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A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Humor on Advertising

Corinne Berneman Phone: +33 4 77 49 24 50


Associate Professor Fax: +33 4 77 49 24 51
ESC Saint-Etienne e-mail: corinne_berneman@esc-saint-etienne.fr
51-53 Cours Fauriel
42009 Saint-Etienne Cedex 2
France

François Bellavance Phone: 1 514 340 6485


Associate Professor Fax: 1 514 340 5634
HEC Montréal e-mail: francois.bellavance@hec.ca
3000, Chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine
Montréal (Québec) H4T 2A7
Canada

Salma Jabri Phone: +212 22 25 59 60


Brand Manager Fax: +212 22 25 48 77
Unilever Bestfoods Maghreb e-mail: salma.jabri@unilever.com
Route Côtière Ain Sebaâ Km 10
Casablanca
Morocco
A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Humor on Advertising

This paper presents results of a meta-analysis performed using published results of experimental

studies on the effects of humor in advertising. Three categories of response variables were considered

as measures of effectiveness of advertising: cognitive, attitudinal, and behavioral constructs. Separate

analyses were performed for each response variable to estimate the combined effect sizes of humor in

advertising and to assess the moderating effect of methodological characteristics of the different

studies. The results indicate that cognitive measures are not affected by humor in ads, while attitude

toward the ad, attitude toward the brand, and purchase intention are higher in the presence of humor.

In addition, recall of humorous ads is stronger when humor is measured during the experiment rather

than manipulated and when the sample is exclusively male. Attitude toward the ad is also higher in

studies whit measured humor.

Key words: Advertising, Humor, Meta-Analysis, Effect size

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Despite the famous phrase by Hopkins (1923) that “People don’t buy from clowns”, humor in

advertising is a popular copy strategy and increasingly so. Indeed, 42% of television commercials in

the United States were found to be funny in 1972 (Markiewicz 1974) and 50% in 1996 (Speck and

Elliott 1997). A similar situation was found in Great Britain, where approximately 35% of ads were

considered humorous in 1985 (Weinberger and Spotts 1989), while Hanna, Gordon, and Ridnour

(1994) found that 28% of Japanese commercial had some humorous content. In addition, humorous

ads are often recipients of advertising prizes, such as the Lions in Cannes, the Clio Awards, IPA’s

advertising effectiveness awards, and so on.

Research dealing with the effectiveness of humor in advertising has been a steady stream since the

1970s, while research on humor in communication in general, has been performed since a much earlier

time. This research stream has been reviewed by a number of authors (Weinberger and Gulas 1992;

Graby 2001) with an attempt to generalize on some of the experimental results. Unfortunately,

research results vary widely and as such, these generalizations are close to impossible. In many

instances, conclusions cannot be drawn because experimental conditions vary between studies, for

instance gender of the sample, type of product tested, media used, etc. As an alternative to a classical

literature review, this article reports results of a meta-analysis of experimental studies comparing the

effectiveness of humorous to serious advertisements.

The term meta-analysis was defined by Glass (1976, p.3) as “the statistical analysis of a large

collection of analysis results from individual studies for the purpose of integrating the findings”. A

meta-analysis takes into consideration the theoretical foundations of the phenomenon being studied.

Compared to literature reviews, meta-analyses are more systematic, more explicit, more exhaustive,

and more objective. Conventional meta-analysis techniques consist essentially of averaging the

outcomes of available studies, using appropriate weighting to account for differences in sample size. If

considered separately, any one study may be either too small or too limited in scope to come to

unequivocal or generalizable conclusions about the effect of a treatment. Combining the findings

across studies with similar treatment represents an attractive alternative to strengthen the evidence

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about the treatment effectiveness and thus to increase the power to detect this effect. However, the

main difficulty in integrating the results from various studies stems from the sometimes diverse nature

of the studies, both in terms of designs and methods used. Some are carefully controlled randomized

experiments while others are less well controlled or simply observational studies. Generally, there are

also differences in the sample sizes and more particularly in population characteristics leading to

heterogeneity in the outcomes across studies. Therefore, the use of regression models has been

proposed to deal with this problem (Cooper and Hedges 1994). Thus, when heterogeneity is present,

one objective of a research synthesis is to try to explain the variability across the studies by modelling

the treatment effect as a function of a set of factors that moderate the effectiveness.

Meta-analyses have been used in various scientific fields (e.g. medicine, physics, etc.), but also in

marketing, in areas where a substantive body of research has been compiled. For example, Assmus,

Farley, and Lehmann (1984) performed a meta-analysis on the effectiveness of advertising on sales;

Rao and Monroe (1989) were interested in the meta-results of price effects on buyers’ perceptions;

Sultan, Farley, and Lehmann (1990) used the results of studies on the diffusion of innovations; Brown

and Stayman (1992) looked at attitude toward the ad; Peterson and Jolibert (1995) performed a meta-

analysis on the country-of-origin effects; and Abernethy and Frank (1996) were interested in

advertising information content. Since (??) many experimental studies dealing with the effectiveness

of humor in advertising have been published, it seemed quite appropriate to apply this technique.

