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Humor in Advertising: The Moderating Role of Prior Brand Evaluation

Author(s): Amitava Chattopadhyay and Kunal Basu


Source: Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Nov., 1990), pp. 466-476
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc.
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3172631
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AMITAVA CHATTOPADHYAY and KUNAL BASU*

A consumer's prior evaluation of an advertised brand is hypothesized to moderate


the effectiveness of humor in advertising. Further, cognitive responses are hypoth-
esized as mediators of the impact of humorous ads on brand attitude. The results
support the hypothesized moderator role of prior brand evaluation: when prior
evaluation of the advertised brand is positive, a humorous ad is more effective than
its nonhumorous counterpart in changing consumer attitudes and choice behavior.
When consumers have a negative prior attitude, the opposite is true: a humorous
ad is less effective in changing consumer attitudes and choice behavior than its
nonhumorous counterpart. The results also support the conceptualization of cognitive
responses as mediators of the impact of humorous advertisements on brand attitude.

Humor in Advertising: The Moderating Role of


Prior Brand Evaluation

From its frequency of occurrence, humor appears to have failed to evoke systematic and superior persua
be a popular persuasion technique employed by adver- effects in comparison with nonhumorous ads (see D
tisers. One estimate places its usage in TV and radiocan 1979 and Speck 1987 for reviews). The lack of s
advertising as high as 42% (Markiewicz 1974). A survey tematic empirical results contrasts sharply with humo
of executives at leading ad agencies in the U.S. (Madden widespread use (e.g., Markiewicz 1974), anecdotal e
and Weinberger 1984) revealed that 90% of the respon- dence of its effectiveness (e.g., French 1988), and
dents believed humor leads to enhanced advertising ef- intuitive belief of advertising practitioners that humor
fectiveness. In addition, considerable anecdotal evidence ads enhances persuasion (e.g., Madden and Weinberg
suggests that humorous ads can be effective in selling 1984). The inconsistencies in empirical results have bee
products as diverse as wine coolers, cars, and fiberglass attributed to methodological and conceptual weakne
(e.g., French 1988). Not surprisingly, research in ad- in past research (e.g., Duncan 1979; Sternthal and Cr
vertising has investigated the impact of humorous ad- 1973).
vertisements on an array of response variables. In a methodological context, it has been pointed out
that some investigators have compared the effects of hu-
RESEARCH ON HUMOR IN ADVERTISING
morous ads with no-message controls rather than with
Though there has been considerable researchnonhumorous
on the control ad conditions (e.g., Shama and
role of humor in advertising (e.g., Duncan andCoughlin
Nelson1979). Such studies are not useful in deter-
mining whether humorous ads are more effective than
1985; Gelb and Zinkhan 1986; Madden and Weinberger
nonhumorous ads. For studies that have incorporated a
1982), the findings show that humorous advertisements
nonhumorous control ad, a common problem has been
the confounding of other ad characteristics, such as length
of the ad, with the humor manipulation (e.g., Duncan
and Nelson 1985; Lammers et al. 1983). Thus, their re-
*Amitava Chattopadhyay and Kunal Basu are Assistant Professors,
Faculty of Management, McGill University. sults cannot be uniquely attributed to the humorous treat-
The authors are indebted to Marvin E. Goldberg, Gerry Gorn, Jon
Hartwick, Rabi Kanungo, Paul Speck, and three anonymous JMR re- ment. Finally, a small set of studies report only corre-
lational
viewers for their insightful comments on previous drafts. Funding for data, that is, correlations between perceived humor
and the dependent measures (Gelb and Zinkhan 1986).
the research, provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Re-
search Council-McGill University and Social Sciences and Human-These studies do not allow an assessment of the casual
ities Research Council of Canada Grant #410-88-1203, is gratefully
role of humor in advertising.
acknowledged.
In a conceptual context, it has been suggested that re-

