Sunday, June 5, 2011

Humor in Advertising

Humorous advertising is tricky business. The goal is to send a positive message toward a product. The challenge is the lack of consensus regarding what's funny. Many studies report that humor enhances message processing. While it could be argued that humor draws cognitive resources away from the message, I've never forgotten the products associated with a funny video even if I don't use them.

Take these two commercials employing humorous dancing and persuasion. While the first video is outrageous in the respect that it challenges stereotypical beliefs (incongruity theory of humor), it's funny because the mood is maintained throughout the video. Before seeing this video on YouTube, I didn't even know Sundrop cola existed, when in fact, Sundrop has been on the market since 1951. Thanks to this commercial, a whole new generation (in the words of Pepsi) know about Sundrop.

Check out this 2001 Sundrop soda pop commercial.

Humor is wonderful for grabbing the audience's attention because people like funny things. It's easier to relax and pay attention when you're in a good mood, and humor creates a more comfortable, positive image for your product. 

Some experts claim that humor disrupts processing. However, processing or thinking about the product comes after someone's caught my attention with it. Some things are just funny and don't require a bunch of thinking to make them so. Take the humor of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. It's these same extravagant, over the top gestures that have made generations of movie or television viewers roll with laughter. Charlie Chaplin's Table Ballet is a classic. He could have sold anything with this clip, from silverware to dinner rolls. Yesterday's housewife would have eagerly rushed out and bought whatever he was selling.

The ultimate upgrade to these commercials lie in Mac vs. PC advertisements. Macintosh (the ultimate computing machine that confers upon its owner a sense of moral superiority) relies on simple gestures to convey a message (like the beautiful simplicity of their machines) whereas a PC relies on hype and visual absurdity (as when trying to get a PC to upload more than one web page at a time).

Whether humor is relevant to selling products or not, the vividness of the message is no doubt enhanced when the congruence between the product and the way it's advertised converge into a simple, funny ad.

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