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Humor in Television Advertising: the Effects of Repetition and Social Setting
Yong Zhang, University of Houston George M. Zinkhan, University of Houston ABSTRACT - This study investigates the effect of humor in advertising on three dependent measures of advertising effectiveness: perceived humor, attitude toward the brand, and ad recall. Also examined are the effects of multiple exposures and the effects of social setting (size of the audience). Humor is found to influence consumers' brand attitude and their brand information recall. Perceived humor appears to be affected by social setting, but unaffected by another mediating factor: frequency of exposure.
[ to cite ]:
Yong Zhang and George M. Zinkhan (1991) ,"Humor in Television Advertising: the Effects of Repetition and Social Setting", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, eds. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 813-818.
Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, 1991
HUMOR IN TELEVISION ADVERTISING: THE EFFECTS OF REPETITION AND SOCIAL SETTING Yong Zhang, University of Houston George M. Zinkhan, University of Houston ABSTRACT This study investigates the effect of humor in advertising on three dependent measures of advertising effectiveness: perceived humor, attitude toward the brand, and ad recall. Also examined are the effects of multiple exposures and the effects of social setting (size of the audience). Humor is found to influence consumers' brand attitude and their brand information recall. Perceived humor appears to be affected by social setting, but unaffected by another mediating factor: frequency of exposure. INTRODUCTION Humor has been used extensively in consumer product advertising on TV, radio, and in print media. Estimates of its usage range from 15% to over 40% (Kelly and Solomon 1975; Markiewicz 1974). Implicit in such practice is the
Further. Understandably. (1990) argue for the view that. as a result of this process. to be effective. Brown et al. then the social setting dimension increases the likelihood that a message will be perceived as humorous. and the interactions between the two. laughter is often thought to be contagious. and attitude? HUMOR AND REPETITION Several authors have studied the effect of repetition and humor in advertising. As the number of exposures increases.e. Aiello et al. It has been proposed that the effect of humorous ads passes beyond temporary amusement and influences message recall (Gelb and Zinkhan 1986). even after repetition. attendance of social events). The major research question is: to what extent do repetition and social setting influence perceived humor. and are regulated by society in much the same way as other social-physiological reactions such as yawning (Coser 1959).. THE INFLUENCE OF SOCIAL SETTING A second mitigating factor of humor effect is social setting. did not reveal any significant effect of humor. have long been considered to be a social phenomenon. They showed that such promotional messages can have a positive effect both on enjoyment and behavior (i. on the part of the viewer or listener. the effect of repetition is determined by two opposing psychological factors: positive habituation and tedium. designed as a measure of persuasion. such as irritation. commercials should: a) contribute to the main point of the message and b) pertain to an advertised product which is appropriate for the use of levity. Belch and Belch (1984) demonstrated in a later study that unaided recall and intention to use Federal Express. this wear-out effect can be mitigated by social setting. Positive responses do not decline over repetitions as has been predicted by the two-factor theoretical repetition effect model (Berlyne 1970). Zinkhan and Gelb (1990) argue that humor has a social dimension and that if the audience listening to or watching a commercial consists of more than one person. recall and brand attitude constitute the three dependent variables of interest. Humor and laughter are often shared. the domination of the first factor declines and that of the second factor increases. Their proposition is based on the findings of several studies in this area (see Butcher and Whissell 1984. Repetition causes wear-out of humor. In this study. HUMOR AND ADVERTISING EFFECTIVENESS While few researchers argue about the attention-grabbing quality of humorous ads. memory. laughter. number of exposures. consumers in the target audience form positive brand attitudes toward the product. but most humor-related consumer behavior studies have ignored this social dimension to humor. It indeed may cause adverse responses. Belch (1982) found that consumers' cognitive responses follow separate patterns depending on the number of repetitions. a considerable amount of effort has been spent on investigating the relationship between humor and a diverse array of response variables. These hypothesized humor effects may be mitigated by a variety of other factors such as the number of exposures which the target audience experiences and the social context in which the humorous message is viewed or heard. Among these variables are the humor perceived by the consumer when viewing or hearing the ads. Osterhouse and Brock . and they are defined as part of the interactive process of social life. Eventually. These variables are expected to be related. whether or not humorous ads are a more effective means of persuasion than serious ads remains the focal point of argument. According to a proposed theory. causing the deterioration of the ad's persuasive power.rooted belief that humor produces desirable effects in persuading consumers to adopt products. --Humor and the intimately related result it elicits. These results however are contradicted by another study (Gelb and Zinkhan 1985) which found that humor can be used to improve commercial effectiveness and that perceived humor significantly declines as the number of repetitions increases. They are expected to occur within patterns of social interactions. The wear-out of humor refers to the phenomenon that humorous ads lose their humor after a number of reruns. perceived humor. The two key independent variables are repetition and social setting. In this regard. brand attitude. Scott et al. 1982). and ad recall. According to this model. 1983.
