Skip to Content Skip to Footer

Research Insight | When Less Is More: Limiting Message Views Can Increase Consumer Engagement

Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp have features that can prevent users from viewing content repeatedly, yet common marketing wisdom says that repetition boosts the impact of a message. What does this mean for social media advertisers? Because of the risk of missing information, consumers pay more attention to content that can be viewed only once, the researchers hypothesize. Through ten online studies, exploratory eye-tracking data, and a Facebook A/B study, they find that making content available only once can increase audience engagement. The findings have practical relevance for campaign managers choosing an ad platform, for social media users sharing their thoughts, and for online educators deciding whether to record their lectures. The researchers also note a risk: Communicators typically want to capture their audience’s attention, but if you need to share negative information, take care! Using a platform that limits message views might seem like a good idea, but it could backfire by increasing attention and forming a negative image.

For more Research Insights, click here.

What You Need to Know

  • When a message is available for a short time only, consumers are more concerned about missing it, so they pay more attention to it, view it longer, and focus more closely on the relevant information.
  • As a result, consumers have better content recall and more positive attitudes, and sponsored content placement on social media may be more efficient.
  • Marketers can communicate information more effectively by preventing consumers from viewing it repeatedly.


Many marketing communications, from verbal conversations to messaging and content sharing via apps such as Snapchat, limit the number of times people can view content. How do such restrictions affect consumers’ information processing? Building on the proposition that people strategically allocate cognitive resources, the authors hypothesize that consumers of content that cannot be viewed repeatedly consider the risk of failing to process it sufficiently and, consequently, allocate more cognitive resources to its processing (e.g., by increasing viewing time). The authors test this hypothesis in ten preregistered online studies (total N = 17,620), an exploratory analysis of eye-tracking data, and a field study on Facebook’s advertising platform. Across the studies, they find that making content ephemeral elevates consumers’ perceived risk of missing information; consequently, it increases attention allocation, prolongs voluntary viewing time, and magnifies focus on relevant information. These effects have important downstream consequences, including improved content comprehension and recall, enhanced positive attitudes, and increased efficiency of sponsored content placement on social media. Taken together, the findings indicate that marketers can communicate information more effectively by restricting consumers from viewing it again.

Uri Barnea, Robert J. Meyer, and Gideon Nave (2023), “The Effects of Content Ephemerality on Information Processing,” Journal of Marketing Research, 60 (4), 750–66. doi:10.1177/00222437221131047