Advertising and the Mind of the Consumer: What Works, What Doesn't, and Why

By Max Sutherland | Go to book overview

17 THE EFFECTIVENESS OF FUNNY ADS: WHAT
A LAUGH!1

A very young baby is sucking the side of his father's face like
a teat. The only other thing in the ad is a picture of a Bic
disposable shaver.

An Argentine ad shows a pair of underpants on a washing
line with a ragged hole burnt eloquently through the rear.
(Advertiser: a brand of spicy tuna sauce)

I have had the opportunity to track many humorous ads. Increasingly we encounter them on YouTube or as viral ads but they are also still there on TV and radio. And every now and again a print campaign comes along that also makes people chuckle.

It is striking how little is actually written and known about humor in advertising and its effects. There is an amazingly small body of research on it, given how important it is to us. And what little laboratory research has been done has frequently produced contradictory findings.

Part of the problem is that it is so easy to treat all humor as the same and generalize about it—when it isn't the same. Slapstick humor for example is very different to wit.2 And what is funny to one individual can be uninteresting or even irritating to another. So you can't assume something is funny. British humor for example is very different to American humor. It is not surprising therefore that research which treats humor as generic often produces confusing and sometimes contradictory findings.

This chapter will also generalize about humor but on the basis of what is different in the way people mentally process ads with humor in them. How is this different from straight ads? We will see why humor can have both positive and negative effects depending upon how it is used.

-198-

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