In this paper, we attempted to identify whether humor in advertising was effective by considering the

classical advertising response variables, i.e. cognitive (recall and cognitive responses), affective

(attitude toward the ad and attitude toward the brand), and behavioral (purchase intention) variables. In

addition, contingency variables related to the methodological environment were assessed for their

moderating effect in a statistical regression model. The meta-analysis enabled us to confirm some of

the results that were suggested by authors in published literature reviews.

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The first section of the paper explains the methodology used, including a description of the studies that

were considered for the meta-analysis. The next section presents the results of the analysis; and we

conclude by comparing our results with those of previous authors.

Methodology

Our research methodology follows the steps suggested by Hedges and Olkin (1985) and consists in

defining the field of investigation; establishing objective criteria to include studies in the meta-

analysis; searching and selecting the relevant studies; extracting and coding the results and

characteristics of each study; determining the effect size of humor for each advertising response

variable in each study; analyzing and interpreting the data.

Research Field

The research field investigated in this paper is the effectiveness of humor in advertising. Effectiveness

has been defined as cognitive, affective, and behavioral responses to humorous ads. A brief

description of these measures follows.

Cognitive Measures

Three cognitive dependent variables were considered: recall, cognitive responses toward the ad, and

cognitive responses toward the brand. These variables are defined as follows:

Recall: any measure of aided or unaided recall of the brand name, product features, uses, and benefits,

advertising slogan. When both aided and unaided recall were reported in a study, only unaided recall

was extracted and considered in the meta-analysis.

Cognitive responses toward the ad: any measure of thought-listed responses to the ad. When the

study reported separate results for positive and negative thoughts, these were summed to form a total

score.

Cognitive responses toward the brand: any measure of thought-listed responses to the brand. Again,

when both positive and negative responses were reported, these were summed to form a total score.

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Affective Measures

Two affective responses were considered: attitude toward the ad (Aad) and attitude toward the brand

(Ab).

Attitude toward the ad: unidimensional measure of attitude toward the ad. When Aad was measured

with multiple items and was not averaged in the study, we used the item most closely linked to the

construct (e.g. “I like the ad”, “I find the ad likeable”).

Attitude toward the brand: unidimensional measure of attitude toward the brand. The same

procedure as in Aad was used for Ab to determine the unique variable to consider.

Behavioral Measure

Purchase intention was used as a behavioral measure in this study.

Inclusion Criteria

The second step in our methodology involved determining on what basis studies should be included in

the meta-analysis. Studies were included if and only if they fulfilled two criteria: (1) they were

randomized experiments comparing a humorous and a non-humorous version of an advertisement and

(2) they contained the necessary information on at least one of the six response variables mentioned

above to compute the effect size to be averaged across studies.

Search for Articles

The search process involved the following steps. First the PROQUEST computer database was

searched on October 19, 2003 for potentially relevant articles published, using simultaneously the key

words “humo*” and “ad*” in the article title. Second, relevant articles selected on the basis of the title

and abstract were retrieved for more detailed evaluation. Third, the bibliographies of relevant articles

were searched for additional references. Fourth, some researchers in the field were contacted by e-mail

for other potentially relevant articles or unpublished reports. Fifth, proceedings from AAA, AMA, and

ACR were searched for further studies.

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Extraction of the Information from the Selected Studies

Extraction of the relevant information for the meta-analysis was done by two of the authors

independently. In instances of disagreement, articles were re-examined to reach a consensus. The

following data, if available, was abstracted to compute the effect size for each response variable

considered: sample sizes, mean scores and standard deviations for both the humorous and non-

humorous advertisement groups, and the t-statistic for the statistical comparison of the two groups.

When authors failed to report the size of the humorous and non-humorous samples, but the total

sample size was given, it was assumed that both groups contained the same number of respondents.

In order to identify possible causes for variations in the experimental results across studies, other

variables have been extracted. . They pertain to the methodological characteristics of the studies:

Gender of respondents: this variable has been explicitly tested in various studies and indicated that

males had on average more favorable responses to humorous ads. Consequently, the data extracted for

the meta-analysis included a categorical variable to indicate whether the sample considered in the

randomized experiment was exclusively male, female or mixed. If an article did not report the

composition of the sample, it was assumed to be of both genders. We expected a stronger response for

studies with male samples.

Measure of humor: humor has been either manipulated or measured in the experiments. Manipulated

humor refers to instances where the authors (or experts) determine a priori which ads are to be

considered as humorous for the experiment. Measured – or perceived – humor indicates that subjects

of the experiment evaluated the degree of humor of the ads, so that the humorous and non-humorous

ads are determined a posteriori. Measured humor seems to be a more effective experimental condition.

Brown and Stayman (1992) also considered a manipulated vs. measured variable (for feelings) and

found significant differences in their meta-analysis, with the measured condition yielding higher

results. When measured humor was considered in the studies, the condition for low degree of humor

was assimilated to absence of humor, while a high condition was considered to be the humorous

version. Measured humor was expected to have a larger effect than manipulated humor.

