The assumptions surrounding humor and what using it may do for a brand are correct. Communicating through humor increases brand liking, attention, and captures greater amounts of cognitive resources. With all of these positive effects that humor garners for a brand, why are researchers warning against it’s use?
In some mediums of advertising, humor is used 30% of the time to gain attention and improve recall.27,51 It would seem that understanding when and how to properly apply humor deserves some, attention.
‘It’s So Easy…’
We all have our favorite commercials, think of yours. Chances are the majority of you are recalling an advertisement that made you laugh in some way. Now think about the brand that created those advertisements. Can any of you actually remember what those commercials were specifically saying about the brand? A very effective campaign were the Geico, ‘It’s so easy a caveman can do it’ ads. But why? By the end of their ‘Caveman Campaign’, Geico could generate laughter and communicate their message without the use of a single word. These ads were genius not because cavemen are funny, but because the humor being used allowed the audience to remember that switching to Geico is easy.
Types of Humor
The average consumer sees 16,000 advertisements each day, there are approximately 20 different categories of humor, each type, when used appropriately, can dramatically improve a consumer’s ability to recall you and what your brand can offer. Let’s briefly look at a few.
1. Farcical – Think, Seinfeld. This type of humor relies on a combination of coincidences, i.e. the one man you chose to scream at turns out to be the father of the girl you’re dating.
2. Droll – This is very dry, tongue in cheek humor. Mitch Hedberg was a master of this type, his jokes usually followed a model of, “I don’t like grouper fish. Well, they’re okay. They hang around star fish. Because they’re grouper fish.”
3. Dark- Using grim or or often deadly occurrences to create humor.
4. Juvenile/Sophomoric- Childish pranks or name calling, this type of humor does not require much thought or effort to understand.
5. Slapstick- Tom and Jerry or The Three Stooges, some type of bodily harm is incurred. The most common type of slapstick is when a man gets hit in the midsection by something.
6. Situational – Humor is provoked by placing some kind of inconsistency into very mundane, everyday occurrences.
7. Dry- Think Ben Stein saying, “Clear Eyes.” Dry humor is delivered with a very unemotional, expressionless face, in a very monotone voice/setting.
8. Ironic- Humor involving incongruity with the meaning and the words being used.
9. Screwball- Draws humor out of very unlikely situations or imagined occurrences.
The Goal: Be Kinda Funny and Very Relevant
The assumptions surrounding humor and what using it may do for brand associations are correct. Communicating through humor increases brand liking, attention, and captures greater amounts of cognitive resources.3, 14, 16 With all of these positive effects that humor garners for a brand, why are researchers warning against it’s use?3, 8, 12, 14
For decades science continually produced conflicting results regarding humor’s effect on memory and attitude.2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 12, 14 Recently, Krishnan and colleagues divided humor into categories, and were able to prove that the strength and relevance, rather than type of humor being used determines its’ effectiveness.9
The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter. Mark Twain
If used incorrectly, humor only distracts consumers from remembering the brand claim you’re making — the ultimate goal of advertising.9 Krishnan and colleagues found that moderate-strength humor improved understanding of the advertisement, brand recognition, and memory of claims compared to non-humor, high-strength humor, and incongruous humor (hidden/oxymoronic humor). If humor is too complex, much of the additional cognitive resources the ad gains can be exhausted trying to decode the meaning.11, 15, 16 In other words, ads that featured easily understood humor captured attention, but did not distract the consumer from remembering the brand claims being made.
The relevance of the humor has a significant impact on the effectiveness of an advertisement.1, 10, 13 Irrelevant humor can negatively impact brand purchase intentions because viewers only remember that the advertisement was funny, rather than making positive connections about the brand paying for the advertisement. When humor is linked to the claim being made, brand recall and recognition dramatically increase.1, 7, 10, 13
A joke is a very serious thing. Winston Churchill
Laughter has numerous positive psychological and physiological responses (decrease in ‘stress’ hormones, improved immunity function, etc.). When your brand makes a consumer laugh, they will associate you with those positive responses. Humor will increase your chances of creating Brand Love, something that SOUTH has discussed recently, and should be the goal of all marketing, managerial, and business efforts. Brand Love will increase a consumer’s desire to spend their time, money, and future with your products and services. Humor in general should not be demonized, its’ application simply needs to be better managed. If your brand decides to use humor in a campaign, make sure the humor is quickly understood and is in some way relevant to what your brand is trying to say about itself. Humor’s effectiveness in capturing attention cannot be denied, however, the ramifications of misusing it are no laughing matter.
- Alba, J., Hutchinson, W., & Lynch, J. (1991). Memory and decision making. Thomas Robertson & Harold Kassarjian (Eds.), Handbook of consumer behavior (pp. 1–49). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
- Belch, G., & Belch, M. (1984). An investigation of the effects of repetition on cognitive and affective reactions to humorous and serious television commercials. Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 11, ed. Thomas C. Kinnear, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 4-10.
- Burke, R., & Srull, T. (1988). Competitive interference and consumer memory for advertising. Journal of Consumer Research, 15, 55–68.
- Chattopadhyay, A., & Basu, K. (1990). Humor in advertising: The moderating role of prior brand evaluation. Journal of Marketing Research, 17, 466- 76.
- Duncan, C., Nelson, J., & Frontczak, N. (1984). The effects of humor on advertising comprehension. Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 11, ed. Thomas C. Kinnear, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 432-37.
- Eisend, M. (2007). A -analysis of humor effects in advertising. Advances in Consumer Research, 34, 320-324.
- Friedman, H., & Friedman, L. (1979). Endorser effectiveness by product type. Journal of Advertising Research, 19, 63–71.
- Keller, K. (1991). Memory and evaluation effects in competitive advertising environments. Journal of Consumer Research, 17, 463–476.
- Krishnan, S., & Chakravarti, D. (2003). A process analysis of the effects of humorous advertising executions on brand claims memory. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 13(3), 230–245.
- Lockhart, R. (2000). Methods of memory research. Endel Tulving & Fergus I. M. Craik (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of memory (pp. 45–58). New York: Oxford University Press.
- Rossiter, J., & Percy, L. (1987). Advertising and promotion management. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Shimp, T. (2000). Advertising, promotion and supplemental aspects of integrated marketing communications (5th ed.). Chicago: Dryden.
- Speck, Paul S. (1991). The humorous message taxonomy: A framework for the study of humorous ads. Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising, 13, 1–44.
- Spotts, H., Weinberger, M., & Parsons, A. (1997). Assessing the use and impact of humor on advertising effectiveness: A contingency approach. Journal of Advertising, 26, 17–32.
- Stewart, D., & Furse, D. (1985). Analysis of the impact of executional factors on advertising performance. Journal of Advertising Research, 24, 23–26.
- Weinberger, M., & Gulas, C. (1992). The impact of humor in advertising: A review. Journal of Advertising, 21, 35–59.
- Weinberger, M., Spotts, H., Campbell, L., & Parsons, A. (1995). The use and effect of humor in different advertising media. Journal of Advertising Research, 35, 44–56.