466

Journal of Marketing Research


Vol. XXVII (November 1990), 466-76

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HUMOR IN ADVERTISING 467

searchers need to ask when the use of humor in adver- change only under conditions that bias information pro-
cessing in an evaluatively positive direction (e.g., Lev-
tising is effective, rather than the more common question
of whether humor enhances advertising effectiveness. Theenthal and Safer 1977).
former question is more appropriate because it is unrea-
Prior Brand Evaluation
sonable to expect humorous ads to be more effective than
nonhumorous ads under all conditions (e.g., Murray A primary determinant of the evaluative directionality
1987). In many situations humor is simply inappro-of information processing is the individual's prior eval-
priate. Hence, research on humor in advertising should uation of the attitude object (e.g., Cacioppo and Petty
(1) develop a conceptual framework that seeks to explain 1979). Message recipients who have a favorable prior
how humor in advertisements affects consumers and (2),brand evaluation are likely to be more receptive to or
on the basis of the framework, systematically identify less critical of ads for that brand. Hence, their cognitive
and examine the moderating role of communication vari- elaborations are more likely to be evaluatively positive.
ables such as audience, source, message, and channelIn contrast, message recipients who have an unfavorable
characteristics to understand fully the conditions underprior brand evaluation are likely to be less receptive to
or more critical of ads for that brand and, consequently,
which a humorous advertising execution strategy may be
appropriate (e.g., Duncan 1979). We turn now to a dis-
their cognitive elaborations are more likely to be eval-
cussion of how humorous advertisements might influ- uatively negative.
ence consumer response. In a pragmatic sense as well, prior brand evaluation
is an important consumer characteristic. Consumers' prior
Effects of Humorous Advertisements on Consumer
evaluations are a popular basis for market segmentation,
Response and preference mapping is used widely to segment mar-
Though findings on the impact of humorous ads on kets on the basis of consumer preferences/evaluations
brand attitude are conflicting, convergent evidence sug- (e.g., Johnson 1981). The use of prior brand evaluation
gests that humorous ads are more attention-grabbing than to segment markets is especially important in the adver-
nonhumorous ads (Lammers et al. 1979; Madden and tising context. Advertising directly affects consumers'
Weinberger 1982; Speck 1987). This evidence is also evaluations of a brand and, not surprisingly, communi-
consistent with common wisdom in the advertising in- cation objectives are defined in part in terms of achiev-
dustry (Madden and Weinberger 1984). ing a particular level of brand evaluation in the con-
Research also suggests that enhanced attention leads sumers' minds. By defining consumer segments on the
to more extensive processing (e.g., Petty and Cacioppo basis of their current status in terms of brand evaluation,
1985). However, knowing that humorous ads are pro- we directly link each segment to the communication ob-
cessed more does not permit any direct inferences about jective that facilitates the assessment of (1) whether ad-
their impact on consumer judgments. Judgments are a vertising resources should be allocated to a particular
function of not only the amount of processing, but also segment, (2) if so, how much advertising is necessary
its evaluative implication (e.g., Chattopadhyay and Alba to meet the communication objective, and (3) what kind
1988). Hence, to understand the effects of humorous in of creative strategy would be most appropriate and ef-
comparison with nonhumorous ads on consumer judg- fective for that segment (e.g., Duncan 1979). Thus, a
ments, it is not sufficient to know that humorous ads are knowledge of consumers' prior brand evaluations has
more attention-grabbing and therefore processed more important implications for strategic advertising deci-
extensively. We also need to understand the evaluative sions.
directionality or implication of individuals' cognitive
elaborations. The Moderating Role of Prior Brand Evaluation
The issue of the evaluative directionality of individual On the basis of the preceding ideas, we propose that
responses is especially problematic in the case of hu-humorous ads are likely to have a greater persuasive im-
morous ads. With the possible exception of one-liners, pact than nonhumorous ads when the message recipient
humorous ads are more ambiguous and open to idiosyn- has a favorable prior brand evaluation. Conversely, non-
cratic interpretation than other ads (Hershkowitz 1977). humorous ads are likely to be more persuasive than hu-
This is particularly true of humorous ads that derive theirmorous ads when the message recipient has an unfavor-
humor from the "human condition"--that is, ads that areable prior brand evaluation. The work of Zillman (1983)
centered around a humorous schema, plot, or storyline in the psychological literature on humor is supportive of
drawn from common, everyday life experiences to whichour proposition.
each of us can relate. Such ads present a rich array of Our rationale for the proposition and our conceptual-
cues (e.g., Orkin 1985) with which the message recip- ization of the underlying processes are based on three
ient is able to connect spontaneously and produce a set
ideas outlined before. First, persons exposed to a hu-
of idiosyncratic cognitive responses. Because humorousmorous ad are likely to generate greater numbers of cog-
ads are more open to idiosyncratic interpretation and nitive elaborations than those exposed to a nonhumorous
elaboration, we can expect the more extensive process-ad. Second, humorous ads, especially ones that tap the
ing of humorous ads to translate into greater attitudehuman condition, are more ambiguous and open to idio-

