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A Dual Process Model
Thomas W. Cline and James J. Kellaris ABSTRACT: This research examines contingencies that shape the effects of humorous appeals on consumers’ recall of ads, as well as the processes underlying such effects. Results of experimentation show that ads are more memorable when humor is both strong and related to the message, and this interaction is mediated by attention and mood. Stronger humor appeals also induce higher recall among individuals with a high “need for humor” (NFH).
Following the early research on humor in advertising (e.g., Duncan 1979; Speck 1987; Sternthal and Craig 1973), numerous studies have attempted to explain the relationship between humor and ad outcomes (e.g., Alden and Hoyer 1993; Alden, Mukherjee, and Hoyer 2000; Chattopadhyay and Basu 1990; Cline, Altsech, and Kellaris 2003; Krishnan and Chakravarti 2003; Lee and Mason 1999; Spotts, Weinberger, and Parsons 1997; Weinberger and Campbell 1991). Nevertheless, a lack of systematic empirical results contrasts with humor’s widespread use and an intuitive sense among advertising practitioners that humor enhances ad persuasion (Madden and Weinberger 1984). Accordingly, the goal of our research is to provide a clearer picture of humor’s role in advertising by examining important stimulus factors and personality traits that shape the effects of humorous appeals on consumers’ recall, as well as the processes underlying such effects. HUMOR AND ATTENTION Although some of what is currently known about humor’s effects on advertising response may be equivocal, a strong case can be made for humor’s impact on attention. The majority of studies conducted in industry as well as in laboratory settings bear this out. Madden and Weinberger (1982) ﬁnd that humorous magazine ads outperform nonhumorous ads on three common surrogates for attention. Weinberger et al. (1995) ﬁnd evidence that humor is directly linked to attention and recognition. Spotts, Weinberger, and Parsons (1997) show that humor enhances initial attention, aids brand recall, and holds attention. In a laboratory setting, Speck (1987) ﬁnds
Thomas W. Cline (Ph.D., University of Cincinnati) is an associate professor of marketing, Alex G. McKenna School of Business, Economics, and Government, St. Vincent College. James J. Kellaris (Ph.D., Georgia State University) is a professor of marketing, College of Business, University of Cincinnati.
that humorous ads outperform nonhumorous ads on sustained attention, even after controlling for initial attention. HUMOR STRENGTH Although some prior studies examined effects of humor’s presence (versus absence) in an ad (e.g., Lee and Mason 1999), the impact of humor should depend in part on its strength (e.g., Alden, Mukherjee, and Hoyer 2000). Our use of the term humor strength refers to the extent of humor elicitation provoked by an ad (Wyer and Collins 1992). Humor strength can be thought of as “how funny” an ad is, rather than merely referring to whether or not an ad employs humor (e.g., Elpers, Mukherjee, and Hoyer 2004). Hence, in the present research, we vary the strength of humor rather than its mere presence/absence. HUMOR RELATEDNESS Weinberger and Gulas (1992) argue that controlling for the relatedness of humor makes experimental ﬁndings unanimous in their support of humor’s positive impact on attention. In fact, the relatedness of humor to the product or message may also be a strong predictor of the success of an ad. Madden (1982) ﬁnds that a radio commercial with product-related humor is perceived as more interesting than one in which the humor is unrelated to the product. Weinberger and Campbell (1991) deﬁne related humor as being linked to the product and the fabric of the commercial. Results of their study show that related humor offers recall advantages over unrelated humor for high-involvement/feeling goods. Weinberger et al. (1995)
The authors thank Karen Machleit and Steve Posavac for their helpful comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this work. This research was supported in part by a CoB Research Fellowship at the University of Cincinnati. A portion of the work was conducted while the second author was visiting at Bond University, Queensland, Australia.
Journal of Advertising, vol. 36, no. 1 (Spring 2007), pp. 55–67. © 2007 American Academy of Advertising. All rights reserved. ISSN 0091-3367 / 2007 $9.50 + 0.00. DOI 10.2753/JOA0091-3367360104
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focus speciﬁcally on thematic relatedness and ﬁnd a positive effect for related humor. Spotts, Weinberger, and Parsons (1997) use Speck’s (1991) typology to categorize humor relatedness. They suggest that the most effective type of relatedness to use in an ad depends on the product category. Speck (1987, 1991) outlines a broad typology of humor that incorporates the relatedness of humor in an ad on three levels: (1) pragmatic, (2) thematic, and (3) structural. Pragmatic relatedness refers to the hierarchy of the humor–message relationship (i.e., humordominant or nonhumorous). Semantic (thematic) relatedness describes the relationship between the humor and the product. Structural (syntactic) relatedness refers to the syntactic placement of the humor within the ad, that is, whether the humor is meaningful to the message. In one of the few laboratory studies to address the issue of humor relatedness to brand claims, Krishnan and Chakravarti (2003) draw on Alba, Hutchison, and Lynch (1991) and Meyers-Levy (1991) to deﬁne humor relevance as the degree of pertinence of the execution to the brand claims. This deﬁnition dovetails with Heckler and Childers’s (1992) conceptualization of relevancy as material pertaining directly to the meaning of the primary message (e.g., brand claims). Krishnan and Chakravarti (2003) demonstrate that the relevancy of humor to the brand claims can positively inﬂuence memory for brand claims. They argue that humorous executions strongly linked to some or all other ad components (e.g., brand claims) produce facilitation effects. Kellaris, Cox, and Cox (1993) provide a conceptual framework for understanding humor’s attention-gaining value on advertising outcomes. They ﬁnd that attention-gaining background music enhances message reception when the music evokes message-congruent (as opposed to incongruent) thoughts. By analogy, humor may operate similarly. Kellaris, Cox, and Cox’s (1993) notion of congruity corresponds with Heckler and Childers’s (1992) concept of relevancy. Thus, it seems likely that humor’s attention-gaining mechanisms (i.e., humor strength) translate into positive effects for recall, so long as the humor is linked to the brand claims. In contrast, incidental humor (i.e., humor that is unrelated to the brand claims) could actually inhibit brand-claims recall. In the latter case, all that is recalled is the funny part of the ad. In summary of our expectations, we anticipate that humor–message relatedness will moderate the inﬂuence of humor strength such that: H1: The impact of humor strength on message claims recall will be more positive when humor–message relatedness is high than when it is low. H2: The joint impact of humor strength and humor–message relatedness on message claims recall will be mediated by attention to the ad.