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Type of product or service examined: the type of product tested was considered as a possible reason

for diverging results across studies. Indeed, both durable and frequently purchased products were

tested in the studies. In addition, as product type determines information processing of individuals, this

variable might indeed be a cause of variation in results. A number of meta-analyses in marketing

tested for product type and found significant differences for this variable (Assmus, Farley, and

Lehmann 1984; Sultan, Farley, and Lehmann 1990; Brown and Stayman 1992; Peterson and Jolibert

1995; Abernethy and Frank 1996). A dichotomous variable indicating the product type was thus

included in the regression model. Based on generally accepted premises, we expected frequently

purchased goods to be more sensitive to humor, as they tend to generate less information processing.

Type of media: since four types of media were present in the sample of studies (radio, TV, magazine,

and flyer), we included this variable in the meta-analysis. Brown and Stayman (1992) considered

media type in their meta-analysis on attitude toward the ad and found some significant differences. A

similar result was found by Abernethy and Frank (1996) in their meta-analysis of advertising

information content. We compared results of studies from electronic broadcasting (television and

radio) with print advertisements (magazine and flyer). No direction of results could be set, as no study

dealing with humor explicitly compared different types of media.

Relevance of humor: while it would have been interesting to test for the type of humor used in the

ads, such information was generally not available. Alternatively, following one of Speck’s typology

(1991), we considered the dichotomy of whether the humor used in the ad had any relevance to the

product/situation or not. No specific direction of results was expected as previous studies show

diverging results for the effect of relevance of humor in ads (Muehling and McCann 1993; Lee and

Mason 1999).

Imbeddedness: some experiments explicitly imbedded the ad in a media, while others used a stand

alone ad. Results of previous studies seem to indicate that imbedded ads are less effective, as

respondents are less attentive to the ad (Brown and Stayman 1992). A dichotomous variable

accounting for this condition was thus included in the analysis.

Type of sample: as Brown and Stayman (1992) reported, subject type is often coded in meta-analyses

as experiments using student samples often result in stronger effects. This variable could, however, not

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be coded in this analysis as all studies meeting our inclusion criteria report results from student

samples.

If a study evaluated and reported results for different levels of one or more of the independent

variables (e.g., male and female; relevance and irrelevance of humor), the information was extracted

for each subgroup.

Computation of the Effect Sizes and Data Analysis

The effect sizes were computed as the difference between the humorous and non-humorous mean

scores of the response variables divided by the pooled standard deviation and adjusted by a

multiplicative factor proposed by Hedges and Olkin (1985) to correct for bias in the effect size

estimates. If standard deviations were not reported, we used the t-statistic to calculate the pooled

standard deviation (Cooper and Hedges 1994, pp. 231-244).

We first obtained the combined effect size across studies with its 95% confidence interval (C.I.), for

each of the six response variables, using a random effect model (see Cooper and Hedges 1994, pp.

309-311 for details). If two or more comparisons within a study were derived with the same subjects

for the same response variable, we used only one comparison from the study for the quantitative meta-

analysis, selecting the first comparison done. Therefore, the overall sample size of the combined effect

size is the sum of the sample sizes of each study included in the meta-analysis. We also tested the

hypothesis of homogeneity of the effect sizes across studies (Cooper and Hedges 1994). When this

hypothesis was rejected, we evaluated the moderating effect of the characteristics of the different

studies and subgroups within studies, on the response variables. This was done by using a regression

model. The parameter estimates of the model were computed using the method of moments with the

weighted least squares approach (Cooper and Hedges 1994, p. 311). Because of the small number of

studies included in the meta-analysis for each response variable, we considered separate simple

regression models, one for each of the methodological characteristics extracted from the studies.

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The statistical analyses were conducted using SAS statistical software for Windows, release 8.02.

Results

The search strategy in PROQUEST yielded 153 published articles. Based on the title and abstract, 34

were retrieved for more detailed evaluation. Seven of these studies, and five others found from the

bibliographies of the retrieved studies, met the inclusion criteria, meaning that they dealt with

measuring the effectiveness of humor in advertising in experimental conditions and that they

contained the necessary information to perform the meta-analysis. Obviously, a larger number of

studies were found dealing with humor in advertising, but they do not explicitly compare the

effectiveness of a humorous ad with a serious one and could therefore not be used in this study.

The 12 studies included in the meta-analysis are briefly described below.

Cantor and Venus (1980) manipulated a radio commercial into a humorous and a non-humorous

version for an existing, but unknown in the region, magazine. The commercial was imbedded in

fifteen minutes of actual radio broadcasting. A student sample consisting of 59 males and 58 females

was randomly exposed to one of either version of the commercial. The authors measured memorability

and persuasiveness of the ad. Recall of the ad was found to be higher for the serious version, but no

effect was found for persuasiveness.

Lammers et al. (1983) used a serious and humorous version of a radio commercial for industrial sound

sheets. The experiment did not try to imbed the commercial in any actual radio programming. A

student sample of 64 (26 females and 38 males) participated in the study and was randomly exposed to

either the serious or humorous version of the commercial. Measures were taken for cognitive

responses, attitude toward the ad, and recall of brand name, product class, benefits and uses. Results

indicated a gender effect for cognitive responses and attitude toward the ad, with females having

higher couterarguments and a lower attitude toward the ad for the humorous version of the ad. Results

for the entire sample showed that cognitive responses did not vary between the two versions of the

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commercial; recall of product uses and benefits was lower for the humorous version of the ad; and

attitude toward the ad did not vary between the serious and the humorous ad.