all of whom were undergraduate business majors in a large urban university. Both versions of the ad contained similar information about the product. therefore. The study had a balanced design with twelve subjects in each condition. among others. as the number of people in the audience increases perceived humor increases. attitude towards the advertised brand. METHOD An experiment was conducted using 216 student subjects. and therefore. That is. number of ad exposures (Repeat). Half of the subjects were exposed to the humorous ad. The above discussion suggests the following three hypotheses: H1: Humorous message has a positive effect on message recall. The third scale (Recall) was a composite score which was calculated by . subjects were told that they would be watching some music videos and would be later asked to indicate their musical preferences. to an increase in message reception and persuasion. Thus. Both perceived humor and brand attitude were measured using six-point Likert-type scales anchored by the words "strongly disagree" and "strongly agree". This study intends to further investigate the plausible relationships between humor and measures of advertising effectiveness operationalized here as message recall and brand attitude. and the size of the audience exposed to the ads (Size). concede that humor increases commercial effectiveness by drawing more attention from consumers. The placement of the ads were approximately at equal intervals at breaks between music excerpts in an effort to minimize potential confounding due to unequal spacing. Humor in the ads had two levels: an ad that contained humor and an ad that had no humor. Just under 40% of the subjects were females. H2: Multiple exposures of TV audiences to the same humorous message diminishes the perceived humor of ads. the remaining subjects were exposed to the non-humorous ad. Their results appear to support the view that despite the fact that humor improves attention. and therefore. it may inhibit message comprehension and reception. and ad recall (Recall). The experimental surroundings where the subjects received the stimuli for the different conditions were made identical. The ads were pretested to ensure the effectiveness of the humor manipulation. Such distraction leads to decreased levels of counterargumentation and. Three variables were manipulated in the experiment: humor in the ads (Message). The stimulus TV ads were for soft drinks and had been previously ailed on network television. The commercials were imbedded in 30 minutes of prerecorded music videos. The size of the audience had three levels: one-person audience. H3: Social setting influences the degree of perceived humor. this study had a factorial design with all the factors completely crossed. the effectiveness of the ad. Based on the same argument. The numbers of ad exposures varied from one to three to five repetitions. But they think it is less appropriate in gaining higher levels of comprehension and persuasion.(1970) demonstrated that humor distracts an audience during a persuasive communication. advertising effectiveness. and six-person audience. The stimulus video programs contained three different numbers of exposures of the ads. After the subjects were exposed to the commercials. it was possible to investigate the main effect of the factors and the interaction effects among them. With this design. but differed concerning the inclusion of the humor stimulus. All subjects were assigned to the conditions in a randomized fashion. perceived humor (Humor). As a guise. they were requested to complete a questionnaire containing the three dependent measures: brand attitude (Attitude). Duncan and Nelson (1985) and Madden and Weinberger (1984). three-person audience. it has been suggested that attitude as a measure of persuasion be included in experiments studying humor effects (Sternthal and Craig 1973).
