Journal of Advertising
| December 01, 1992 | Weinberger, Marc G.; Gulas, Charles S. | ( Hide copyright information ) Copyright ----- and Harlan E. Spotts (1989), "Humor in US Versus UK TV Advertising," Journal of Advertising, 18 (2), 39-44. ----- and ----- (1992), "Differences in British and American Television and Magazine Advertising: Myth or Reality," (forthcoming) in Proceedings of the Association for Consumer Research: European Summer Conference, Gary J. Bamossy and W. Fred van Raaij, editors. Weller, Leonard, Ella Amitsour, and Ruth Pazzi (1976), "Reactions to Absurd Humor by Jews of Eastern and Western Marc G. Weinberger (Ph.D., Arizona State University) is Professor of Marketing, Department of Marketing, School of Management, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts. Charles S. Gulas (MBA Youngstown State University) is a Doctoral Student, Department of Marketing, School of Management, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts.
Estimates of the use of humor in advertising suggest that as much as 24.4% of prime time television advertising in the US is intended to be humorous (Weinberger and Sports 1989). Research conducted by others has also indicated similar high (or even higher) levels of usage of humor in television ads (Kelly and Solomon 1975; Markiewicz 1972; Speck 1987) and in radio (Weinberger and Campbell 1991). While the use of humor is high, the efficacy of humor as a communications device remains uncertain. In attempts to delineate its impact, humor has proven to be very elusive. This lack of knowledge has led advertising copywriters and researchers alike to both praise and decry the effectiveness of humor in advertising as evidenced in the opening quotes. The fact is that humor is a complex topic that has been experimentally studied by advertisers in several dozen studies over the past twenty-five years. Humor is a multifarious concept that is affected by a wide variety of factors. As a result of the many contingencies imposed by desired goal, type of humor, medium, placement and audience, generalizations about the effect of humor are fraught with pitfalls (Stewart-Hunter 1985). Though the broad question of humor's effectiveness in advertising is unanswerable, we can compile the accounts of humor research in the context of proper constraints to gain insights about its effects.Therefore, the more appropriate questions to ask are: 1) What communications goals are most likely to be achieved through the use of humor?; 2) What executional or message factors are likely to affect the outcome?; 3) For what audience is humor most appropriate?; and 4) What product factors suggest the use or non-use of a humorous approach? The purpose of this paper then is to systematically examine the research that has been conducted to gain insight into the effects of humor with regard to these questions. Humor Research
The widespread use of humor, coupled with the unresolved questions regarding it, has drawn the attention of numerous communication researchers. In a frequently cited review of the early literature in the field, Sternthal and Craig (1973) drew some tentative conclusions about the use of humor on a number of communications goals. These conclusions must be viewed as tentative because, although based on a thorough review of the extant literature in 1973, this literature base was somewhat small and consisted almost exclusively of non-advertising studies as there was simply little prior work in advertising to review. In the years since the Sternthal and Craig work, humor has received extensive further investigation in over 30 studies that have appeared in the marketing literature, and a great many more studies that have appeared in the literature streams of education, communication and psychology. This paper synthesizes the relevant aspects of this literature in order to update and expand on the Sternthal and...