Sutherland and Middleton (1983) used serious and humorous versions of print advertisements for two

product classes, American Tourister suitcases and Fuji cameras. Their study manipulated the type of

humor used, namely nonsensical humor for the American Tourister ad and pun on words for the Fuji

ad. A sample consisting of 107 students was exposed to a serious version of one brand and the

humorous version of the other brand, thereby allowing a between-subject measure of type of humor

and within-subject measure of humor vs. serious. Measures were taken for recall and credibility.

Credibility was measured with a nine-item scale which closely represents the evaluation of the

advertisement (or Aad). Recall was not found to be significantly different for the humorous version

compared to the serious one. Credibility, however, was higher for the serious version in the case of the

American Tourister ad, but higher for the humorous version of the Fuji ad.

Duncan, Nelson, and Frontczak (1984) designed an experiment with a radio commercial for a fictitious

brand of men’s hair care product. Three humorous versions were produced, differing with respect to

where in the message humor appeared. A serious version was used as control ad. A student sample of

149 was randomly exposed to one of the four versions of the commercial, which was embedded in

actual radio programming. Measures were taken for recall and perceived humor. Contrary to previous

studies, data were analyzed between subjects that perceived humor in the commercial with those that

were exposed to the serious version. Findings indicated that recall was higher when subjects perceived

humor in the ad.

Duncan and Nelson (1985) provide further details on the study described above. The data analysis was

performed for measures of attention paid to the commercial, selling points recalled, positive product

beliefs, attitude toward the ad, attitude toward the product, purchase intention, distraction experienced,

and irritation experienced. Subjects exposed to the humorous version of the commercial were

separated into three groups according to their perception of humor. A MANOVA showed that mean

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responses differed among the groups. A discriminant analysis indicated that humor in the commercial

enhanced attention paid to the commercial, attitude toward the ad, attitude toward the product, and

decreased irritation.

Sutherland and Sethu (1987) set up an experiment using humorous versions of two existing brands,

namely Parkay margarine and Epeda mattresses, which correspond to a familiar and an unfamiliar

product, respectively. In addition, the authors constructed a non-humorous version of the commercials

based on the real ones. A total of 166 students participated in the study, where both recall and

credibility of the message were measured. None of the ANOVAs provided significant results however.

Wu, Crocker, and Rogers (1989) tested main and interaction effects of humor, comparative strategy,

and product type in an experiment. A total of eight print advertisements were created, four for facial

tissue and four for athletic shoes. A sample of 360 business students was randomly assigned to one of

the eight advertisements. Four constructs were measured: recall, attitude toward the ad, attitude toward

the brand, and purchase intention. Results showed that only attitude toward the ad was significantly

higher for the humorous version of the ad, regardless of product type.

Chattopadhyay and Basu (1990) used a serious and a humorous version of a television commercial for

a fictitious brand of pens. Eighty students participated in the experiment and were exposed to a 15-

minute television broadcast in which the test ad was imbedded twice. Subjects were randomly

assigned to the humorous or serious version of the ad. Measures were taken for cognitive responses,

attitude toward the ad, attitude toward the brand, brand choice, and purchase intention. Significant

positive effects of humor were found for cognitive responses and attitude toward the ad.

Smith (1993) produced a humorous and a serious version of a print ad for a fictitious brand of life

insurances. Sixty-seven students participated in the experiment and were randomly exposed to either

version of the ad. Measures were taken for perceived humor, cognitive responses, attitude toward the

ad, attitude toward the brand, and purchase intention. Because the humor manipulation in the ad was

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not successful, the author used perceived humor in the ad to separate the sample into the humorous

and non-humorous version of the ad. Results indicated that the humorous version had a significant

positive effect on attitude toward the ad, attitude toward the brand, and purchase intention.

Zhang (1996) used a serious and a humorous version of a print ad for a fictitious brand of cameras.

Two-hundred and forty students participated in the study and were randomly assigned to either the

serious or humorous version of the ad, imbedded in a magazine-type booklet. Measures were taken for

attitude toward the ad, attitude toward the brand, and purchase intention. Using MANOVA, the author

found a significant effect of humor for attitude toward the ad, attitude toward the brand, and purchase

intention.

Cline and Kellaris (1999) examined the interaction of humor with strength of arguments on attitude

toward the ad and attitude toward the brand. A sample of 122 students was asked to evaluate a

humorous and a non-humorous print advertisement for a fictitious brand of bubble gum. These ads

were shown inserted in the questionnaire booklet. Results indicated no main effects of humor on

attitudes, but an interaction effect with strength of argument.

Lee and Mason (1999) produced a serious and a humorous version of a print ad for fictitious brands of

computers and computer monitors. A sample consisting of 120 students was exposed to experimental

versions of both the computer and the monitor. Measures were taken for cognitive thoughts, attitude

toward the ad, and attitude toward the brand. Results indicated that humor did not affect the amount of

positive thoughts, but reduced the amount of negative thoughts. In addition, attitude toward the ad and

attitude toward the brand were higher for the humorous ad.

