Consumer control and customization in online environments : an investigation into the psychology of consumer choice and its impact on media enjoyment, attitude, and behavioral intention
In today’s marketplace, new technology innovations and the changing media environment offer endless opportunities to consumers: seemingly infinite amounts of information via the internet, an abundance of broadcast channels, and higher functionality and control through such technologies as online media aggregators and digital video recorders. These technological changes have redefined the media landscape and thus the role of advertising in new media consumption. As interactive media markets become increasingly segmented, it is vital for advertisers to examine effective techniques for communicating with consumers via such customized and controlled channels. The emergence of Web 2.0 technologies, among them media content aggregators such as Google Reader or NetNewsWire, has created a plethora of niche markets online, attracting more than 69 million users in 2006 and generating $450 million plus in advertising revenues in the same year (Verna, 2007). Designating this phenomenon as 'the control revolution,' Shapiro (1999) claims that technology has brought with it a reduction of institutional control resulting in an increase of individual control, both in terms of content selection and advertising exposure. This vast population of consumers represents a new wave of information seekers whose ability to process information in such environments must be examined further. The availability of highly customized information spaces allows consumers to tailor their exposure to specific media needs and desires (Liang et al., 2006). The tailoring of online media exposure has been made possible by web-based applications that aggregate content per the consumer’s specifications. This further allows media exposure to be more tailored or “consumer-centric” rather than “publisher-centric” (Morrissey, 2005). Using a 2 x 2 x 3 factorial design, the effect of customization on a consumer’s media enjoyment, ad attitude and behavioral intention was tested to determine if the perception of choice in media content makes a significant impact on user experiences. A total of 237 subjects participated in a lab based experiment, involving a pre-test survey, exposure to the stimulus and a post-test questionnaire. The results indicate that subjects do indeed perceive greater media enjoyment when exposed to a customized online environment as compared to a standard online environment. Additionally, subjects who were exposed to a customized media environment had greater behavioral intention for interacting with advertising. However, subjects who were exposed to advertising via a standard online environment had a more positive attitude toward advertising than those exposed to advertising through a customized environment. In sum, customized environments offer a greater since of media enjoyment for consumers within this sample, however the types of advertising used within these environments requires further investigation to determine what is optimal.