Humor and Ad Liking: Evidence That Sensation Seeking Moderates the Effects of IncongruityResolution Humor

Graeme Galloway
La Trobe University, Bendigo

It is widely reported that humorous ads are better liked and therefore more effective than are non-humorous ones. This study examines whether the liking advantage associated with ads containing incongruity-resolution humor depends on sensation seeking. Higher sensation seekers are assumed to enjoy arousal induction because they are lower in base arousal level. From this it can be predicted that ads containing incongruity-resolution humor will not be liked better by such people than will equivalently arousing non-humorous ads. However, the higher base arousal assumed to characterize lower sensation seekers is claimed to be associated with a preference for reduction of induced arousal. Incongruity-resolution humor provides a mechanism for reduction of the arousal occasioned by the incongruity. As a result, it is expected that lower sensation seekers will like ads containing such humor more than non-humorous ads matched in arousal to the humorous ones. The results support those suggestions. The relevance of the findings for advertising is discussed, and requirements for further research are indicated. © 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Psychology & Marketing, Vol. 26(9): 779–792 (September 2009) Published online in Wiley InterScience ( © 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. DOI: 10.1002/mar.20299 779

& Kellaris. & Bolton. Krishnan & Chakravarti. Humor characterized by incongruity resolution has been extensively used in advertising (Alden. Cline. attitude toward the product category (Arias-Bolzmann. In contrast. Spotts. For instance. One theme that appears promising for further examination concerns whether individual difference variables moderate those effects. Leone & D’Arienzo. 2004). 2000). Zhang. Hoyer. the other kind of structural feature of humor. 1991). affect intensity (Moore & Harris. 2006). Gunter. 2006). & Neijens. moderates the effects of incongruity-resolution humor on ad liking. and self-monitoring (Lammers. sex of the consumer (Fugate. 1996a). 1998. Eisend. sex role (Conway & Dube. Altsech. 1997). Hehl and Ruch (1985) indicate that only one humor content dimension. Tomkovick. 2008. 1997. Park. need to evaluate (Fennis & Bakker. extraversion/introversion (Chang. Cline & Kellaris. Furthermore. 2004. & Kellaris. & Walsh. 2006. 2000. Mukherje. sensation seeking/optimal stimulation level (D’Silva & Palmgreen. Cline & Kellaris. Fiore. Everett & Palmgreen. cultural orientation (Lee & Lim. Sherrard. Enhanced understanding of this issue could facilitate the effective design and use of humorous ads. underlies humor appreciation—the other dimensions being the structural 780 GALLOWAY Psychology & Marketing DOI: 10. ad persuasiveness (Geuens & Pelsmacker. 2001).Humor is widely used in advertising (Elpers. and ad liking (Cline & Kellaris. the reasons for humor’s effects in advertising are not well comprehended (Kellaris & Cline. sensation seeking. 1991). & Hoyer. 2001. However. 1993. ads (Norris & Colman. 2008). 1995). 2000. & Kim. Mukherjee. 1992). 2007). 2008). 1999. 2005. 2000). introduces an incongruity which is left unresolved. Incongruity resolution is a structural feature of humor characterized by the introduction of an incongruity which can be completely resolved. or new absurdities are created in attempts to resolve the incongruity (Ruch & Hehl. Gotlieb. & Christians.. Zhang. Unger.. 2005). 1996b). & Wentzel. Chakraborty. nonsense. Kellaris and Cline (2007) point out that as much as 30% of the billions of dollars spent on advertising in national media each year is used for the placement of humorous ads. and self-monitoring (DeBono. 2007). & Stoel.1002/mar . Lee & Schumann. 2008). need for cognition (Geuens & Pelsmacker. These include: “need for humor” (Cline. 1996. 1999. 1996a. Van Meurs. 2005). & Hoyer. 1995). attitude toward the product advertised (Weinberger & Gulas. Potential moderators examined include: consumer desire for uniqueness/unique products (Lynn & Harris. Ruvio. 2003. cultural background (Villegas & Shah. & Lee. 1998. Moderation has already been productively investigated in regard to other determinants of consumer behavior. Such a connection is significant practically given that a commercial’s success can be influenced by how much it is liked (Holbrook & Batra. Jin. need for cognition (Brennan & Bahn. Martin. & Parsons. it is widely reported that humorous ads are better liked than are non-humorous ones. 2003. 2002). Yelkur. 1987. 1992). Smit. 1996). Altsech. prior brand evaluation (Chattopadhyay & Basu. Alden. 1997). 1990). memory for ads (Berg & Lippman. The present study investigates whether another individual difference variable.. mood (Lee & Sternthal. Kellaris & Cline. 1994. 2002. Malhotra. 2006a). Furnham. 2007. Weinberger et al. and comprehension of. Lennon. 2001. Lorch et al. 2007. 2003. 2007. 1984. 1995. Some individual difference moderators of the effects of humor in advertising have also been identified. Humor is claimed to influence positively such things as: attention to. As indicated above. & Mowen. or only partially resolved. Weinberger & Gulas. Weinberger. Perry et al. Speck. 2002. sexual content.