As mentioned above, three types of response variables were considered for the meta-analysis:

cognitive, affective and behavioral responses. Results of the data analysis are presented for each type

of variable.

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Cognitive Measures

Recall

Table 1 presents the characteristics and the computed effect size of each study (or of each subgroup

within a study) that compared recall of advertisements for humorous and non humorous ads. Recall

was lower for humorous ads in five studies or subgroups within studies (two of them were statistically

significant at the 5% level) and higher in five others (one was statistically significant at the 5% level).

Overall, the estimated combined effect size for recall is positive at 0.04 but not statistically different

from zero (the 95% C.I. for the combined effect size includes 0: -0.34 to 0.44).

Table 1: Recall

Sample size Mean 95% C. I.


Year of Measure of No No Effect size Lower Upper
Author(s) Gender Product Media Humor Imbeddedness Humor Humor
publication humor humor humor bound bound
Cantor & Venus 1980 mixed manipulated frequ radio relevant imbedded 59 58 2.31 3.82 -0.73 -1.11 -0.35
Lammers et al. 1983 mixed manipulated frequ radio relevant not imbedded 32 32 0.08 1.44 -0.57 -1.08 -0.06
Sutherland & Middleton 1983 male manipulated durable magazine relevant not imbedded 66 41 5.15 5.56 -0.22 -0.61 0.18
Duncan, Nelson & Frontczak 1984 male measured frequ TV relevant imbedded 13 12 1.38 0.75 0.80 -0.06 1.67
Duncan, Nelson & Frontczak 1984 male measured frequ TV relevant imbedded 14 12 1.64 0.75 1.07 0.20 1.95
Duncan, Nelson & Frontczak 1984 male measured frequ TV relevant imbedded 11 12 1.18 0.75 0.61 -0.29 1.50
Duncan & Nelson 1985 male measured frequ radio relevant imbedded 23 21 2.30 1.60 0.43 -0.19 1.05
Sutherland & Sethu 1987 mixed manipulated durable TV relevant not imbedded 42 42 2.86 4.81 -0.09 -0.52 0.35
Lee & Mason (2) 1999 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant not imbedded 20 20 0.85 0.80 0.05 -0.59 0.69
Lee & Mason (2) 1999 mixed manipulated durable magazine irrelevant not imbedded 20 20 1.00 1.10 -0.12 -0.76 0.53
Meta-analysis : mixed effects regression model
Combined effect size 0.04 -0.34 0.44
Significance of the
characteristics of the studies on
the effect size 0.034 0.002 NS NS NS NS

The hypothesis of homogeneity of the effect size across studies, for humorous advertisement on recall,

is rejected (p < 0.001). The separate regression models indicate that two of the study characteristics

considered were statistically significant in explaining some of the heterogeneity observed in the

results. More specifically, humorous ads tend to produce a higher recall when humor is measured

rather than manipulated (p=0.002) or when the sample is exclusively male (p=0.034). Note however

that these two independent variables are almost totally confounded, i.e. all studies with measured

humor were done with male samples.

Cognitive responses toward the ad

Table 2 presents the results when cognitive responses toward the ad are considered as the response

variable. Three effect sizes were negative, that is the cognitive response was lower for humorous ads,

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and seven were positive. However, all effect sizes were small and none was statistically different from

zero. Therefore, the results were fairly homogeneous across studies (p=0.711 for test of homogeneity)

and the overall estimated effect size for the cognitive response was not statistically different from zero

(95% C.I. for the combined effect size is -0.14 to 0.27). None of the study characteristics was

statistically related to the effect size of humorous ads for the cognitive responses toward the ad. It

should be noted that gender has not been tested in the regression model as there was no variation in the

studies.

Table 2: Cognitive Responses toward the Ad

Sample size Mean 95% C. I.


Year of Measure of No No Effect size Lower Upper
Author(s) Gender Product Media Humor Imbeddedness Humor Humor
publication humor humor humor bound bound
Lammers et al. 1983 mixed manipulated frequ radio relevant not imbedded 16 16 1.87 2.64 -0.51 -1.25 0.22
Smith 1993 mixed measured durable magazine relevant imbedded 34 34 1.00 0.57 0.38 -0.11 0.87
Zhang 1996 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant imbedded 30 30 1.81 1.67 0.06 -0.46 0.58
Zhang 1996 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant imbedded 30 30 1.94 1.68 0.12 -0.40 0.64
Zhang 1996 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant imbedded 30 30 2.06 1.64 0.21 -0.30 0.73
Zhang 1996 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant imbedded 30 30 2.02 1.70 0.14 -0.37 0.66
Lee & Mason (1) 1999 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant not imbedded 20 20 0.45 0.34 0.11 -0.53 0.75
Lee & Mason (1) 1999 mixed manipulated durable magazine irrelevant not imbedded 20 20 0.29 0.50 -0.27 -0.92 0.37
Lee & Mason (2) 1999 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant not imbedded 20 20 0.72 0.66 0.04 -0.60 0.68
Lee & Mason (2) 1999 mixed manipulated durable magazine irrelevant not imbedded 20 20 0.55 0.76 -0.13 -0.78 0.51
Meta-analysis : mixed effects regression model
Combined effect size 0.06 -0.14 0.27
Significance of the
characteristics of the studies on
the effect size N/A NS NS NS NS NS

Cognitive responses toward the brand

Cognitive responses toward the brand have also been studied by a number of authors and have

therefore been analyzed, as shown in Table 3.