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468 JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH, NOVEMBER 1990

syncratic interpretations than nonhumorous


H2: Consumers exposedads, thus ad produce more
to a humorous
making the evaluative directionality of ad-directed cognitive elaborations
individual cog- than those ex-
posed to a nonhumorous such
nitive elaborations more sensitive to contingencies ad.
as a message recipient's prior brandH3: evaluation.
In comparison with Third,
persons exposed to a nonhu-
morous ad,
an individual's prior brand evaluation serves to bias the
(a) when prior brand evaluation is positive, persons
evaluative directionality of an individual's cognitive
exposed to a humorous ad produce proportion-
elaborations in the direction of the prior evaluation. Con-
ately more positive cognitive elaborations to-
sidering these propositions together, it follows that
ward the ad and more
the brand and
(in number) and proportionately more (b)positive
when prior cognitive
brand evaluation is negative, persons
elaborations are likely to be generated exposed
by persons
to a humorouswho ad generate proportion-
hold a positive prior evaluation and haveatelybeen exposed
less positive cognitive elaborations toward
to a humorous ad than by those who have the ad and the brand.
been exposed
to a nonhumorous ad. Therefore, when the message re-
EXPERIMENT
cipient's prior evaluation is favorable, we expect more
positive persuasive effects from hisAn
orexperiment was conducted
her exposure to ato assess the role of pri
humorous ad. Audience members with a less favorable brand evaluation as a moderator of the effects of humor
prior brand evaluation who view a humorous ad are in
ex-advertisements on ad attitude, brand attitude, pur-
chase intent, and choice behavior. A 2 (humorous or
pected to produce more (in number) but proportionately
nonhumorous
less positive cognitive responses than those who view a ad) x 2 (positive or negative prior brand
evaluation) between-subjects factorial design was used.
nonhumorous ad. In this instance, we expect persons ex-
posed to nonhumorous ads to be more persuaded.
Subjects
HYPOTHESES Eighty subjects participated in the study. Cell sizes
ranged from 18 to 22. Participants were paid five dollars
Attitude and Choice each for their time.

