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Ironing Board Study

The famous Saatchi & Saatchi "Ironing Board Study” of 1981 was re examined in 1995.

This study confirmed a key issue relating to the subliminal nature of radio advertising.

The original Ironing Board Study was carried out in 1981, and its main objective was to find out to what extent people actually took in radio ads when they were listening as a secondary activity. The 1995 study aimed to update the original results and investigate listeners’ ability to recall ads in both conventional ad breaks and Newslink spots (which appear within the news itself).

For both studies over 300 housewives were individually invited to bring a bag of their ironing to the recruiters’ homes, ostensibly to test a new starch. The recruiter gave them 15 minutes to test the starch with the radio on in the background: unknown to the housewives, the "radio" was actually a tape containing a variety of ads and other programming. In 1981, the respondents were radio listeners; in 1995, this was refined to Commercial Radio listeners and the tape replicated their favourite radio station.

After both studies, the respondents were asked about the starch performance, and then about what they (spontaneously) remembered being on the radio.

The key conclusions of the 1981 study were:

  • Listeners can and do take in messages even when distracted by a primary task
  • This includes branded recall, and recall of "softer" information such as dialogue, sounds and music
  • Some ads are much better recalled than others (the best-performing ad was remembered by over a third of respondents, the worst-performing ad by only 10%)
  • All this related to a single hearing, which led the researchers to question the high levels of repetition used in radio advertising.

The 1995 study

  • Confirmed the findings of the original test, despite the fact that consumers are exposed to far more advertising messages in all media.
  • It also suggested that for conventional advertising breaks, the position in break did not have any real effect on recall.
  • However when there was a solos positioning within news bulletins, average awareness levels were significantly higher.


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