Table 3: Cognitive Responses toward the Brand

Sample size Mean 95% C. I.


Year of Measure of No No Effect size Lower Upper
Author(s) Gender Product Media Humor Imbeddedness Humor Humor
publication humor humor humor bound bound
Duncan & Nelson 1985 male measured frequ radio relevant imbedded 23 21 29.40 27.40 0.26 -0.36 0.87
Smith 1993 mixed measured durable magazine relevant imbedded 34 34 1.85 2.46 -0.46 -0.95 0.03
Lee & Mason (1) 1999 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant not imbedded 20 20 0.20 0.22 -0.03 -0.67 0.61
Lee & Mason (1) 1999 mixed manipulated durable magazine irrelevant not imbedded 20 20 0.14 0.21 -0.10 -0.74 0.54
Lee & Mason (2) 1999 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant not imbedded 20 20 0.56 0.50 0.05 -0.59 0.69
Lee & Mason (2) 1999 mixed manipulated durable magazine irrelevant not imbedded 20 20 0.31 0.79 -0.31 -0.95 0.34
Meta-analysis : mixed effects regression model
Combined effect size -0.13 -0.44 0.19
Significance of the
characteristics of the studies on
the effect size NS NS NS NS NS NS

Four effect sizes are negative and two are positive, but they are all small and none of them are

statistically significant because all the 95% confidence intervals include zero. Hence, the hypothesis of

homogeneity of the effect of humorous ads for cognitive responses toward the brand across studies is

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not rejected (p=0.530), the combined effect size is not statistically significant and none of the study

characteristics tested in the regression models was statistically related to the effect size.

Affective Measures

Attitude toward the ad

Table 4 presents the results of the meta-analysis of attitude toward the ad. Attitude toward the ad was

higher for humorous ads in 14 studies or subgroups within studies (seven of them were statistically

significant at the 5% level) and lower in six others (none of the negative effect sizes was statistically

significant at the 5% level). Overall, the estimated combined effect size for attitude toward the ad was

positive at 0.44 and statistically different from zero (95% C.I. for the combined effect size is 0.16 to

0.73). Hence, humorous ads were more favorably received by the audience compared to non humorous

ads.

Table 4: Attitude toward the Ad

Sample size Mean 95% C. I.


Year of Measure of No No Effect size Lower Upper
Author(s) Gender Product Media Humor Imbeddedness Humor Humor
publication humor humor humor bound bound
Sutherland & Middleton 1983 male manipulated durable magazine relevant not imbedded 66 41 11.36 9.14 0.17 -0.23 0.56
Lammers et al. 1983 male manipulated frequ radio relevant not imbedded 19 19 4.94 4.14 0.64 -0.03 1.32
Lammers et al. 1983 female manipulated frequ radio relevant not imbedded 13 13 4.06 4.70 -0.51 -1.34 0.31
Duncan & Nelson 1985 male measured frequ radio relevant imbedded 23 21 15.70 6.30 1.65 0.94 2.36
Sutherland & Sethu 1987 mixed manipulated durable TV relevant not imbedded 42 42 -3.46 -0.69 -0.28 -0.72 0.15
Wu, Crocker & Rogers 1989 mixed manipulated frequ magazine mv not imbedded 90 90 3.88 3.97 -0.07 -0.37 0.22
Wu, Crocker & Rogers 1989 mixed manipulated durable magazine mv not imbedded 90 90 4.01 3.80 0.17 -0.13 0.46
Chattopadhyay & Basu 1990 mixed manipulated frequ TV irrelevant imbedded 20 20 1.94 0.40 0.69 0.03 1.36
Chattopadhyay & Basu 1990 mixed manipulated frequ TV irrelevant imbedded 20 20 0.63 0.98 -0.16 -0.80 0.48
Smith 1993 mixed measured durable magazine relevant imbedded 34 34 6.84 5.09 1.04 0.52 1.55
Zhang 1996 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant imbedded 30 30 0.71 -0.57 1.28 0.71 1.85
Zhang 1996 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant imbedded 30 30 0.68 -0.96 1.65 1.05 2.26
Zhang 1996 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant imbedded 30 30 0.30 0.11 0.19 -0.33 0.71
Zhang 1996 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant imbedded 30 30 -0.51 -1.00 0.47 -0.05 0.99
Cline & Kellaris 1999 mixed manipulated frequ magazine relevant not imbedded 31 29 3.72 4.58 -0.42 -0.94 0.10
Cline & Kellaris 1999 mixed manipulated frequ magazine relevant not imbedded 32 30 4.93 4.06 0.39 -0.12 0.90
Lee & Mason (1) 1999 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant not imbedded 20 20 4.88 4.74 0.14 -0.50 0.78
Lee & Mason (1) 1999 mixed manipulated durable magazine irrelevant not imbedded 20 20 3.78 2.54 1.31 0.60 2.02
Lee & Mason (2) 1999 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant not imbedded 20 20 4.37 4.54 -0.19 -0.83 0.45
Lee & Mason (2) 1999 mixed manipulated durable magazine irrelevant not imbedded 20 20 3.75 2.66 1.10 0.41 1.79
Meta-analysis : mixed effects regression model
Combined effect size 0.44 0.16 0.73
Significance of the
characteristics of the studies on
the effect size NS 0.034 NS NS NS 0.013

