Humor Appeals in Advertising: When Do They Work
Humor works by:
- Aiding exposure: Blocking zapping and
zipping. Preventing consumers from avoiding the commercial by switching
channels (zapping) or avoiding the commercial by fast-forwarding
while watching a prerecorded program (zipping).
- Holding attention: Getting people to
listen to or watch the ad (rather than shift their attention to something
- Helping memory: Making people remember
the ad by the joke.
- Gratification: Adds to the enjoyment
people derive from the use of media. It leaves a pleasant feeling by
having amused the consumer, and this pleasant feeling rubs off on the
- Multiplier effect: Repeated
self-rehearsal. People like to tell jokes and talk about funny
commercials; doing so further helps memorizing.
Humor works best
- Consumers already have a positive
attitude toward the brand. (With initially negative consumer attitudes,
humor might work only if it is self-deprecating.)
- The product is light, low in
- The product is not upscale, and gravitas is not the brands aspired
- The product pokes fun at itself (rather
than at other brands or other people);
- The joke and brand message are
integrated. For example, in an airline ad, a man comes home with flowers
for his wife and begins to undress (to bare briefs) even as he walks
toward the interior of the house, only to discover his in-laws waiting.
The airline was promoting its cheap fares! (Had this ad had been for a
company selling flowers, the humor would have stood unconnected with the
Remember, humor can backfire when:
- The ad makes fun of a specific group;
- It is in bad taste, relative to the
sophistication or culture of the audience.
Below, we leave you with a
few examples of recent ads with humor. Judge for yourself whether and how humor
would work in these ads.
- Pink Bunny shows up in all the places
(e.g., in the shower).
- Cheaptickets.com: Father and son are
standing at the edge of a public swimming pool. The son points out a
quarter on the pool deck, and the father lets go of the son (who falls
into the pool) just to get the quarter. Tagline: We like cheap customers!
- Capital One Credit Card: Shows an
unnamed competitor always saying No to customer requests. A character,
playing a new employee, saying yes gets stung with hilarious torture.
- Makers Mark: On a billboard in Times Square, a liquor bottle sits horizontal and
empty; copy reads: Disappears Faster than Five Biggest Accounting Firms!
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