each of the 54 ads was rated for funniness. Incongruity-resolution humor enables arousal associated with the incongruity to be reduced. a 10-minute rest break separating the sessions. In what follows. using a 5-point scale (1 ϭ very low. as well as scores on two sub-scales—Novelty seeking and Intensity seeking HUMOR AND AD LIKING Psychology & Marketing DOI: 10. There are several reasons to suspect that sensation seeking might affect whether ads containing incongruity-resolution humor are better liked than are non-humorous ads. 1992). inner tension.2. participants completed the Arnett (1994) Inventory of Sensation Seeking (AISS). activation.5. That source was used in an attempt to reduce the likelihood that the ads were familiar to the people tested. and liking by a convenience sample of 42 undergraduates (9 males and 33 females. 1994. Post-study debriefing of the participants indicated that they had not seen the ads before. The AISS comprises 20 items that provide a total score. these contentions are examined empirically and the implications for advertising of the results observed are considered. Arousal induction brought about by the incongruity component of humor should therefore raise their arousal to a more optimal level. Steenkamp & Baumgartner. and Materials The materials used to test the above-mentioned predictions were chosen from the 54 taped television advertisements comprising the UK entries in the London International Advertising Awards 1999. SD ϭ 8. increased understanding of the basis for the effects of incongruity-resolution humor has broad relevance to advertising. On the other hand. According to one arousal theory of humor (Berlyne 1969. Procedure. For them. and equivalently arousing non-humorous ads. Ads containing such humor should thus be better liked by lower sensation seekers than are non-humorous ads matched in arousal to the humorous ones. range ϭ 18–49). At the end of block 2. will be liked equally well by higher sensation seekers. Leone & D’Arienzo. 1971. see Gardner et al. Those participants were tested in two groups comprising approximately equal numbers. arousal theories of humor propose that the arousal brought about by humor is an important determinant of its appreciation. as cited in Wyer & Collins. 2000. and Park (2002). MacInnis. Initially. Given this. Higher sensation seekers are supposed to be characterized by lower base arousal. see Arnett. or in psychological terms as wakefulness or action preparation—see Shapiro. 1992). the relationship between the arousal occasioned by humor and enjoyment of the humor can be described in terms of an inverted U function. METHOD Participants. Specifically. that ads containing incongruity-resolution humor. lower sensation seekers are assumed to be higher in base arousal. arousal. An enjoyable level of arousal should also be occasioned for such people by arousing non-humorous ads. then.features incongruity and incongruity resolution. 5 ϭ very high). Arousal can be defined in physiological terms as energization. or alertness. (1998) and Patrician (2004) for arguments in support of the use of single-item measures of constructs. which took about 10 minutes. mean age ϭ 23. It can be suggested. The ads were shown in two blocks of 27. increases in arousal are likely to be experienced as unpleasant (on these points. Approximately 50 minutes was required to complete each block.1002/mar 781 .