The hypothesis of homogeneity of the effect size across studies was rejected (p < 0.001). The separate

regression analyses showed that the measure of humor is significantly related to the effect size

(p=0.034); more specifically, the effects on attitude toward the ad are more important when measured

humor is considered in the studies rather than manipulated humor. Furthermore, the results show that

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considering whether the ad is imbedded in a media program, also explains variances in results

(p=0.013); imbedded ads produced higher attitudes on average.

Attitude toward the brand

Attitude toward the brand was higher for humorous ads in 12 studies or subgroups within studies

(seven of them were statistically significant at the 5% level) and lower in four others (one of the

negative effect sizes was statistically significant at the 5% level). Again, the estimated combined effect

size for attitude toward the brand was positive at 0.39 and statistically different from zero (95% C.I.

for the combined effect size is 0.09 to 0.71), indicating that attitude toward the brand for humorous ads

are stronger than those for non humorous ads.

Table 5: Attitude toward the Brand

Sample size Mean 95% C. I.


Year of Measure of No No Effect size Lower Upper
Author(s) Gender Product Media Humor Imbeddedness Humor Humor
publication humor humor humor bound bound
Duncan & Nelson 1985 male measured frequ radio relevant imbedded 23 21 14.10 10.30 0.72 0.09 1.35
Wu, Crocker & Rogers 1989 mixed manipulated frequ magazine mv not imbedded 90 90 3.86 4.07 -0.16 -0.45 0.14
Wu, Crocker & Rogers 1989 mixed manipulated durable magazine mv not imbedded 90 90 4.10 3.84 0.20 -0.10 0.49
Chattopadhyay & Basu 1990 mixed manipulated frequ TV irrelevant imbedded 20 20 2.44 1.47 0.69 0.03 1.36
Chattopadhyay & Basu 1990 mixed manipulated frequ TV irrelevant imbedded 20 20 0.33 1.94 -0.91 -1.59 -0.24
Smith 1993 mixed measured durable magazine relevant imbedded 34 34 7.25 5.90 0.87 0.36 1.38
Zhang 1996 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant imbedded 30 30 0.82 -0.27 1.46 0.87 2.05
Zhang 1996 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant imbedded 30 30 0.54 -0.41 0.96 0.41 1.51
Zhang 1996 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant imbedded 30 30 0.52 0.27 0.21 -0.31 0.73
Zhang 1996 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant imbedded 30 30 -0.45 -0.85 0.34 -0.18 0.86
Cline & Kellaris 1999 mixed manipulated frequ magazine relevant not imbedded 31 29 3.30 3.81 -0.41 -0.94 0.11
Cline & Kellaris 1999 mixed manipulated frequ magazine relevant not imbedded 29 30 3.85 3.38 0.41 -0.12 0.94
Lee & Mason (1) 1999 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant not imbedded 20 20 4.28 4.21 0.07 -0.57 0.71
Lee & Mason (1) 1999 mixed manipulated durable magazine irrelevant not imbedded 20 20 3.46 2.53 0.92 0.24 1.59
Lee & Mason (2) 1999 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant not imbedded 20 20 3.98 4.11 -0.16 -0.80 0.48
Lee & Mason (2) 1999 mixed manipulated durable magazine irrelevant not imbedded 20 20 3.74 2.59 1.30 0.59 2.01
Meta-analysis : mixed effects regression model
Combined effect size 0.39 0.09 0.71
Significance of the
characteristics of the studies on
the effect size NS NS 0.066 NS NS NS

The hypothesis of homogeneity of the effect size was rejected (p < 0.001) and the separate regression

analyses showed that product type was significant at the 10% level (p=0.066). In other words, Ab

tended to be higher for humorous ads when the product was a durable good. No other study

characteristics considered had a statistically significant impact on the variations of results across

studies.

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Purchase Intention

Table 6 presents the results of the meta-analysis on purchase intention. Two effect sizes were negative,

but not statistically different from zero, and six were positive with four being statistically significant,

indicating significantly higher purchase intention for humorous ads. Overall, the estimated combined

effect size for purchase intention was positive at 0.47 and statistically different from zero (95% C.I.

for the combined effect size is 0.002 to 0.94).

Table 6: Purchase Intention

Sample size Mean 95% C. I.