Our discussion of the role of prior brand evaluation as Independent Variables


a moderator of the effectiveness of humor in advertising
leads to the following hypotheses. Humor. A pair of television commercials, one hu-
morous and the other nonhumorous, were developed for
H1: In comparison with exposure to a nonhumorous ad,the study by a professional editor. The ads were prepared
(a) when prior brand evaluation is favorable, ex- by adapting an existing humorous ad for an unfamiliar
posure to a humorous ad results in a more pos-
brand of pens. The product category of pens was chosen
itive ad attitude, brand attitude, and purchase
intent, as well as an increased likelihood of because (1) it has a wide appeal among the young adults
choosing the brand, and who were our subjects, (2) the product is relatively in-
(b) when prior brand evaluation is unfavorable, ex- expensive, enabling us to develop the choice measure,
posure to a humorous ad results in a less posi- and (3) we were able to obtain a highly effective (as
tive ad attitude, brand attitude, and purchase in- judged by a panel of professionals) humorous advertise-
tent, as well as a reduced likelihood of choosing ment for a pen that could be edited fairly simply to create
the brand. the two stimulus ads. The humorous and nonhumorous
versions of the advertisements developed for the study
Process Measures: Cognitive Responses were created to be identical in terms of (1) length of time
The discussion of the processes underlying the role of (60 seconds), (2) structure, (3) set of claims, and (4)
prior brand evaluation as a moderator of the effects oforder in which the claims were presented.
humorous advertisements suggests that (1) humorous ads Both ads are set in a fourth-grade classroom. In the
receive more extensive processing than nonhumorous ads humorous version the ad begins with a shot of the class-
and (2) because humorous ads are more ambiguous, the room and then rapidly zooms in to focus on the activities
evaluative direction of the message recipients' thoughts of a cute little boy and girl seated next to each other.
is contingent on their prior evaluation of the brand. As The boy is writing with the advertised pen. The little girl
we describe subsequently (see section on stimuli), the seated next to him wants the pen and flirts with the little
humor in the humorous version of the stimulus ad is boy by looking at him coquettishly. Turning away coyly,
achieved by using a rich set of visual executional cues. she twirls the ringlets of her hair in an effort to win him
These visual cues are not present in the nonhumorous adover and get the pen from him. Her efforts are successful
version. Additionally, the two ad versions are designed as the little boy gives her the pen. The humor is created
to be identical in terms of brand-related information. by using a familiar, everyday plot (an adult man-woman
Consequently, more extensive processing of the humor- relationship), to which we can all relate, and introducing
ous ad is expected to lead to increased cognitive re- incongruity. Specifically, the incongruity between the
sponses toward the ad rather than toward the brand. innocent, angelic-looking little girl and her overt flirta-

