Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
June 6, 1997

Will it play . . . on the Web?

by Steve Sullivan

A national advertiser has just invested a million dollars to design and launch a World Wide Web site to advertise its products to the browsing masses.

But will the masses browse the site? And, if they do, will they visit it more than once? They will, if the site offers them the right "uses and gratifications perspective," suggests research by John Eighmey, professor and chair of journalism and mass communication.

Eighmey (pronounced "Amy") took over as head of the journalism program last July, bringing to campus years of experience in communication and marketing in business, government and academia. Eighmey taught at the University of Alabama, Northwestern University and the University of Notre Dame. He also was senior vice president and manager of creative services at one of the world's largest advertising agencies, Young & Rubicam, in New York City, and served as deputy assistant director for national advertising for the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, D.C.

Eighmey brought to Iowa State his on-going research that is revealing how the World Wide Web is developing as the future of marketing communication.

"The uses and gratifications perspective examines how people experience new mass media. We wanted to turn the approach to the World Wide Web," Eighmey said.

Eighmey used a computer magazine subscriber list to identify 200 people who, as a group, reflected the adult user base of the Web. At a research facility in Princeton, N.J., participants browsed commercial Web sites representing various industries, including telecommunications, direct marketing, travel, health care, food, computers and financial services.

After reviewing a site, participants responded to a survey that measured such factors as the site's entertainment and informational values, ease of use and credibility.

The results indicate that Web site users want credible information presented in an enjoyable, entertaining way, but don't want to waste a lot of time figuring out how to access information or waiting for it to appear on their screens.

Eighmey said a food manufacturer's site was popular with test subjects because of how they received information.

"In this case, the manufacturer created a metaphor for its company, a fictional hostess in her fictional house with her fictional friends. The hostess guided you through the site and presented product information the manufacturer wanted to deliver. It was informative, entertaining and easy to use," Eighmey said.

A flashy, over-designed site belonging to an athletic wear company bombed with the research participants.

"You can convey information in a more effective way, if you place information in an enjoyable context," Eighmey said. "But that doesn't mean a lot of bells and whistles. The context has to make sense in terms of the strategic purpose of the Web site. The design of the site has to assist the users who you want to find their way into the information and make sense of it."

This is the future for marketing communications and the mass media, he added.

"With computers and networks, mass communication becomes interpersonal communication, and we see the future for managing relationships between companies and their customers," he said.

The research also may provide a glimpse into the future of survey research, Eighmey said.

"Survey research has gone from door-to-door, mail, telephone and now has migrated to e-mail and the Web," he said. "How you do this successfully is an area we are studying now."

Eighmey is working with researchers at Wunderman Cato Johnson, the world's largest direct marketing company, and Response Analysis Corp., a New Jersey-based research firm. Eighmey's work will be published in the Journal of Advertising Research this spring.

Eighmey also recently was appointed editor of ACR News, the quarterly newsletter of the Association for Consumer Research. The newsletter will be produced at ISU. ACR is a 1,700-member organization of academic, business and government researchers and policy makers in the area of consumer research.

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