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What makes for a funny advertisement

January 07, 2005

Have you ever sat through a painfully unfunny television ad that you knew was actually meant to be funny? Because one out of every five ads are designed to be humorous, chances are that you've witnessed a dud or two...or three. What makes an ad funny is the subject of research presented in the December 2004 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research by Josephine L.C.M. Woltman Elpers, a German marketing specialist, and her colleagues.

"Humor is one of the most widely used techniques in advertising around the world, with about one out of every five television ads containing humorous appeals," the authors explain, "few studies on this topic have addressed the fact that ads attempting humor vary dramatically in the level of humor they actually evoke in the target audience."

What is most intriguing to the authors of the study is the dramatic range in funniness from one ad to another. Understanding this range may play an important role in how marketers adjust their intended messages. "While some ads are spectacularly successful at raising a laugh, others may fail to do so. Such variation in perceived humor is likely to have important consequences for downstream variables of interest to marketers such as message credibility, recall, and attitude toward the ad and brand," the authors continue.

Of particular note are the study's findings regarding which structural elements within an ad actually make it funny. The authors stress that no previous research has explored this issue.
-end-
From: Humor in Television Advertising: A Moment-To-Moment Analysis (Josephine L.C.M. Woltman Elpers, Ashesh Mukherjee, and Wayne D. Hoyer).

University of Chicago Press Journals

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