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HUMOR IN ADVERTISING 469

tiousness that mimics adult behavior creates the humor. Ad attitude was measured on a 4-item, 9-point se-
The camera then shifts to a shot of the pen in its casemantic differential scale (pleasant-unpleasant, likeable-
and slowly zooms out so that we see that the pen, inside unlikeable, not irritating-irritating, and interesting-un-
an open case bearing the brand name, is lying on top ofinteresting). Brand attitude was measured on a 3-item,
an open book on a desk. As the camera zooms out, the 9-point semantic differential scale (good-bad, like-dis-
voiceover extols the virtues of the pen. All through the like, and nice-not nice). Purchase intent was measured
ad, soft, slow music plays in the background. on a 3-item, 9-point semantic differential scale (likely-
In the nonhumorous version, the ad begins with a shot unlikely, probable-improbable, and possible-impossi-
of the same fourth-grade classroom. The camera slowlyble). All rating scale items, with the exception of the
pans the classroom and then slowly zooms in on the same purchase intent scale, were scored from -4 to 4. The
two children. The little boy is writing with the advertised purchase intent scale items were scored from 1 to 9.
pen. In this version, the little girl simply admires the To measure choice behavior, subjects were given a
pen. In both ads, the first segment lasts for the same choice of four alternative pens: the advertised brand and
length of time. In the nonhumorous version of the ad,three other brands. Subjects were informed that in ad-
the brief humorous interaction between the little boy anddition to the money they would receive for their partic-
girl is replaced by the camera panning the classroom. As ipation, they would receive a gift of a pen. Subjects then
in the humorous version, the camera then shifts to a shotsaw a display containing the four alternatives and were
of the pen in its case and slowly zooms out so that weasked to indicate their choice by placing an "X" next to
see that the pen, inside an open case bearing the brandthe brand name of the chosen pen listed on the ques-
name, is lying on top of an open book on a desk. As tionnaire.
the camera zooms out, the voiceover extols the same vir- Subjects' cognitive responses were measured by means
tues of the pen. The same soft, slow music plays in theof a retrospective thought-listing procedure. Subjects were
background. Thus the nonhumorous version has a very instructed to write down all their thoughts about the brand
straightforward, matter-of-fact appeal, but is comparableand the ad on the 12 blank lines beneath the question.
to the humorous version in all other respects (see pretest The space provided was adequate, as no subject used all
results hereafter). 12 lines. Subjects were given three minutes for this
Prior evaluation. To manipulate prior evaluation, thought-listing task.
subjects were asked to participate in a study designed to As a manipulation check for prior brand evaluation,
examine different information formats. Participants were subjects were required to provide their own evaluation
asked to evaluate three alternative presentation formats of the target pen after exposure to the information sup-
(horizontal bar chart, table of numbers, and vertical bar posedly provided by Consumer Reports. Subjects were
chart). Each format was for a different product category asked to provide their evaluation by indicating their level
(running shoes, pens, and watches). For each product of agreement with three statements: "I like the pen," "I
category, information on four brands was presented. In- think it is a good pen," and "I think it is a nice pen."
formation about pens was always presented as a table ofThe 5-point response scales were anchored at the end-
numbers, and the three brands other than the target brandpoints by "strongly agree" and "strongly disagree."
were well known to the subjects. Subjects were told that As a manipulation check, perceived humorousness of
the study was being conducted on behalf of Consumerthe ad was measured on a 6-item semantic differential
Reports to find out how effective each presentation for- scale (humorous-not humorous, funny-not funny,
mat was. Subjects also were asked to indicate their eval-amusing-not amusing, playful-not playful, not dull-dull,
uation of two of the four brands from each product cat- and not boring-boring). Finally, as a check for demand
egory. For the product category of pens, one of the two biases, subjects were asked to write down what they
brands rated was the target brand. This rating served as thought was the purpose of the study.
a manipulation check.
Procedure
Prior evaluation of the target pen brand was manipu-
lated by giving a rating (on a scale ranging from +2 to Subjects participated in small groups of two to five
-2) of either highly favorable (+1.5) or highly unfa- people. Upon arrival at the experimental lab, subjects
vorable (-1.5) to the target brand. The ratings for the were told that the actual study, which pertained to their
three context brands were held constant. reactions to television programs, would take only a half
hour and because they were being paid for an hour we
Dependent Measures
would like for them to help us with several other studies
Five dependent measures were used in the study: ad prior to the beginning of the actual experiment. The sub-
attitude, brand attitude after ad exposure, purchase in-jects next completed four tasks, the second of which was
tent, brand choice, and cognitive responses. In addition, the prior evaluation manipulation.
measures of prior brand evaluation and perceived hu- After the first filler task, the prior evaluation manip-
morousness were included as manipulation checks. A ulation was administered. Subjects were handed a 6-page
question to assess demand bias also was included. questionnaire containing three sections of two pages each.

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470 JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH, NOVEMBER 1990