3. It would be of interest to find out which measures represent the difference. n. the hypothesis that humorous ads have a positive effect on message recall and brand attitude is fully supported by this study. This kind of hierarchical model is amenable to a multivariate approach for the analysis of the experimental data since the dependent variables are expected to be related in the sense that they may be regarded as different facets of the overall measure of the "effectiveness" of the ads. Attitude. . MANOVA provides a single overall test of group differences at a specified alpha level.summing the--number of correct answers to ten questions about information contained in the ad. Such evidence is not provided by the univariate tests. The minimum possible score was zero while the maximum score was ten on this true-false recall test. and render significant tests spurious and irreplicatable (Haase and Ellis 1987). Again. which in turn contributes to the formation of positive attitude towards the advertised brand (Gelb and Zinkhan 1986). the third hypothesis that social setting positively influences perceived humor was supported by the results of this study. p < 0. thus avoiding the multiple F-tests and the resulting Type One Error inflation problem.78. TABLE 1 MANOVA RESULTS OF THE MAIN EFFECTS AND THE INTERACTION EFFECTS FIGURE 1 MEAN DIFFERENCE ON PERCEIVED HUMOR FOR EACH LEVEL OF REPETITION The second hypothesis was not supported by the MANOVA main effect results (F = 1. Therefore. significant results are obtained for Attitude and Recall. As illustrated in Figure 1. All the interaction effects are insignificant at 0. There are significant mean differences over the levels Of Message. Audience size had a significant influence on the dependent variables. Another MANOVA was performed with respect to the social and repetition factors on subjects' responses to the humorous treatment.63 for Repeat. 1987). Therefore. MANOVA has advantages over ANOVA with a series of individual F-tests in this situation (Hair et al.82. the mean perceived humor scores (3. and the results are presented in Table 3. the repetition effect was again not significant.0001). MANOVA technique was used to assess the humor effect in this analysis. Humor and Recall were used separately as the dependent variable in the ANOVA procedures. As is shown in Table 2. The first hypothesis concerns the effect of humor on brand attitude and recall.05 significance level. The three dependent variables represent three components in a much investigated theoretical framework.). When the audience consisted of more than one person.49. This finding is echoed by a plot of the mean differences in perceived humor over the treatment. RESULTS The MANOVA results are summarized in Table 1. three post hoc tests were subsequently carried out using univariate factorial ANOVA. mean scores of perceived humor considerably increased. The results are presented in Table 2. The significant omnibus MANOVA result on the Message factor (see Table 1) shows that there is an overall group difference caused by the two levels of the Message factor across the three dependent measures.74) do not vary much across the repetition levels. Univariate follow-up indicated that the source of the variation resulted from the mean differences of perceived humor over the audience size levels (see Figure 2). MANOVA also enables us to test the linear combination of the dependent variables that provides the strongest evidence of overall group differences. Thus. This hypothesis is supported by the Message main effect results (F = 19. 3. which specifies that high levels of perceived humor lead to better recall. Therefore. The individual F-tests in ANOVA result in an inflated Type One Error which may cause false positive.s. This result helps to reduce the uncertainty associated with the interpretation of the main effect results.
messages may be perceived as more humorous than in instances where a group of relative strangers are exposed to the same message. repetition typically refers to the frequency of viewing a message over a period of time (weeks. Second. Given the fact that the repetition main effect is non-significant over all dependent variables. and brand information recall. Third. This is inconsistent with the theoretical propositions and empirical results of several studies. and it has been shown that more highly educated people are more sensitive to humor (Brooker 1981). Education level of the subjects is a factor which may influence perceived humor. as is shown by the MANOVA results. When all of the members of an audience are friends. This may be an important area for future research. Here. Although the MANOVA tests failed to support the hypothesized effect of repetition.g. we completed all repetitions within a 30 minute period. First.05. the contrived experimental settings may not have fully induced the social effect of humor. this significant interaction points the way for a follow-up study of the effect of ad type across levels of repetition --one of the enduring themes of research in this area. For example. The results of this study differ from findings by Belch and Belch (1984) who found humor did not affect recall levels. Based on this sample. the strong Message effect which we observed might be dampened if a less homogeneous sample were tested. Another speculation is that the omnibus test by MANOVA did not provide enough power to discern the interaction in the multivariate analysis. This suggests that the effect of ad type (Message) is not the same across the levels of repetition (Repeat). or family members. positive brand attitude.TABLE 2 TWO-WAY MANOVA RESULTS ON HUMOROUR AD FIGURE 2 PERCEIVED HUMOR SCORES FOR THE HUMOROUS AD ACROSS EACH LEVEL OF AUDIENCE SIZE TABLE 3 POST HOC 3-WAY FACTORIAL ANOVA TEST RESULTS FOLLOWING A SIGNIFICANT MANOVA ON THE FACTOR MESSAGE The univariate results on the dependent measure Humor is also significant with regard to Message. one hour viewing session) in the natural . MANOVA has been shown to be extremely conservative (Hummel and Sligo 1971). Several cautions should be heeded when interpreting the results of this study. one might suspect that this interaction is caused by the strong effect of Message factor. And humor is perceived to be funnier when someone else is present. further confirming the existence of the main effect of the humor manipulation. The findings here also indicate that repetition does not influence perceived humor and the overall effectiveness measure of advertising. as social effects on humor may vary depending upon the composition of the audience watching or hearing the advertising message. the pattern of wear-out of humor as a function of repeated exposure clearly deserves further investigation. As is suggested by the significant Message and Repeat interaction in the univariate procedure. One interesting finding is that the interaction effect of Message and Repeat on the dependent variable Humor is significant at p < 0. humorous ads have more persuasive power than serious ads possibly through a third mediating process such as the reduction of counterargumentation. It is also quite common for audience members to be exposed to the same commercial several times during a short period of time (e. DISCUSSION This study is supportive of a theoretical model which specifies that humorous ads tend to produce higher levels of perceived humor. But similar results are obtained regarding the repetition effect on perceived humor and brand attitude. a more realistic and interactive audience composed of friends or family members may produce more marked results. months).