Those items are briefly described in Table 1. SD ϭ 14. 4. Ratings for the 25 ads from all participants were combined. 45 females. Car tire: A series of bizarre images is presented with a rock song as background music. and liking. preferring to eat it himself. on the basis of the ratings and the experimenter’s judgement. 78 females). images of soccer action and spectators shouting. 2.* Non-Humorous 1. In order to investigate the construct validity of the items of interest (the four humorous 782 GALLOWAY Psychology & Marketing DOI: 10. is the aspect of humor of interest in this study. a duck is shown crash landing on icy ground and skidding into a pond. The golfer appears relaxed. and smokes a cigar throughout all of the events. The humorous ads were judged by the experimenter as being characterized by incongruity-resolution humor. Bread: A voiceover describes the quality of the bread. Brief Description of Exemplars of Each Ad Category. A reduced set of 25 of the above-mentioned 54 ads was compiled by the experimenter by reference to the above-mentioned ratings. which resulted in a data set comprising responses from 112 participants (34 males. 4. range ϭ 18–70) rated the reduced set of ads for arousal. a runway de-icer is featured.8. As humor structure. Vodka: Features a colorful shipboard scene. The whole procedure took around 40 minutes. Participants also completed the AISS during a break in ad viewing. Responses were provided anonymously. which occurred mid-way through the presentation. with people drinking the beverage. clearly belonged to one of the categories required (humorous ads using incongruityresolution structure. ends up going in the hole. 2. and non-humorous ads). but the ball lands on a bus and. Humorous 1. Sports shoe: Rock music playing. (each comprising 10 items). 3. the humorous ads chosen did not include any items judged by the experimenter as containing sexual content. Petrol company: Ominous music playing. Four humorous and four non-humorous ads that received similar arousal ratings were identified for further analysis. through a very circuitous route.0 for Windows.Table 1. 3. Cigar ad: A golfer tees off. A further 70 participants (25 males. RESULTS Analysis was undertaken using SPSS version 14. Poppadums: An Indian Elvis impersonator is singing about the product to the tune of an Elvis song.* * ϭ The item was excluded from the data set on the basis of the results of the principal components analysis. a child is shown who is reluctant to throw the bread to ducks in a pond. mean age ϭ 31. The above-mentioned finding reported by Hehl and Ruch (1985) that sexual humor appears to be the only type of humor content that influences humor appreciation was also taken into account in the choice of the humorous ads.1002/mar .3. funniness. and not humor content. participants being tested in small groups of up to five. Total scale scores were used in all of the analyses reported in this paper. That set comprised ads which. Baby food: A baby is shown apparently miming a song.

pp.312 0. d ϭ 1.759. The correlation between the components is 0. Examination of the scree plot revealed that a two-factor solution was most appropriate (see Tabachnick & Fidell. and another principal components analysis was run. p ϭ 0. 622).292.634 0. p. two of the items loaded above 0. Additionally. a principal components analysis of the liking ratings for each of them was undertaken. 323). t(110) ϭ 16.182 0. as required.03).587 0. t(110) ϭ 0. These values indicate that the data satisfy the requirements for performing a good factor analysis (Tabachnick & Fidell. Tyres 2.258 Total variance explained ϭ 55.70 1. Cohen’s d measure of effect size ϭ 0.80% Component 2 Humorous Ads Ϫ0.201. 2001). so once again a varimax rotation was used.50 1. The correlations reported in this paper used Spearman rho (r) because the sensation seeking scores and the mean funniness ratings were not Table 2. loadings ranging from “fair” to “excellent” as indexes of the component (Tabachnick & Fidell. Sports shoe 4.55% HUMOR AND AD LIKING Psychology & Marketing DOI: 10.664.92. All of the non-humorous items loaded on Component 1. and each of the humorous ones loaded on Component 2.771. Ads 1. 620–621). The former effect size is negligible.90.761 0. In addition.75% Communalities 0.177 0. a varimax rotation was used (Tabachnick & Fidell. The scree plot again indicated a two-component solution is most suitable.476 0. Examination of the correlation matrix indicated numerous correlations in excess of 0. As also required.585 0. evidence that the items which loaded on Component 2 are exemplars of incongruity-resolution humor is provided by examination of the correlation between mean funniness ratings of those items and sensation seeking scores. 2003. The results of the second principal components analysis are reported in Table 2. and the KMO measure of sampling adequacy exceeded the suggested criterion of 0. As the correlation between the components is low (0.55% of the variance.79 29. p ϭ 0. Cigars 6. the mean funniness rating for the humorous ads (mean ϭ 2.000. Baby food 5. which accounted for a total of 50.5% of the variance.55 25.80) and the non-humorous ones (mean ϭ 2. However. The items excluded are indicated in Table 1. there is no difference in mean arousal for the humorous ads (mean ϭ 2. Varimax Rotated Component Matrix. SD ϭ 1. SD ϭ 0. 2001.4 on it. 2001. SD ϭ 0.028 0. SD ϭ 0. 625). The KMO for the second analysis is 0.764 0.67.70) is higher than the mean funniness rating for the non-humorous ads (mean ϭ 1.177 0.6 with an actual value of 0.56).52. Repeated measures t-tests indicated that. p.150 0.612 0.4 on both components. Those items were excluded from the data set.732 Ϫ0. and Bartlett’s test is significant. Each of the items identified with a given component loaded above 0.796 0.657 0. Poppadums Cronbach’s alpha Eigenvalues % of variance Component 1 Non-Humorous Ads 0. and the latter is very large (Aron & Aron.0.249).4.762 0.30.1002/mar 783 . which accounted for 55. 2001. Bartlett’s test is significant. p.and four non-humorous ads). Vodka 3.87.