MEDIATING ROLE OF MOOD Research shows that a positive mood can facilitate recall (Isen 1987) and lead to greater receptiveness to persuasive communications (Galizio and Hendrick 1972). Bower and colleagues (Bower, Gilligan, and Monteiro 1981) provide insight into the processes through which mood states can bias cognitive activity. They demonstrate that people better remember material that is congruent with their mood states at the time of encoding (“mood-congruent hypothesis”). These mood-congruent memory effects are echoed in Isen (1978), who found that people in a positive mood during retrieval recalled more positive traits, whereas those in a negative mood recalled more negative traits. Isen (1989) goes beyond the notion of moodcongruent message elaboration, arguing that positive mood states may broaden cognitive organization (i.e., they encourage people to categorize a wider range of stimuli together) and, consequently, promote more integrated and ﬂexible thinking. This cognitive ﬂexibility, in turn, may enhance the processing of verbal content in an ad. Thus, it is possible that positive moods increase elaboration and subsequent recall of the message. Isen (1989) also suggests that positive affect may promote the use of heuristics or reliance on peripheral cues. Humor is an ad feature that is likely to induce good moods. Littmann (1983) cites joy as one of the principal effects of humor. Wicker et al. (1981) ﬁnd a number of emotion-related scales to be signiﬁcantly correlated with perceived funniness. Olson and Roese (1995) ﬁnd support for the contention that perceivers use their own reactions to humorous stimuli (e.g., mirth), together with information about the environment, to infer the emotion-eliciting qualities of humor. Thus, if participants express joy, they are likely to infer funniness. O’quin and Aronoff (1981) ﬁnd that humor lessens self-reported tension and increases enjoyment of a task. Smith (1993) argues that humor in an ad can act to enhance the consumer’s mood, and that this mood inﬂuences how individuals process the ad. Madden, Allen, and Twible (1988) distinguish between affective reaction and cognitive evaluation in advertising response data. They ﬁnd that a humorous ad generates signiﬁcantly more nonevaluative positive affect than its nonhumorous counterpart. Machleit and Wilson (1988) provide additional support for this affective/evaluative dichotomy; they use the term “emotional feelings” to describe nonevaluative, affective responses. In the present study, we follow Bruner and Hensel (1996, p. 435) in using the label “mood” to measure the nonevaluative affect that has been induced by an object in a person (see also Batra and Ray 1986). Our four-item, seven-point semantic differential scale is borrowed from Yi (1990). We chose the term “mood” to speciﬁcally avoid evaluative connotations associated with “affect.” To the extent that humor is related to the ad, it may be important to understanding the brand claims. Thus, related
humor, which induces positive mood states, may facilitate brand claims recall via systematic, or central route processing (Cline, Altsech, and Kellaris 2003). In summary, we anticipate that H3: The joint impact of humor strength and humor–message relatedness on message claims recall will be mediated by mood. INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN NEED FOR HUMOR Individual differences are likely to affect consumers’ receptivity to humorous stimuli (Zhang 1996). Failure to account for such differences may help explain differences in past studies (Duncan and Nelson 1985; Duncan, Nelson, and Frontczak 1984). Gelb and Zinkhan (1985) point out that because what is funny to one person may not be to another, individual differences in perceptions of humor should be considered. More recently, Elpers, Mukherjee, and Hoyer (2004) performed a moment-to-moment analysis of humor in television advertising, demonstrating that moment-to-moment surprise and humor drive individual perceptions of humor. We propose that need for humor (NFH) should capture important individual differences that shape responses to humor. NFH is a personality trait that refers to one’s tendency to generate and seek out humor (Cline, Machleit, and Kellaris 1998). We expect NFH to moderate the effects of humor strength on ad memorability. Based on differential motivation to process humorous stimuli, individuals high in NFH are expected to “seek out” and attend to humorous stimuli more readily than those who are low in NFH. Thus, highNFH individuals should be prone to recognize and respond to different levels of humor in an ad. In contrast, people low in NFH are less likely to acknowledge or respond to humor of any strength (Dixon et al. 1989). Analogous to “need for cognition,” NFH should distinguish individuals inclined to process ad information based on the humor in the ad from those likely to process ads primarily on the basis of nonhumorous elements. Therefore, NFH should moderate the effects of humor strength such that: H4: The impact of humor strength on message claims recall will be signiﬁcantly more positive among individuals with high levels of NFH than among those with low levels of NFH. STUDY Overview The goals of this study are to test the hypotheses that (1) humor’s strength interacts with humor–message relatedness to inﬂuence claims recall, (2) attention and positive mood generated by hu-
