bike & Dine space and a Bike Repair Station. 

The company is set to open more new stores this year that are equipped with Green & Good solutions like solar rooftops, and grid-tied solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, which are both cost-effective and efficient in the reduction of emissions. 

Another environmentally sustainable initiative McDonald’s Philippines has introduced this year is its use of strawless lids. The strawless lids allow for less waste to be consumed for its iced drinks.

The McDonald’s Flagship Green and Good Store in Mandaluyong is the first McDonald’s store in the country designed using green construction and utility efficient solutions with bike-friendly features to meet the needs of cyclists.

All set for a strong sustainable recovery

McDonald’s ended 2021 with a 671-store base, opening 36 new stores. With every new McDonald’s store that opens, the company provides employment opportunities with its direct hiring practice, which has been in place since 1981. With direct hiring, even part-time students are given equal opportunities because of a flexible work schedule, allowing them to fulfill their academic requirements while earning. 

“With over 40,000 employees systemwide, we will remain committed to working with different stakeholders for our shared goal of the country’s full economic recovery. As McDonald’s continues its growth path in 2022, we will be steadfast in our pursuit of sustainable development, employment and community building with even more vigor,” concludes Mr. Yang. 

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