Additionally.832. In addition.04%]. 8 males.15–0.020. 784 GALLOWAY Psychology & Marketing DOI: 10. As indicated in Table 2.5. the total scale scores on the AISS used in this study were not significantly related to the rated funniness of the ads characterized here as containing incongruity-resolution humor [r (110) ϭ Ϫ0.50. Participants who scored in approximately the top or the bottom 25% of AISS total scale scores were classified as higher or lower sensation seekers. non-humorous). Lienert and Raatz (1994) indicate that alpha values of 0. and it is 0.70 for the non-humorous ads. the Cronbach alpha measure of the reliability of items comprising the humorous ads is 0. & Jurs. There is also evidence that the single-item measure of arousal used here did provide a valid index of that construct.0 years. and for the non-humorous ones it is 0.5 was not viewed as posing difficulties regarding their usefulness. Schmitt (1996) suggests that even a scale with an alpha as low as around 0.2. 111).50 (p.70 or more are acceptable (Nunnally. 122). it enabled identification of an expected positive relationship between the AISS total scale score and mean liking of the non-humorous ads [r (110) ϭ 0.1002/mar .3 years. These include meaningful content with respect to the domain covered and reasonable unidimensionality. respectively. SD ϭ 16. Hehl and Ruch (1985) observed that total scores on the SSS-1V measure of sensation seeking (Zuckerman. The principal components analysis indicates that unidimensionality is the case for the items examined in the present study.22. 2003.40. mean age ϭ 35. Clark and Watson (1995) suggest that the average inter-item correlation is better than coefficient alpha as an indicator of a scale’s internal consistency.50 or greater are sufficient for research involving comparison of groups. p ϭ 0. In fact. 1979) were not significantly correlated with rated funniness of their incongruity-resolution humor items.5 may be useful if it has other desirable properties. the predicted relationships between sensation seeking and the relative liking of humorous compared to non-humorous ads were obtained. p ϭ 0. others (for instance.60 or greater are satisfactory. 12 males. Furthermore. and the between-subjects factor is sensation seeking (higher vs. mean age ϭ 24. Wiersma. The within-subjects factor is ad type (humorous vs. Such a relationship is expected. and recommend values in the range 0. The average inter-item correlation for liking ratings of the humorous ads in this study is 0. However. Aron & Aron. and the higher sensation seeker category contained 32 participants (20 females. p. A 2 ϫ 2 mixed factorial design was used to test the abovementioned predictions.70. range ϭ 18–69). lower).251. effect size ϭ 6. p. 607) claim that alphas of 0. Cortina (1993) indicates that coefficient alpha is restricted in its ability to establish scale unidimensionality. 1978). Given those considerations.3%]. effect size ϭ 0. Specifically. the fact that the members of one of the categories of interest are associated with an alpha value of 0. The latter group comprised 31 participants (23 females. given that the non-humorous ads were matched in rated arousal to the humorous ones. SD ϭ 9. The funniness ratings for the ad stimuli support the former requirement.008. Similarly. as described below. and so should be exemplars of more arousing stimuli of the sort preferred by higher sensation seekers. Effect sizes for the correlations were calculated by squaring the correlation coefficient (see Hinkle. as was undertaken in the present investigation. It is generally suggested that alpha values of 0. 2003.normally distributed. 316). The effect size for the significant correlation can be characterized as medium (Aron & Aron. The Cronbach alpha observed in this study for the total scale of the Arnett Inventory of Sensation Seeking is 0. 1998. p.