mor mediate the impact of humor’s relatedness on recall of message claims, and (3) individual differences in NFH moderate the inﬂuence of humor strength on claims recall. Thus, an experiment crosses humor strength (lower versus higher), humor–message relatedness (lower versus higher), and NFH (higher versus lower) in a 2 × 2 × 2 between-subjects factorial design with a no-humor control condition. We manipulate humor strength and humor–message relatedness and measure NFH. The primary dependent variable is message claims recall. Participants Two hundred ﬁfty-three students enrolled in upper-level undergraduate marketing courses at a large, Midwestern university participated in the study for course credit. Ages ranged from 18 to 48 (median = 21); 51% were female. Participants completed the experiment independently during a single session and received academic credit for participating. Stimulus Materials and Pretests Humor Strength To manipulate humor strength, we developed three versions of a simulated print ad (higher humor strength, lower humor strength, and no humor control). A format was patterned after prior research using print ads (e.g., Arias-Bolzmann, Chakraborty, and Mowen 2000; Cline, Altsech, and Kellaris 2003; Edell and Staelin 1983; Heckler and Childers 1992; Houston, Childers, and Heckler 1987; Krishnan and Chakravarti 2003). Each ad contained a brand name, a headline, a product picture, two cartoon ﬁgures, brand claims, and a tag line. Following Krishnan and Chakravarti (2003), the headline was used as the primary manipulation of humor strength. Following Lee and Mason (1999), cartoon illustrations reinforced the humor manipulation. The size, position, and fundamental meaning of the cartoon ﬁgures were held constant across conditions. An extensive program of pretesting was conducted to select the product category, brand name, and brand claims, and to test the humor-strength manipulation. The ﬁrst two pretests (n = 54) asked participants to rate products on two separate dimensions: personal relevancy and humor expectancy. Based on midscale ratings for both humor-expectancy rating (M = 4.28 on a seven-point scale) and personal relevancy (M = 3.94 on a seven-point scale), coffee was selected as the product category. Coffee is representative of a low-risk, convenience product category in which the use of humor is both frequent and believed to be effective. Weinberger and Campbell (1991) ﬁnd the incidence of ad humor to be highest in the low involvement/feeling cell of the FCB (Foote, Cone, and Belding) Matrix, a cell made up of “personal pleasures,” including coffee
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(Vaughn 1980, 1986). In addition, Weinberger et al. (1995) ﬁnd that the category comprising coffee in their Product Color Matrix had the highest incidence of humor for magazine ads and uniformly positive humor effects on three Starch scores: “Noted” (initial attention), “Seen-Associated” (aided-brand recall), and “Read Most” (held attention). To control for prior knowledge and familiarity, little-known brand names for coffee were selected from a sample of 50 actual coffee-producing ﬁrms. A third pretest (n = 42) was conducted to identify unfamiliar brand names that were neutral with respect to their “signaling” of humor. Participants rated 12 brand names for humor expectancy on seven-point scales. Because students rated the Wachusett brand name relatively low on humor expectancy (M = 2.91 on a seven-point scale), and because no participant recognized the name Wachusett, it was selected as the coffee brand name. Hundreds of real brand claims were also sampled from coffee advertisements on the Internet. A subset of these claims was chosen on the basis of a fourth pretest (n = 31), which asked students to rate the appropriateness of each claim to the product category. For each condition of humor strength, a “one-liner” was created to constitute the headline. One-liners are a form of comic wit used frequently in humorous ads (Speck 1987, 1991). One-liners were chosen over more involved jokes to keep the headlines simple. Also, one-liners (e.g., puns) involve an incongruity-resolution process (versus arousal-safety or disparagement processes). Using this humor process is consistent with Wyer and Collins’s (1992) theory of humor elicitation. Finally, Spotts, Weinberger, and Parsons (1997) ﬁnd that more than 80% of humorous magazine ads use incongruity (the humor process comprising comic wit). Manipulating humor strength in the form of one-liners (similar to Cline, Altsech, and Kellaris 2003; Krishnan and Chakravarti 2003) affords the best opportunity to control for potential confounds such as humor process, length, complexity, and evoked emotions (Lammers et al. 1983). A ﬁnal pretest (n = 75) evaluated perceived humor for each of the three humor-strength conditions using completed versions of the mock-up ads in a between-subjects test. The results indicate that the treatments were perceived as differentially humorous, F(1, 74) = 8.53, p < .001. In addition, the lower humor strength ad (M = 3.33 on a seven-point scale) was perceived as more humorous than the no-humor control ad (M = 2.62 on a seven-point scale), t = 1.85, df = 51, p < .036 (one-tailed), and the higher humor strength ad (M = 4.36 on a seven-point scale) was perceived as more humorous than the lower humor strength ad (M = 3.33 on a seven-point scale), t = 2.07, df = 43, p < .023 (one-tailed). Humor–Message Relatedness To manipulate humor–message relatedness, the tag line and claims either refer speciﬁcally to or do not refer to the humor
