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Is Humor in Advertising Effective?

Courtesy of Point Park University Online

On the most basic level, something that connects all humans is laughter.

Laughter is an important part of human psychology. It gives us a way to process all kinds of information, from funny stimuli to a situation where laughing is the only possible reaction because circumstances are tough.

Humor grabs our attention, and that's why it's often used in advertising.

With people constantly using smart phones or distracted by conversation with others, TV advertisers have turned to humor with more frequency to catch the attention of consumers. Once the consumer is watching, the hope is that he or she enjoys the humor and remembers the product in the future.

Many companies opt for bold, humorous TV advertising campaigns in front of a big audience, such as the Super Bowl or season finale of a popular show.

Ultimately, a long humorous advertising campaign becomes part of pop culture and enters our daily vocabulary. Think of the Geico Caveman, Allstate's Mayhem character, or the Old Spice muscle man. Injecting humor into an advertising campaign can make a lasting impression on consumer awareness.

Why humor in advertising works.

Adding humor to an advertising campaign is a way for organizations to make an emotional connection with consumers.

Humor tugs at our emotions, eliciting a positive emotion like laughter, which creates an impression. It also connects consumers to the commercial itself, and hopefully to the product being marketed.

Our reactions to humor make it an effective tool for advertising. Humor in advertising:

  • Grabs the audience's attention
  • Associates the positive emotion elicited from the advertisement with the brand
  • Makes a lasting impression

A study from 1993 that still stands up today by the Journal of Marketing found that when looking at the effects of humor in advertising, "humor is more likely to enhance recall, evaluation, and purchase intention when the humorous message coincides with ad objectives, is well-integrated with those objectives, and is viewed as appropriate for the product category. Under such circumstances, humorous advertising is more likely to secure audience attention, increase memorability, overcome sales resistance, and enhance message persuasiveness."

Humor in advertising can help connect consumers to a product that may seem dry or be a niche product on paper. For example, a company selling organic and natural beauty products may only be of interest to a subset of our society. But with a creative, funny and viral product campaign, it can at least increase brand awareness as consumers share the ad with friends. The ad is more likely to make its way to the specific subset, or even grow the market base.

At the same time, companies have to be careful in how they use humor in advertising and in campaigns. This video of a man vomiting a wet dog and relying on breath mints to avoid dog breath was banned in the UK and Ireland after the Independent Television Commission received more than 860 complaints.

Examples of humor in advertising:

Let's take a look at examples of successful humor in advertising, and what made those ads such a hit.


Beginning in 2004, the insurance company GEICO began a series of advertisements as part of a campaign with the tagline, using GEICO is "so easy, even a caveman can do it."

In the commercials, people dressed as Neanderthal-looking cavemen appear moments after the tagline is heard. The cavemen appear upset and offended at being used as a prop for the company.

The commercials were such a hit that it even spawned a TV show titled Caveman, which debuted on ABC. The show didn't last long, but the fact that an advertising campaign ended up as a primetime TV show on network television proves the success of the ad.

Consumers connected with the fun and catchy tagline, as well as the comedy of actors playing cavemen in modern situations, like at a fine dining establishment or TV studio. Many hosts in the commercial also add, "Oh, I didn't realize you were there," when the cavemen become upset.


In response to being outspent in advertising spending by GEICO, State Farm and Progressive, Allstate began development of its famous Mayhem advertising campaign. In June 2010, the campaign went live and in less than a year, Allstate was winning industry awards for the silly but genius marketing campaign.

In the series of commercials, actor Dean Winters plays Mayhem, a character who becomes something that could cause extensive damage to your personal property. In one commercial, Mayhem is a car's blind spot. In another, he's a housemaid who slips and falls down a set of stairs. In yet another, he's a wild deer.

Winters sets up the scene and hints at what is about to happen. The tagline is that with "cut-rate insurance," consumers may be liable to cover the high costs of damages. But if they go with Allstate, they'll "be better protected from Mayhem, like me."

Old Spice

Featuring a pair of former NFL players, Old Spice began a series of commercials featuring a pair of muscular men wearing only pants or a bath towel who promote Old Spice's products, including body wash, deodorant and body spray.

In ads with Isaiah Mustafa, he begins every commercial saying, "Hello, ladies," and speaks to women with quick, staccato sentences about how their man can smell "like me."

Later, Terry Crews joined the Old Spice campaign, with the commercials becoming even more outlandish. Crews usually screamed at the screen as something nonsensical happened, such as his brain coming out of his head or bowling with his head. Crews also showcased his muscular upper body and flexed his pectoral muscles.

The Old Spice commercial campaign also had a catchy whistle at the end of each commercial.

Learn more about the best advertising practices.

Humor in advertisements has proven to make an emotional connection with consumers, which can boost revenue and brand awareness. If you're interested in being part of the next viral ad campaign, consider enrolling in Point Park University's online BA in Public Relations and Advertising. Learn from faculty with real-world experience, and small class sizes designed with you in mind. You'll learn key skills to help you advance your career in public relations and advertising. Take advantage of our fully online format, allowing you to balance your education with your already busy life. Get started today!