This process may be positively moderated by social setting. "Prior Brand Evaluation as a Moderator of the Effects of Humor in Advertising. Under conditions of high involvement." Journal of Marketing Research. attitude formation). Beyond these three caveats. Repetition effect of humor over longer periods of time should also be studied. "Laughter as a Function of Audience Size.." Perception and Psychophysics. this study offers another piece of empirical evidence in the quest for a better understanding of humor in advertising. 51. Brooker. Despite the fact that social effects have been widely studied concerning other aspects of buyer behavior (e. (1982). 171-182. forgetting) may play an important role in determining commercial effectiveness particularly over a longer period of time. and Brian Sternthal (1980). Involvement may be one such variable. 949-950. "On Advertising Wear Out.g. The social aspect of humor appreciation deserves further investigation. "An Investigation of the Effects of Repetition on Cognitive and Affective Reactions to Humorous and Serious TV Commercials. Belch. 4 (No. Brown. "Novelty. Complexity. D. Thompson. 2). 4-10. Calder. 8. it is only rarely that we have considered laughter and humor to be inextricably linked to patterns of social exchange. "Television Commercial Wearout: An Information Processing View." Paper under reviewing." Advances in Consumer Research. Belch (1984). Hudson (1982). Sex of the Audience and Segments of the Short Film 'Duck Soup'. Amitava and Junal Basu (1989). 11-13. (1970). there may be other reasons for concerns. 1111-1117. non-linear effects over both social and repetition conditions which should be investigated in later studies. E. Bobby J. "Effect of Peer Pressure on Imitation of Humor Response in College Students. 279-286. Without a social context. Belch. there is little grounds for judging a potentially humorous message as funny or not. Due to its potential usefulness. 11. humor and its role in commercial advertising will continue to interest researchers and practitioners alike. (1959). CONCLUSION Given these cautions. Gary E. "The Effects of Television Commercial Repetition on Cognitive Response and Message Acceptance. Alternatively. the presence of humor may lead to reduced comprehension. Valentine (1971). there may be important.." Basic and Applied Social Psychology. "How Funny is Crowding Anyway? Effects of Room Size. Brodzinsky (1983). 173-186. E. and this effect may be reversed under low involvement conditions. 193-207. Coser. beyond size of the audience. Rose L. However. 56-65. M. The results suggest that humor increases ad information recall and positively affects brand attitude." Perceptual and Motor Skills. John R. and Hedonic Value.. "A Comparison of the Persuasive Effects of Mild Humor and Mild Fear Appeals. Appel.g. Paul A." Journal of Advertising Research. Dixon. George (1981). and the Introduction of Humor. George E. 9 (June). For example. some of the theoretical work on repetition has specified that effects over time (e." Human Relations. Chattopadhyay. Group Size. and D. 12. . and D. and M. Jennifer and Cynthia Whissell (1984).environment. REFERENCES Aiello. A.. 17 (May). Those conducting future research may wish to focus on alternative social factors. there may be other (unmeasured) variables which could play important moderating roles. Berlyne." Psychological Reports. 10." Journal of Consumer Research. 11. "Some Social Functions of Laughter. Donna E. Butcher. 59." Journal of Advertising. 2940.
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