in the headline. Speck (1987, 1991) identiﬁes three underlying humor dimensions: (1) incongruity-resolution—level of respondent surprise, (2) dispositional humor—identiﬁcation with or detachment from the humor’s victim, and (3) arousal-safety—the degree of effected relief. Speck describes ﬁve combinational humor types: (1) comic wit—incongruity-resolution humor; (2) sentimental humor—arousal-safety; (3) satire—incongruity-resolution and dispositional humor; (4) sentimental comedy—incongruityresolution arousal-safety humor; and (5) full comedy—incongruity-resolution, dispositional, and arousal-safety humor. Speck uses semiotic theory to deﬁne three levels of humor–message relatedness: (1) pragmatic—is the ad fundamentally humorous (humor-dominant) or generally nonhumorous? (2) semantic—the thematic relationship of the humor and the message, that is, is the humor related to the product, its use, its name, or its beneﬁts? (3) syntactic—the structural relationship between the humor and the message, that is, is the message separate from or part of the joke work? Finally, Speck draws on the ELM (Elaboration Likelihood Model) to describe three fundamental processing strategies: (1) central route—issue-relevant thinking, (2) peripheral route—nonissue-relevant thinking, and (3) humor-dominant—a special case of peripheral processing where the message is generally structured as a joke. Taken together, Speck’s taxonomy allows for 20 humor-dominant ad forms—5 (humor type) × 2 (semantic relatedness) × 2 (syntactic relatedness). In the present research, we deliberately selected semantically related comic wit for all humor conditions and manipulated the structural (thematic) relatedness of the humor for the higher (versus lower) humor–message relatedness conditions. Speciﬁcally, the headline and message claims are semantically related, that is, the claims “delicate, earthy ﬂavor” and “natural, distinct ﬂavor” relate to the joke in the headline. However, only in the conditions with higher humor–message relatedness is the message syntactically (structurally) related to the humor. Here, the play on words in the headline is carried through to the tag line, and hence the loop in the joke work is closed. The efﬁcacy of the humor–message relatedness manipulation was evaluated in a pretest (n = 26). Participants rated the relatedness of the headline to the claims and tag line on a fouritem measure developed by Krishnan and Chakravarti (2003). Results indicate that the humor–message relatedness manipulation was successful for both low and high levels of humor strength. The advertising stimuli are provided in Figure 1. Measures Message claims recall was prompted by asking participants, “What major claims did the ad make? Please list as many as you can remember. What other details about the ad do you recall?” Participants’ recall of the message claims was computed on the basis of a set of a priori rules. Two independent raters, blind to the purposes of the study, coded the claims
FIGURE 1 Experimental Stimuli
Humor Strength Lower/Humor–Message Relatedness Lower
Humor Strength Lower/Humor–Message Relatedness Higher
Humor Strength Higher/Humor–Message Relatedness Lower
Humor Strength Higher/Humor–Message Relatedness Higher
recall measure; disparities were resolved via discussion. Because the interrater agreement (90.9%) and the correlation between the two rater’s scores (r = .935; n = 253, p < .001) were both high, the two scores were averaged to form a claims recall index, which served as the dependent measure. The proposed mediator, attention to the ad, was measured by a three-item, seven-point Likert-type scale intended to determine the amount of attention devoted to the written message in the ad (Muehling, Stoltman, and Grossbart 1990). The proposed
mediator, mood, was measured by a four-item, seven-point semantic differential scale developed to measure the feeling that has been induced in a person by an object (Yi 1990). In addition, cognitive responses (e.g., humor comprehension and elaboration) were assessed via a thought protocol task (e.g., Madden, Allen, and Twible 1988). NFH was measured using a scale developed by Cline, Altsech, and Kellaris (2003). Construct validity for the NFH scale was assessed following the procedures recommended by
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Gerbing and Anderson (1988). A median split was used to separate the sample into low and high groups for each dimension (e.g., Srull, Lichtenstein, and Rothbart 1985). A manipulation check for humor strength asked participants to record their reactions to the ad on a six-item, seven-point semantic differential scale (humorous/not humorous, funny/not funny, amusing/not amusing, playful/not playful, not dull/dull, and not boring/boring) adapted from Alden, Mukherjee, and Hoyer (2000) and Chattopadhyay and Basu (1990). Furthermore, because asking individuals whether they perceive a message to be funny or amusing might vary signiﬁcantly between individuals, a second measure was employed. Using a one-item, seven-point semantic differential scale, participants were asked to what extent the advertiser was attempting to be humorous (i.e., a more objective measure of humor). This scale is suggested by Duncan and Nelson (1985). A manipulation check for humor–message relatedness asked participants to record their reactions to the ad on a four-item scale (related well/related poorly, were consistent/were inconsistent, ﬁt well/ﬁt poorly, corresponded well/corresponded poorly) taken from Krishnan and Chakravarti (2003). Finally, questions assessing argument strength, product familiarity, and brand familiarity were included as confounding checks. Procedure Participants were told that the study was concerned with their reactions to a magazine advertisement prototype. Each participant received a questionnaire booklet containing a stimulus ad. After about 10 minutes, participants were asked to place the questionnaire on the ﬂoor and continue with a ﬁller task (e.g., Heckler and Childers 1992) to clear their short-term memories. Subsequently, message claims recall was assessed via a second questionnaire, which also contained manipulation and confounding checks, as well as a ﬁnal question pertaining to the purpose of the study. At the conclusion of the study, participants were debriefed. RESULTS Manipulation and Confounding Checks Humor Strength Both subjective and objective measures of humor were used to verify the effectiveness of the humor manipulation. Two-factor analyses of variance (ANOVAs) were performed on (1) a sixitem measure of perceived humor (Cronbach’s α = .971) and (2) a one-item measure of attempted humor with the humor strength and humor–message relatedness as the factors. Only the anticipated main effect for humor was signiﬁcant for both perceived humor, F(1, 211) = 19.38, p < .001, ω2 = .080, and
