There’s a reason that U.S. advertisers spend between $20 and $60 billion dollars a year trying to make people laugh and why 73% of all Super Bowl ads use humor. As ad man Arnie DiGeorge says, “In a world of clutter, you must entertain before you educate.” Mountains of research into the use of humor in advertising suggests that humor is a very persuasive communication tool. So the next time you start an “ad campaign” in your workplace to raise awareness over the need for everyone to wash their hands, adopt certain safety practices, or quit leaving dirty dishes in the sink, consider how the use of humor might help you think outside the memo. The research suggests that humor works in advertising for several reasons, the top three being:
1. Humor Grabs Attention. The Saanich Police Department increased viewership of their police website by one third when they started using funny headlines such as, “A Mr. Bean Style Robbery” and “The Stupid Criminal of the Month Award.” In 2007, the mayor of Bogota, Columbia deployed 500 mimes on the streets to mock bad driving behaviors and encourage safer driver and pedestrian behaviors. The program was highly effective. (Just when you thought it was safe to start hating mimes again. But remember, a mime is a terrible thing to waste.)
2. Humor Distracts People in a Good Way. Numerous studies, including one in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, found that humor can be highly persuasive when presenting a message that people disagree with because the humor distracts them from immediately creating counter arguments, in part because they don’t feel like the message is being crammed down their throats.
3. Humor Increases the Likability of the Source. If a message makes you smile, chances are you’ll feel more positively about the source of the message as well. As you may recall from a 2012 issue, Johnson & Johnson scored a huge PR hit when, rather than sending out the usual mind-numbing corporate blah, blah, blah apology, they created a hilarious, customizable music video apologizing to their customers for a distribution glitch. How could anyone stay mad at someone who goes to that much trouble and uses that much humor to say they’re sorry?
Michael Kerr, 2014. Michael is a very funny motivational speaker and international business speaker who helps organization succeed by building great workplace cultures. For great ideas, inspiration and a bit of fun, sign up for Michael’s weekly e-zine.
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