sage recipients
The first page of each section contained found the two ad versions
information about to be differ-
four brands from a product category in a particular
entially humorous, for-
(2) the two ads were perceived to be
mat, followed by rating scale measures of to
similar in quality thethe effective-
ads typically aired on TV, and
ness of the format. On the second page
(3) subjects subjects
were familiar withprovided
the advertised brand. We
their own evaluation of two of the
were four
concernedbrands for
about prior which
familiarity as we wanted to
they had just seen information, ostensibly
manipulate provided
subjects' prior evaluation of by the advertised
Consumer Reports. The information about
pen, which would fourifbrands
be difficult subjects were already
of pens was always presented familiar
in the with second
the brand. section to
reduce the likelihood of this information
As in the main receiving
study, subjects sawspe-a segment of pro-
cial attention. After the prior gramming
evaluation containing manipulation,
one of the two experimental ads
subjects completed two more filler tasks.
embedded withinThe three after
it. Immediately filler exposure, sub-
tasks were unrelated to the study and
jects were involved
handed a questionnairetests of
that measured (1) the
memory and perception. humorousness of the ad, (2) the quality of the ad, and
The main study was conducted immediately
(3) familiarity after
with the advertised brand. Humor was
completion of the final filler task. Subjects
measured were
on a 7-item, told
9-point scale that
similar to that used
they would see an uncut segment from
in the main a TV
study. The program
professional quality of the ad was
that was already on the air in some
measuredparts of the
on a 4-point, U.S.
single-item and
scale anchored at one
was being considered by a local station
end by "muchfor betterairing in the
in quality than ads typically shown
area. The objective of the study was
on TV" toat seek
(4) and the otherthe
end byopinion
"much worse in qual-
of potential viewers, such as themselves, to help
ity than ads typically shown on the sta-
TV" (1). Familiarity was
tion decide whether to air the program locally.
measured on a 5-point, After
single-item scale this
anchored at one
end by "never heard
introduction, all subjects saw a 15-minute of [brand name]
segment from pens before" (1)
a program on doing business overseas.
and at the otherThere were
end by "heard three
of [brand name] pens and
commercials during the first used commercial
them" (5). break, seven
minutes into the program. The Each first ad in the pod
of the three dependent was
measures was analyzed
the target ad, which was followedby one-way
by two ANOVA. In eachads.
filler case, the
For two commercial
half the subjects, the embedded target
conditions served ad was
as the the variable.
independent hu- Only the
morous version of the ad for the ANOVApen; forfor the other
the perceived half
humor score reached signif-
it was the nonhumorous version. icanceThe(F = 39.47,
targetp < .001;
adadwas quality:
re-F = 2.09, p
peated at the end of the 15-minute segment.
> .10; familiarity On
F < 1). this sec-
As expected, the humorous
ond exposure occasion, the ad was
version presented
was perceived alone,
as being more humorous (mean
without any filler ads. The target= 2.36;
adscale
was+4 to -4) than the
shown neutralto
twice version (mean
give participants adequate opportunity
-.14). Additionally,to the process
mean familiarityit score across
(Krugman 1972). all subjects was 1.36 on the 1 to 5 familiarity scale. This
Immediately after completion ofsuggested
finding the program
that virtually allseg-
subjects were com-
ment, subjects received a 1-page questionnaire
pletely unfamiliar with the brand.contain-
Pretest 2.opinion
ing several questions that sought their A second pretest
of the was conducted
pro- to ensure
gram. Upon completion of this thatquestionnaire,
the two stimulus ads did notsubjects
differ from each other
in terms of characteristics
were handed the main questionnaire, which other than humorousness.
included
Warmth, irritation,
measures of their cognitive responses, liking andfor
informativeness
the pen were considered
ad they had just seen, perceivedon the basis of intuition and
humorousness of past research
the ad,(e.g., Stayman
and Aaker 1988).
liking for the advertised pen, intention to purchase the
brand, brand choice behavior, and demand
As in the main study, proneness,
subjects saw a program segment
in that order. containing either the humorous or the nonhumorous ad.
After
After all subjects had completed the exposure, subjects responded
questionnaire, they to a 2-page ques-
tionnaire that measured
were paid, debriefed, and dismissed. the humorousness,
All subjects re- warmth, ir-
ceived an extra $5 (i.e., a total of and
ritation, $10) in lieu
informativeness of
of the ad. the
Humorousness
chosen brand of pen. was measured with the items used in the main study;
warmth was measured on two scales, the single-item scale
Pretests suggested by Stayman and Aaker (1988) and the mul-
tiple-item scale suggested by Burke and Edell (1989);
Three pretests were conducted to determine whether and irritation and informativeness were measured on two
(1) the two manipulations of interest in the study, hu- single-item scales taken from Stayman and Aaker (1988).
morousness of the ad and prior evaluation of the adver- The pretest data were analyzed by using a series of
tised brand, were effective and (2) the two ads differed one-way ANOVAs with the two ad conditions as the in-
in terms of other characteristics (i.e., the humor manip- dependent variable in each case. The analyses revealed
ulation was confounded). that the two ads were perceived to be differentially hu-
Pretest 1. The first pretest examined whether (1) mes- morous (F = 18.05, p < .01), but did not differ in terms