attempted humor, F(1, 211) = 35.25, p < .001, ω2 = .139. No other main or interactive effects were observed. In addition, one-way ANOVAs with post hoc multiple comparisons indicate that the three levels of humor (control, lower humor, and higher humor) were perceived as differentially humorous and received signiﬁcantly different ratings for attempted humor (p < .001). Humor–Message Relatedness A two-factor ANOVA was performed on the perceived humor–message relatedness dependent variable with manipulated levels of humor and humor–message relatedness as the factors. Results indicated a signiﬁcant main effect for perceived humor–message relatedness, F(1, 205) = 63.62, p < .001, ω2 = .231, and a nonsigniﬁcant main effect for humor, F(1, 205) = .236, p = .628. Measures assessing claim strength, product familiarity, and brand familiarity were included as confounding checks. The data were analyzed in a series of ANOVAs with manipulations of humor strength and humor–message relatedness as the factors. Claim strength was not confounded with humor strength, F(1, 205) = .096, p = .901, humor–message relatedness, F(1, 205) = .093, p = .760, or the interaction of humor strength and humor–message relatedness, F(1, 205) = 2.35, p = .127. Similarly, product familiarity was not confounded with the manipulations or their interaction (all p values >.513). Brand familiarity was not confounded with the manipulations or their interaction (all p values >.554). In summary, results suggest that the stimulus ads manipulated the humor and relatedness constructs successfully and independently, and the treatments were not confounded with other traits likely to provide alternative explanations. The Impact of Humor Strength and Humor–Message Relatedness on Recall H1 proposed that claims recall would be more positively inﬂuenced by humor strength when humor–message relatedness is high than when it is low. ANOVA shows a main effect of humor–message relatedness, F(1, 211) = 6.25, p = .013, ω2 = .024, with higher humor–message relatedness (M = 1.45) engendering greater claims recall than lower humor–message relatedness (M = 1.08), t = 2.51, df = 190, p = .031. An interaction between humor strength and humor–message relatedness was also observed, F(1, 211) = 4.34, p = .038, ω2 = .02. When humor strength is higher (versus lower) people recall more ad claims under conditions of higher (M = 1.66) versus lower humor–message relatedness (M = .01), t = 3.26, df = 101, p = .001 (one-tailed). Thus, H1 is supported. In addition, when humor–message relatedness is higher (versus lower) people recall more ad claims under
FIGURE 2 Humor Strength × Humor–Message Relevancy on Recall
TABLE 1 Descriptive Statistics
Claims recall Mean Low humor Low humor–message relatedness High humor–message relatedness Total High humor Low humor–message relatedness High humor–message relatedness Total Total Low humor–message relatedness High humor–message relatedness Total 1.156 1.204 1.179 1.009 1.661 1.341 1.082 1.448 1.263 n 52 50 102 54 56 110 107 105 212
Mood H3 predicted that the joint impact of humor strength and humor–message relatedness on ad claims recall would be mediated by mood. Results from H2 indicate that the independent variable, humor strength × humor–message relatedness, is positively correlated with the dependent variable, claims recall. Second, the independent variable is positively correlated with the proposed mediator, mood, r = .548, p < .001. Third, mood is positively correlated with claims recall, r = .216, p = .001. Finally, when the dependent variable is regressed on both the independent and mediator variables, the relationship between the independent variable and the dependent variable becomes nonsigniﬁcant (β = .018, t = .244, p = .808), suggesting full mediation and support for H3. Concurrent Tests of Mediation To explain further the process by which mood mediates the joint effects of humor strength and humor–message relatedness on claims recall, additional analyses were conducted. Independent support for H2 and H3 suggests that both attention to the ad and mood may mediate the joint impact of humor strength and humor–message relatedness on claims recall. What is not clear from the separate analyses, however, is the nature of the relationship between attention and mood. Thus, the dependent variable, claims recall, was regressed on both mediators (attention and mood) and the independent factor (humor strength × humor–message relatedness). Results of this model indicate that mood accounts for most of the variance in claims recall. In addition, the results imply that mood jointly mediates the relationship between attention and recall, as well as the relationship between the independent variable and recall. Speciﬁcally, the coefﬁcient for mood is signiﬁcant,
