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“In-depth” incidental exposure: How processing difficulty and processing style affect evaluations of transparent overlay images

Sangdo Oh (Yonsei University, Wonju, Republic of Korea)
Sukki Yoon (Department of Marketing, Bryant University, Smithfield, Rhode Island, USA)
Patrick Vargas (Department of Advertising, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois, USA)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 6 February 2019

Issue publication date: 5 March 2019




The purpose of this paper is to investigate consumers’ evaluation of non-focal overlay images appearing closer than the focal point (e.g. a transparent brand logo appearing in front of an online news article).


Three experiments identify factors on both task-side and image-side that influence consumers’ liking of non-focal overlay images.


The findings show that study participants evaluate the non-focal overlay image more favorably when they are engaged in a primary task that is challenging rather than unchallenging, and when the primary task and the non-focal overlay images require different processing modes (e.g. a conceptual primary task paired with a perceptual image) rather than similar processing modes (e.g. a conceptual primary task paired with a conceptual image).

Research limitations/implications

A caveat is that Experiment 1 lacked a baseline condition. Another limitation is that we conducted all three experiments in a controlled laboratory environment, without real-world marketing stimuli. Therefore, further research should be conducted in a field setting to validate how extensively our theoretical insights apply to real-world marketing contexts. Future research may replicate the findings on various platforms such as YouTube and The Wall Street Journal to provide immediate, readily applicable suggestions to online marketers.

Practical implications

The current research provides marketers with a framework for identifying optimal vehicles for the marketing message. Transparent overlay ads can bolster or damage later evaluations of the advertised objects. Online marketers, in their desire to persuade consumers to perceive products positively, must consider what types of activities consumers are pursuing at a target website, what kinds of activities the website promotes and how meaningful are the images.


The current work extends to the work on fluency effects and persuasion knowledge model, both of which have typically shown that subtle exposure to marketing communications positively affects subsequent judgments about products and brands. The findings extend this line of evidence by demonstrating that marketing communications may exert even greater influence when the primary task requires greater cognitive processing.



Oh, S., Yoon, S. and Vargas, P. (2019), "“In-depth” incidental exposure: How processing difficulty and processing style affect evaluations of transparent overlay images", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 53 No. 2, pp. 279-298.



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