1002/mar 785 . the difference in liking ratings between the humorous ads (mean ϭ 3. as indicated by partial eta-square). SD ϭ 0.52. d ϭ 0. 2003. A graphical representation of the interaction is presented in Figure 1.00 2.04. which is a negligible effect size].85) was not significant [t(31) ϭ Ϫ0.71. p.61) ϭ 10.9%. Liking of humorous and non-humorous ads by level of sensation seeking. range ϭ 18–58).80 2. SD ϭ 1.64. p ϭ 0. d ϭ 0.001. This effect size can be characterized as large (Aron & Aron. p ϭ 0.20 Higher Sensation Seekers Ad Liking Ratings 3.773. a liking advantage for lower but not for higher sensation seekers was observed for humorous ads characterized by incongruity-resolution structure HUMOR AND AD LIKING Psychology & Marketing DOI: 10.82.60 Lower Sensation Seekers Nonhumorous ads Humor Type Humorous ads Figure 1. Post hoc repeated measures t-tests indicated that. see Aron & Aron.Liking of Humorous and Nonhumorous Ads by Level of Sensation Seeking 3.26. For the lower sensation seekers.04) was significant [t(30) ϭ 3. effect size ϭ 14. 2003). SD ϭ 0. 435). Results were analysed using two-way mixed analysis of variance (ANOVA).04. DISCUSSION In this study.08. which is a large effect size].68) and the non-humorous ads (mean ϭ 3. for the higher sensation seekers. The above-mentioned predictions concern the interaction with respect to ad liking between sensation seeking and humor type. SD ϭ 0.002.291. the difference in liking ratings for the humorous ads (mean ϭ 3. p ϭ 0.69) compared to the non-humorous ones (mean ϭ 2. A significant interaction was observed [F (1.

.compared to equivalently arousing non-humorous ads. or are non-humorous. can be characterized as having higher base levels of arousal) prefer incongruity-resolution humor to nonsense humor. & Kellaris. whether they contain nonsense humor. 1999). The present results also have implications regarding how to maximize the effectiveness of ads for which the use of humor is inappropriate (see Weinberger & Gulas. as is also the case for lower sensation seekers. In such cases. whereas both kinds of humor structure should. 1994. the liking of ads characterized by incongruity-resolution humor should increase as the ease with which the incongruity can be resolved increases. it can be suggested that ads characterized by incongruityresolution humor will be better liked by lower sensation seekers than will those containing nonsense humor (which introduces an incongruity that is not resolved or that is only partially resolved). Specifically.1002/mar . This in turn should result in lower sensation seekers showing better comprehension and memory for ads characterized by incongruity-resolution humor. For instance. The greater preference of lower compared to higher sensation seekers for resolving incongruity should also make it more likely that the former will devote more attention to ads containing incongruity-resolution humor compared to ones using nonsense humor or to arousing non-humorous ads. In addition.. Such people should be more likely to attend to and therefore to show better comprehension and memory of higher compared to lower arousal ads. Palmgreen et al. Ads associated with incongruity-resolution humor should therefore be more persuasive than ads characterized by nonsense humor for lower sensation seekers. higher sensation seekers should show similar enjoyment of equivalently arousing nonsense humor and incongruity-resolution humor. These results have potential implications for the effective design and use of humor in advertising that should be investigated in further research on this topic. 1995. whereas the latter are more persuaded by less arousing messages (Everett & Palmgreen. equivalently arousing ads. if highly arousing. be persuasive for higher sensation seekers. more or less arousing non-humorous ads should optimize the above-mentioned reactions to them for higher and for lower sensation seekers. 1992). higher sensation seekers prefer higher sensation value messages (Everett & Palmgreen. However. 1995). 2001. Stephenson et al. However. Altsech. Galloway and Chirico (2008) have demonstrated that higher neuroticism scorers (who. incongruity-resolution humor structure can be expected to be most effective for enhancing brand liking for lower sensation seekers. The influence of sensation seeking on ad liking is also relevant to the question of how humor might affect liking of the brand advertised. 1999. the latter is influenced by attitudes to the ad (Cline. irrespective of whether they are non-humorous or use incongruity-resolution humor or nonsense humor. means should be provided in more 786 GALLOWAY Psychology & Marketing DOI: 10. On the other hand. should have similar effects on brand liking (see Galloway & Cropley. for higher sensation seekers. incongruity-resolution humor. Accordingly. for lower sensation seekers. Higher sensation value advertising messages are also known to be more persuasive for higher compared to lower sensation seekers. Additionally. for a discussion of possible mechanisms for such effects). 2003). Consistent with this suggestion. Lorch et al.. This result is consistent with the above-mentioned theory-based suggestions that such humor’s effects on ad liking for lower sensation seekers stem from reduction of induced arousal. and arousal induction for higher sensation seekers. respectively.