conditions of higher (M = 1.66) versus lower humor strength (M = 1.20), t = 1.95, df = 103, p = .028 (one-tailed). The higher humor strength/high humor–message relatedness condition (M = 1.66) produces greater recall than the control group (M = 1.24), t = 1.85, df = 95, p = .034 (one-tailed). Claims recall for the control group does not differ signiﬁcantly from any other treatment condition. Figure 2 illustrates the interaction. Table 1 provides descriptive statistics, and Table 2 provides the ANOVA. Attention and Mood as Mediators Attention To test the hypothesis that the joint impact of humor strength and humor–message relatedness on claims recall is mediated by attention to the ad (H2), we used a procedure similar to that described by Sobel (1982). First, the multiplicative independent variable, humor strength × humor–message relatedness, is positively correlated with the dependent variable, claims recall, r = .131, p = .038. Second, the independent variable is positively correlated with the proposed mediator, attention to the ad (r = .200, p = .001). Third, the mediator is positively correlated with the brand claims recall dependent variable, r = .147, p = .019. Finally, when the dependent variable, claims recall, is regressed on both the mediator (attention to the ad) and the independent variable (humor strength × humor–message relatedness), the relationship between the independent variable and the dependent variable attenuates (β = .108, t = 1.69, p = .092), thereby providing support for a partial mediation model and for H2.
The Journal of Advertising TABLE 2 Claims Recall: Humor Strength × Humor–Message Relatedness
Experimental method Sum of squares df 2.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 3.00 208.00 211 Mean square 4.15 1.22 6.92 4.81 4.37 1.11 1.15 F 3.75 1.10 6.25 4.34 3.95 Signiﬁcance .03 .30 .01 .04 .01
Main effects Combined Humor strength Humor–message relatedness Two-way interactions Humor strength × humor–message relatedness Model Residual Total Note: ANOVA = analysis of variance.
8.31 1.22 6.92 4.81 13.12 230.16 243.28
βmood = .186, t = 2.48, p = .014, whereas the coefﬁcients for humor strength × humor–message relatedness and attention are both nonsigniﬁcant, βhum×rel = .012, t = .161, p = .872, βattention = .084, t = 1.20, p = .194. Next, we examined the possibility that mood may operate through elaboration. The correlation between mood and total thoughts generated from the ad is nonsigniﬁcant, however, r = –.027, p = .672. Therefore, mood is unlikely to produce effects on message claims recall via elaboration. Moreover, in a separate model, when claims recall was regressed on both mood and elaboration, both predictors produced signiﬁcant coefﬁcients and offered no indications of collinearity (βmood = .220, t = 3.62, p < .001; βelaboration = .166, t = 2.72, p = .007). This suggests that mood and elaboration may work independently to affect claims recall. Finally, elaboration was tested as a mediator to the relationship between attention to the ad and claims recall. Pairwise correlations among elaboration, attention, and claims recall are signiﬁcant, rattention, recall = .137 (p = .030), rattention, elaboration = .255 (p < .001), relaboration, recall = .160 (p < .011). When claims recall is regressed on both attention and elaboration, however, the association between attention and claims recall becomes nonsigniﬁcant (β = .103, t = 1.60, p = .111). This suggests that elaboration mediates the relationship between attention and claims recall. In summary of these ﬁndings, it appears that whereas mood and elaboration produce independent effects on claims recall, attention works through both mood and elaboration to inﬂuence claims recall. In both cases, the interaction of humor strength and humor–message relatedness is likely to stimulate the process. To test these relationships in a nomological network, a path model with reliabilities (Figure 3) was developed. The humor strength × humor–message relatedness served as the exogenous variable and attention, mood, elaboration, and claims recall were speciﬁed as endogenous variables. To test the interaction hypothesis, we used the methodology
proposed by Ping (1996). The anticipated link between humor strength × humor–message relatedness and mood is observed (γ21 = .054, t = 9.95, df = 3, p < .01), and a signiﬁcant link between humor strength × humor–message relatedness and attention is observed (γ11 = .026, t = 3.11, df = 3, p < .05). In addition, attention appears to inﬂuence mood (β21 = .151, t = 3.33, df = 3, p < .05) and elaboration (β31 = .377, t = 4.54, df = 3, p < .01). In contrast, mood is not signiﬁcantly related to elaboration (β32 = –.195, t = 1.83, df = 3, n.s.). Finally, mood positively inﬂuences claims recall (β42 = .256, t = 3.62, df = 3, p < .05) and elaboration positively inﬂuences claims recall (β43 = .117, t = 2.47, df = 3, p < .05). In addition to validating the proposed nomological network, the model ﬁt the data exceptionally well. The χ2 value was not signiﬁcant (χ2 = .51, df = 3, p = .92). Furthermore, the goodness-of-ﬁt index (GFI = .99), the adjusted goodnessof-ﬁt index (AGFI = .98), and the root mean square residual (RMSR = .062) provide evidence that the model ﬁt the data well. No standardized residuals fell outside the range of –1.0 to 1.0. Thus, the path model appears to explain the relationships between the interaction of humor strength and humor–message relatedness, attention to the ad, mood, elaboration generated from the ad, and message claims recall. Humor strength and humor–message relatedness inﬂuence claims recall via a dual process—attention and mood. Moreover, mood mediates—both directly and indirectly—the joint effects of humor strength and humor–message relatedness on claims recall. In contrast, attention appears to work through mood and elaboration to inﬂuence claims recall. NFH as a Moderator H4 predicted that NFH would moderate the impact of humor strength such that its effects on claims recall would be more positive for people with higher levels of NFH than for people
FIGURE 3 Path Model with Reliabilities
* p < .05. ** p < .01.
