Topics & themes

Research on advertising’s larger topics and themes from audience attention to measuring effectiveness.

Left vs right - who wins?

It has been a long-held belief, partly derived from 1980’s reading and noting studies for magazines in the US, that right hand pages of newspapers are premium sites. JWT research challenged this belief as long ago as December 1996 – at least for tabloid newspapers – but still it persists.

A quick Google will find a considerable list of business books and media consultants who proclaim the superiority of the right-hand page. The theories are somewhat conflicting, with some arguing that, as we read from left to right, the right must be dominant, while others assert that the right is preferable because we read right hand pages first. Much of this theorising appears to be based on personal newspaper reading habits, however, rather than science.

Eye-tracking provides more objective evidence. As early as 1991, a Poynter US study indicated that people looked at a spread as a whole, but images drew attention – so if there is a particularly dominant image in either the editorial of the newspaper or in the ad, that could affect which element grabbed most attention.

Lumen in the UK have used eye-tracking to analyse almost 3,500 newspaper ads since 2013. Their analysis shows that the natural gaze path for readers is to start in the middle, then scan to the right and back across. This means that ads in the lower left position are seen somewhat less. Newspapers are shown on digital screens, however, so will not account for things that people do with their physical paper, such as folding so only one page is visible at a time, or reading from back to front.

The Lumen data for digitised newspapers shows a viewing bias towards the right-hand page of a spread of 58% versus 42% for the left page, partly due to the fact that there are more ads on left-hand pages – and readers are, after all, reading the newspaper primarily for its editorial content. Ads also achieve higher standout on the right- hand page, though the difference is relatively small:

  • Full page ads: 94% look when placed on the right page, 89% look at left page ads
  • There’s a 3-4 percentage point difference for standout of 17x7 (77% right, 73% left) and 25x4 ads (74% left, 77% right)
  • The biggest difference is for 10x7 ads – 60% standout on left, 68% on right

However, the dwell time for ads is not affected by whether they are placed on left or right pages, according to Lumen.

Analysis of the RAMetrics database shows that creative strength has a HUGE influence on ad recall and how people respond to advertising. Any impact of ad position is vastly outweighed by the effect of creative – and to a lesser extent, ad category. For example, the highest number of readers recalling a left-hand page ad is 82%, the lowest 54%. Both these are holiday/travel ads so any category impact is accounted for.

Indeed, the main finding from RAMetrics is that it really doesn’t seem to matter a jot whether an ad is on the right or left-hand page of a newspaper.

  • Ads on right-hand pages are slightly better recalled but when ad size is taken into account there is no difference
    64% of readers recall ads on the right compared with 61% for left-hand pages
    Full pages: 69% recall on left, 70% recall on right
    Half pages: 58% recall on left, 57% on right
    Quarter pages: 47% recall for both
  • There are marginal differences on all other measures
    There is no clear evidence that right hand pages are premium pages for advertising. If anything, ads on left-hand pages tend to outscore on most measures by a few points

So we know that more people might look at ads on right hand pages, and more might recall seeing them, but a great ad on a left-hand page will always out perform a lacklustre ad on the right.

View more RAMetrics insight

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