NFH and NFC interact as determinants of the influence of humor on responses to ads (Cline. 2000. LaTour & Rotfield. Alden. Accordingly. Saad & Gill. those variables might be useful for identifying individuals who will be influenced by the use of humor in “real-life” advertising.. & Fitzsimons. several variables associated with the broader program context in which ads are normally embedded have been found to affect reactions to the ads. Duncan. Bagozzi. & Kellaris. Unger. Singh & Hitchon. the results obtained were as predicted. there are grounds to suggest that the processing of such content under different circumstances might depend on the moderating influence of the variables “need for humor” (NFH). and “need for cognition” (NFC). Lang et al. 1988. Mowen & Voss. In short. 1998. However. Tavassoli. 2006. 2000. 2000. Henthorne. LaTour. Altsech. 1995). D’Silva & Palmgreen. 2008. Furnham. Such variables include involvement with the program. 2006b. Given the findings of the present study. Alden. Norris & Colman. scorers on that variable respond more positively to humorous ads compared to non-humorous ones (Cline. Shultz. These should be taken into account in any comprehensive examination of the effects of humor in advertising.. 1993. 2005. Durvasula. 1990. but not lower. Gopinath. 1993. NFC concerns the motivation of individuals to engage in effortful cognitive processing of information presented to them. 1990. Crowley & Hoyer. 1994. Such analysis can also inform the development of a comprehensive model of the determinants of people’s reactions to ads in general (Alden & Hoyer. 2007. 2000) can productively be extended by incorporating reference to the effects of sensation seeking. Lang et al. Aylesworth & MacKenzie. Neijens. Chang. Gunter. Mattenklott. higher NFC scorers are more likely to be persuaded by argument strength and not humor (Zhang. 1999. People who score lower on that variable are more likely to process and be influenced by peripheral cues such as humor in ads. & Hoyer.1002/mar . Lee & Mason. 1995). Gunter. Furnham. Another issue related to the context in which the ads were rated in this study concerns the fact that participants were required to process the humor content of the ads presented. Mukherjee. The present results suggest which kinds of humor structure are likely to appeal to higher and to lower sensation seeker members of that cohort. Bushman. 1996. Andrews. & Pappa. & Kellaris. 2004. 1979. In contrast. 1998. 1989. 1989. 1997. & Lehmann. Singh & Hitchon. Nevertheless. 1998. Moorman. Durvasula. Arthur & Quester. & Akhter. Harrington et al. 2003. 1999. Holbrook. 2005. for instance. However.. those results. should be replicated in “real-life” 787 HUMOR AND AD LIKING Psychology & Marketing DOI: 10. it can be suggested that existing attempts to model the determinants of people’s reactions to humorous as well as non-humorous incongruity in advertising (see. Not surprisingly. & Akhter. Mukherjee. Saad & Gill. & Smit. 2003). 2003). 2003. LaTour & Zahra. LaTour & Rotfield. & Walsh. the effects observed in this study for higher and for lower sensation seekers of incongruity-resolution humor structure on ad liking have potentially broad implications for the use of humor in advertising. 1997. & Nyer. and the additional effects predicted from them. 1989. 1998. NFH refers to a person’s motivation to attend to and process humorous stimuli. & Nataraajan. Although the ads examined in this study were rated in a different context from that in which ads are normally viewed. Schmidt. 1994. p.highly arousing ads to reduce the arousal induced in an attempt to increase their appeal to lower sensation seekers. and effects of other ads (Andrews. 1996a. Havlena. Altsech. & Hoyer. Higher. 16). Arthur & Quester. 2004. program content and valence.

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