with lower levels of NFH.. An ANOVA was performed on claims recall, with humor strength and NFH as the factors. The anticipated interaction between humor strength and NFH was observed, F(1, 195) = 4.37, p = .038, ω2 = .02. The results indicate that when humor strength is higher (versus lower), those higher in NFH recalled more ad claims (M = 1.59) than those lower in NFH (M = 1.07), t = 2.48, df = 97, p = .008 (one-tailed). Thus, H4 is supported. Figure 4 illustrates this interaction. Table 3 provides descriptive statistics, and Table 4 provides the ANOVA. Discussion As anticipated, the data demonstrate that humor’s attentiongaining mechanisms (i.e., humor strength) may translate into positive effects for memory. Speciﬁcally, it appears that humor strength and humor–message relatedness jointly inﬂuence participants’ recall of advertising claims. The results show that when humor strength is higher (versus lower), participants recall more ad claims when the humor is relevant to the claims. The data also show that when the humor is related to the message, participants recall more advertising claims when humor strength is higher than when it is lower. When the humor is both stronger and related to the message, the humorous ad outperforms the control ad with respect to message claims recall. These results are important because they
bring into clearer relief the value of using strong, relevant humor, as opposed to stronger, incidental humor. It appears that strong humor is not its own virtue; it must be connected to the brand claims to facilitate recall. In contrast, weaker humor, whether related to the message or not, does not aid brand claims recall. The data also provide additional insight into person-bysituation inﬂuences on advertising responses. For example, an individual’s tendency to generate humor (NFH) appears to moderate humor strength effects such that the impact of humor strength on claims recall is signiﬁcantly more positive for people with high levels of NFH than for people with low levels of NFH. When humor strength is higher (versus lower), individuals higher in NFH recall more ad claims than those lower in NFH. In addition, those higher (versus lower) in NFH recall more ad claims when humor strength is higher than when it is lower. The data also support the notion that attention and mood operate via dual processes to mediate the joint impact of humor strength and humor–message relatedness on claims recall. Having ﬁrst established the importance of strong, structurally related humor, this dual process model helps explain why the strong, relevant humor leads to higher brand claims recall. These results are interesting because they suggest that humor may trigger both cognitive (attention) and affective (mood) routes to memorability.
The Journal of Advertising TABLE 3 Descriptive Statistics
Recall Mean Low humor Lower NFH Higher NFH Total High humor Lower NFH Higher NFH Total Total Lower NFH Higher NFH Total Note: NFH = need for humor. 1.21 1.10 1.16 1.07 1.59 1.34 1.14 1.38 1.25 n 49 48 97 48 51 99 104 92 196
FIGURE 4 Humor Strength × NFH (Need for Humor) on Recall
GENERAL DISCUSSION The goal of this research was to test the generative mechanisms by which humor–message relatedness inﬂuences brand claims recall. In addition, we introduced the personality variable “need for humor” (NFH) as a moderator of humor’s effects on advertising recall and investigated the mediating roles of attention, mood, and elaboration in a nomological network. This research makes a number of theoretical contributions. First, by examining the joint effects of humor strength and humor–message relatedness on advertising recall, this research provides evidence that message-relevant stimuli may produce consistent effects across various attention-gaining contexts. For example, the ﬁndings suggest that humor–message relatedness interacts with humor’s attention-gaining properties in a manner that is analogous to the interaction between music–message congruity and music’s attention-gaining properties (Kellaris, Cox, and Cox 1993). Thus, the present research provides a foundation for suggesting that attention-gaining message appeals, in general, may engender better recall when they are structurally related to the message theme. Second, by examining the psychological mechanisms that underlie consumer responses to humorous stimuli (e.g., attention, mood, and elaboration), as well as the theoretical principles that activate these mechanisms (i.e., humor–message relatedness), this research leads to better explanations for why humorous effects obtain or fail to obtain. Attention and mood, for example, are shown as dual mediators of the impact of humor strength and humor–message relatedness on recall for the message claims. Third, NFH, like other individual difference variables, explains an additional source of variation in advertising outcomes through its role as a moderator. The NFH construct broadens
