Ads that make us laugh can also make us buy. However, new research shows that companies should favour a certain type of humour.

In a study I recently conducted together with my BI colleagues Klemens Knöferle and Luk Warlop, we wanted to demonstrate how humour can be used as a tool in firms’ impression management.

More than 6000 people participated in a survey where we used real ads from hundreds of brands and companies in different business sectors.

The participants saw the ads, which contained different humour types, and evaluated the advertising firms on two key impression dimensions: Warmth and competence.

The former happens when something you watch gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling. The latter, and the one companies should be more concerned with, has to do with to what degree we deem a business capable and knowledgeable.

We found that most humour types (i.e. tension-relief) only improved how consumers perceived a company’s warmth ‒ or that it (i.e. humorous disparagement) actually made consumers think less of a company’s competence.

However, one type of humour proved to be the only one to improve consumers’ perception of the companies’ competence.

Still, two factors were important for this humour type to have its desired effect: The humour had to be successfully decoded by the viewers ‒ and they had to attribute the work to you and your company, and not the clever ad agency behind the idea. 

Watch the short video below to find out exactly what humour type that makes consumers view companies as more competent:

Does humour in advertising work?

Humour in advertising

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