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HUMOR IN ADVERTISING 471

of any
the None
other of
of the other effectscharacter
were significant (humor: F =
results 3.22, p > .05; interaction:
first of two F < 1).
the pretests
were perceivedIn sum, to be checks
the manipulation significan
showed that the ma-
other in terms nipulations
of were effective (W2 > .15 indicates a large
humorousness
other important effect size; see Cohen 1977) and not confounded with
characteristic.
Pretest 3. The pretest
each other. for the
manipulation involved running a
through the Attitude and involved
steps Choice: Test of Hla and Hlb in th
evaluation in the main
Hia posits that humorous adsstudy.
are more effective in per- Su
cover story and instructions
suading consumers than nonhumorous ads when the con- a
study (see Procedure section).
sumers have a favorable prior brand evaluation. Hlb pos-
evaluations, ostensibly provide
its that humorous ads are less effective than nonhumorous
subjects gave their evaluation
ads when the consumers' prior brand evaluations are un- of
three Likert-type prior
favorable. Taken together, evaluat
Hia and Hlb predict an inter-
on dependent variables
action for of det
between prior evaluation and humorousness the
itive evaluation
ad for ad condition rate
attitude, brand attitude, purchase intent, and
tively (t = 4.27,
choice behavior. p < .01; mea
the negative evaluation
To test Hia and Hlb, a MANOVA firstcondit
was conducted
ther, the ratings
with priorin each
brand evaluation conditi
and humorousness of the ad
ferent from zero (positive
as the two independent factors and ad attitude, brandeva
at-
negative evaluation: t
titude, and purchase intent =
as the 2.26,
dependent variables.
A score for each dependent variable was computed by
RESULTS taking the average of the ratings across the multiple items
used to measure that construct, because the interitem
The data for all of the continuous measures (i.e., per-
correlations for each of the scales, as measured by Cron-
ceived humorousness, prior brand evaluation, ad atti-
bach's alpha, were large (ad attitude .91; brand attitude
tude, brand attitude, purchase intent, and cognitive re-
.93; purchase intent .94). Choice was not included in
sponses) were analyzed by analysis of variance. Prior
this analysis as it was categorical. As hypothesized, the
evaluation and humor served as the two independent fac-
MANOVA revealed a statistically significant interaction
tors. The choice data were analyzed by logistic regres-
between prior brand evaluation and humor (F = 7.57,
sion as it is inappropriate to use analysis of variance when
p < .01). Neither main effect is significant (humor: F
the dependent variable is categorical. The independent
= 1.79, p > .15; prior brand evaluation: F = 2.41, p
variables for this analysis were prior evaluation, humor,
> .05). The interaction was analyzed further by con-
and the prior evaluation by humor interaction.
ducting MANOVAs as a function of humor at each level
Manipulation Checks of prior evaluation. The MANOVAs for both the posi-
tive and negative prior brand evaluation conditions are
As a first step, manipulation checks for humor and
statistically significant (positive evaluation condition: F
prior brand evaluation were conducted. An ANOVA with = 6.02, p < .01; negative evaluation condition: F =
the average of the 6-item humor scale (Cronbach alpha
3.81, p < .05), providing support for both Hia and Hlb.
= .92) as the dependent variable and ad version (hu-
To understand better the nature of the interaction, sep-
morous vs. nonhumorous) and prior evaluation (positive arate, univariate analyses of variance were conducted for
vs. negative) as the two independent factors revealed each ofa the dependent variables. As detailed hereafter,
main effect of humor (F = 20.65, p < .01; w2 a=statistically .20). significant interaction of the type hypoth-
Subjects exposed to the humorous version perceived the
esized (see Hia and Hlb) was obtained for each dependent
ad to be more humorous (mean = 1.40) than those ex-
variable. The results of the ANOVAs and the analysis
posed to the nonhumorous version (mean = -.67).ofNone the choice data are presented next.
of the other effects were significant (prior evaluation: Ad F
attitude. The ANOVA for ad attitude shows that
< 1; interaction: F = 1.16, p > .25). only the ad version by prior brand evaluation interaction
To check the effectiveness of the prior brand evalua- is significant (F = 5.38, p < .025; o2 = .05; see Figure
tion manipulation, an ANOVA was conducted with the 1; humor: F = 2.13, p > .10; prior evaluation: F < 1).
average of the three items of the prior evaluation scale An examination of the cell means using the simple effect
(Cronbach ea = .94) as the dependent variable. The anal- of humor at each level of prior brand evaluation reveals
ysis revealed a significant main effect of prior evaluation that subjects in the positive prior brand evaluation con-
(F = 17.66, p < .01; w2 = .17). As expected, subjects dition had a significantly more favorable ad attitude when
who had been led to believe that Consumer Reports rated exposed to the humorous ad (mean = 1.94) than when
the brand poorly evaluated the pen as being worse (mean exposed to the nonhumorous ad (mean = .40; F = 5.02,
= -.20) than those who had been led to believe that p < .05). In contrast, subjects in the negative prior brand
Consumer Reports rated the brand highly (mean = .41).
evaluation condition tended to have a more favorable ad