Year of Measure of No No Effect size Lower Upper
Author(s) Gender Product Media Humor Imbeddedness Humor Humor
publication humor humor humor bound bound
Duncan & Nelson 1985 male measured frequ radio relevant imbedded 23 21 9.70 9.40 0.09 -0.52 0.70
Chattopadhyay & Basu 1990 mixed manipulated durable TV irrelevant imbedded 20 20 3.59 1.87 1.20 0.50 1.90
Chattopadhyay & Basu 1990 mixed manipulated frequ TV irrelevant imbedded 20 20 2.67 3.73 -0.57 -1.22 0.09
Smith 1993 mixed measured durable magazine relevant imbedded 34 34 6.65 4.64 0.86 0.36 1.37
Zhang 1996 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant imbedded 30 30 0.43 -0.73 0.78 0.24 1.31
Zhang 1996 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant imbedded 30 30 0.62 -0.60 0.94 0.39 1.49
Zhang 1996 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant imbedded 30 30 0.14 0.25 -0.07 -0.59 0.45
Zhang 1996 mixed manipulated durable magazine relevant imbedded 30 30 -0.56 -1.37 0.50 -0.02 1.03
Meta-analysis : mixed effects regression model
Combined effect size 0.47 0.002 0.94
Significance of the
characteristics of the studies on
the effect size NS NS NS NS NS N/A

The hypothesis of homogeneity of the effect size was rejected (p < 0.001). All studies on purchase

intention used imbedded ads; this variable has therefore been excluded from the separate regression

analyses. While the effect sizes varied significantly, none of the study characteristics considered could

explain the heterogeneity in the results; other variables should thus be considered to explain variations

in results among studies.

Discussion and Conclusion

With the exception of attitudes and purchase intention, our results tend to disconfirm what has been

reported in previous attempts to generalize on the effects of humor in advertising. These similarities

and differences are highlighted in the following paragraphs.

We found that recall was not significantly higher for humorous ads than for non humorous ads,

thereby providing a clearer conclusion on the mixed results found in literature reviews (e.g.

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Weinberger and Gulas 1992, p.36). We can furthermore explain some variation of the heterogeneity in

results, as we found that studies in which humor was measured as opposed to those that manipulated

humor had a higher effect on recall. While gender (i.e. male samples) seems to have a positive effect

on recall of humorous ads, this variable was however confounded with the measure of humor in our

meta-analysis. Further original experimental studies are needed to elucidate the moderating effect of

gender and measure of humor on recall.

Similarly, comprehension lead to conflicting results when surveying the literature. The meta-analysis

clearly showed however an absence of effect on cognitive responses either toward the ad or the brand,

in other words, humorous ads do not tend to produce more cognitive responses than non-humorous

ads.

The meta-analysis further indicated that affective responses, attitude toward the ad and attitude toward

the brand, were significantly higher for humorous ads compared to non humorous ads. This result is

not surprising as a humorous ad tends to be viewed as distractive, original, leading to a more favorable

attitude toward the ad. It also confirms conclusions published in literature reviews. In addition, there is

some evidence that experiments using measured humor tend to produce stronger results, but this

should be taken with caution as only a limited number of studies have used measured humor rather

than manipulated humor. Similarly, when the ad was imbedded in a media, responses were stronger

than when shown individually.

As for attitude toward the brand, we showed that durable goods tend to produce stronger effects than

frequently purchased goods, which is contrary to what was expected. This counterintuitive result could

be explained by the fact that humor tends to be less expected for durable goods and may therefore

produce a stronger, positive effect.

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Finally, purchase intention was found to be significantly higher for humorous ads, however the limited

number of studies measuring this response prevented us from identifying study characteristics that

could potentially explain variations in the results.

While most of our results confirm what has been previously published, our conclusions have a

statistical validity beyond the literature review. Also, we were able to point to some study

characteristics that account for heterogeneity in results, something which previous authors have only

been able to speculate on.

Nevertheless, our study is not without limitations. Firstly, we should point to the fact that only a very

limited number of studies met our inclusion criteria, i.e., a randomized experiment and publication of

the relevant information to compute the effect size on the response variables. The small number of

studies, however, has a limited impact on the level of significance of the aggregated results; indeed, a

meta-analysis takes into consideration the sample sizes of the individual studies and combined them to

obtain a more powerful estimate of the effect. This is easily seen by noting that the width of the 95%

confidence intervals of the combined effect sizes in Tables 1 to 6 is smaller than the with of the 95%

C.I. for the individual studies. But, the small number of experimental studies included in our meta-

analysis had a more important impact on our search for moderating factors that could explain the

significant heterogeneity observed in the reported results.

Secondly, we had to make some difficult choices with respect to the measure of attitude (toward the ad

and toward the brand), as this variable has often been considered as a multidimensional variable. Only

“true” liking was considered as attitude, thereby ignoring other variables which are closely related to

the concept.

Thirdly, our study suffers from limitations inherent to any meta-analysis (or literature review, for that

matter). In particular, there is probably a publication bias in so far as mainly studies reporting some

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significant results are generally published and available, but also that some studies suffer from

methodological problems which we did not account for in the data analysis.

Clearly, this study did not consider all relevant moderating effects, in particular source credibility – a

factor which has often been considered as a determinant of advertising effectiveness – or type of

humor, because of the small number of studies and lack of objective information on these study

characteristics. These limitations should however be considered as opportunities for further research in

this field, as some questions remain unanswered.

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