our knowledge of the consumer’s sense of humor in general, and under what conditions it inﬂuences responses to humorous communication. The incremental contributions of the present research are twofold. First, whereas prior research has shown a positive relationship between humor and attention, and between related humor and recall, previous studies have not explicitly investigated the joint interplay of humor strength and humor–message relatedness. The present study speciﬁcally addresses this important interaction and ﬁnds that with respect to claims recall, neither humor strength nor humor–message relatedness is its own virtue. Relatively stronger humor must be related to the brand or message to engender higher claims recall. Second, previous research has not investigated the generative mechanisms that follow from the interplay of humor strength and humor–message relatedness. The present research speciﬁcally evaluates the inﬂuence of attention and mood in a nomological network of variables. We ﬁnd that attention and mood operate in partnership, jointly mediating the interactive effects of humor strength and humor–message relatedness on claims recall. The path model uncovers this dual process. Mood directly mediates humor’s inﬂuence on claims recall. In contrast, attention operates indirectly through both mood and elaboration to inﬂuence claims recall. Thus, both variables help explain why the interaction between humor strength and humor–message relatedness inﬂuences claims recall. The present ﬁndings also have practical implications in terms of guidelines for advertisers who use humorous ads and imply that the effects of message-congruent humor may generalize to other attention-gaining appeals, such as music or sexual attraction. On the basis of humor’s prevalence and the belief in its universal effectiveness, NFH may be useful as a
Spring 2007 TABLE 4 Recall: By Humor Strength by NFH
Experimental method Sum of squares Main effects Combined Humor strength NFH Two-way interactions Humor strength × NFH Model Residual Total Note: ANOVA = analysis of variance; NFH = need for humor. 3.74 1.14 2.27 4.82 8.57 211.93 220.50 df 2 1 1 1 3 192 195 Mean square 1.87 1.14 2.27 4.82 2.86 1.10 1.13 F 1.70 1.04 2.06 4.37 2.59
Signiﬁcance .19 .31 .15 .04 .05
segmentation tool. Clearly, advertisers cannot administer NFH scales to members of their target audiences; however, market research can identify media that draw groups of people with high levels of NFH (e.g., Mad Magazine readers and Late Show with David Letterman watchers). In addition, this information can be used to determine which product categories or brands tend to be popular with speciﬁc media users (e.g., Mad Magazine readers may tend to be heavy users of B-movies or video games). Thus, NFH may be helpful both in media selection and in targeting audiences for speciﬁc products. LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH The results of this research are necessarily qualiﬁed by the limitations of the studies’ designs, each of which suggests an opportunity for additional research. First, the experimentation used mock advertisements in a controlled setting. Thus, the extent to which the ﬁndings are limited by the artiﬁcial context and the representativeness of the ads and product is unknown. Second, both studies use comic wit, manipulated in the headline of a print ad, to convey humor that is independent of the brand name, thus limiting generality to other types of humor. This choice, however, allows for control over the format of the ads across conditions and thus avoids confounding other ad characteristics with humor (Krishnan and Chakravarti 2003). Furthermore, it enables clear identiﬁcation of the locus of effects to speciﬁc ad components (e.g., brand claims). Third, whereas all ads were designed such that the humor was related to the brand claims (i.e., thematically related), the structural relatedness of the humor was manipulated via the tag line. Thus, future research should examine the structural location of the humor in an ad. Fourth, despite extensive pretesting, it could be argued that humor is more appropriate in a broadcast medium (e.g., Alden and Hoyer 1993; Chattopadhyay and
Basu 1990) or that other humor dimensions (e.g., dispositional humor; Speck 1987, 1991) or humor structures (e.g., message-dominant/image-oriented; Spotts, Weinberger, and Parsons 1997) may be more effective in a print context. The use of incongruous humor, however, is justiﬁed on the grounds that it appears to be the most pervasive humor in magazine ads and for nondurable items such as coffee (Spotts, Weinberger, and Parsons 1997). The results of the experimentation are intuitively appealing. Each year, advertisers spend millions of dollars on humorous ads. Some contain strong, relevant messages that engender recall. Recently, several brands have generated remarkable brand awareness with strong, related humor. Geico’s gecko and Aﬂac’s duck appear to be deliberate attempts at linking the source of the humor with the brand name, and hence increasing recall. Orbit gum links its “dirty mouth” humor with its primary attribute, clean-tasting gum. Classic successes like the Eveready’s Energizer Bunny were designed to link the humor with the claims. The message is indirect but clear—like the bunny, the batteries keep going and going. In contrast, it appears that millions of dollars may be wasted on advertisements that make no connection between the humor and the claim, subsequently creating brand confusion or inhibiting recall. CONCLUSION The pervasive use of humor in advertising attests to the widespread belief that humor enhances the effectiveness of ads. The research reported here examines contingencies that shape the effects of humorous appeals on an important outcome of advertising—consumers’ recall of ad claims—as well as processes through which and boundary conditions within which such effects operate. In so doing, this research seeks to elucidate when and how humor contributes to remembering ads.
The Journal of Advertising
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