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Opportunity Knocks: An Economic Analysis of Television Advertisements


  • Andrew Hanks
  • Trenton Smith
  • Attila Tasnadi

    () (School of Economic Sciences, Washington State University)


Certain aspects of advertising–especially on television–are not easily explained with conventional economic models. In particular, much of the imagery and repetitive thematic content seen in advertisements seem “psychological” in nature, as opposed to “informative.” To understand the economic rationale for this phenomenon, we develop a theory of endogenous preferences in which information about threshold payoffs (which we interpret as being present over the course of human evolutionary history) induces sudden shifts in demand. We show that the resulting demand functions give firms incentive to provide threshold-related information. To examine the use of threshold-related content in practice, we study a sample of 370 television advertisements. We find occurrences of threshold-related content in 83% of food and beverage advertisements for children and in 71% of advertisements for general audiences. Furthermore, the threshold-related content in children’s food and beverage advertisements occurred with statistically greater frequency than factual content, which was not true for food and beverage advertisements aimed at general audiences.

Suggested Citation

  • Andrew Hanks & Trenton Smith & Attila Tasnadi, 2010. "Opportunity Knocks: An Economic Analysis of Television Advertisements," Working Papers 2010-18, School of Economic Sciences, Washington State University.
  • Handle: RePEc:wsu:wpaper:tgsmith-7

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Attila Tasnádi & Trenton G. Smith & Andrew S. Hanks, 2012. "Quality Uncertainty as Resolution of the Bertrand Paradox," Pacific Economic Review, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 17(5), pages 687-692, December.
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    More about this item


    endogenous preference; evolution; threshold utility; non-convexities;

    JEL classification:

    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D11 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Theory
    • D12 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
    • M37 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Marketing and Advertising - - - Advertising

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