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472 JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH, NOVEMBER 1990

Figure 1 rous ad (mean = 1.47; F = 5.02, p < .05). Subjects


EFFECTS OF HUMOR AND PRIOR BRAND EVALUATION who had a negative prior brand evaluation had a signif-
ON ATTITUDE TOWARD THE AD, BRAND ATTITUDE, icantly more negative brand attitude when exposed to the
PURCHASE INTENT, AND CHOICE humorous ad (mean = .33) than when exposed to the
nonhumorous ad (mean = 1.94; F = 8.72, p < .01).
Thus, the results for brand attitude support both Hia
A. ATTITUDE TOWARD THE AD B. BRAND ATTITUDE
and Hlb. That is, humor in advertising appears to en-
Ad Brand
Attitude Attitude hance brand attitude significantly for persons with a fa-
3 0 3.0-
Prior
vorable prior brand evaluation (Hia) but has the opposite
2 5 25- P ,ltve effect for those who initially have a negative brand eval-
PriorJ
2.0
uation (HIb).
-/ Potlv
Etaluatlon

Purchase intent.
Ev
The analysis of variance shows that
1.5 15

10 1.0
only the ad version by prior brand evaluation interaction
Prior
Negatne is significant (F = 11.67, p < .01; w2 = 13; see Figure
0.5 E-aluation 0 5 Prior
Ncgamtec 1; prior evaluation: F = 1.81, p > .15; humor: F < 1).
NoHumor Humor NoHuilor Humor Followup analyses of the cell means, using simple ef-
Level of Humor Level of Humor
fects of humor at each level of prior brand evaluation,
show that subjects with a positive prior evaluation were
C. PURCHASE INTENT D. BRAND CHOICE
Purchae Brand Choice significantly more likely to make a purchase when ex-
Intent Probability posed to the humorous ad (mean = 3.59; mean for non-
4.0 -I0
Prior
humorous ad = 1.87; F = 15.04, p < .01). Subjects
35 E alualion 0 8 Prior with a negative prior evaluation had a higher purchase
Poulllte

intent when exposed to the nonhumorous ad (mean =


3 0 62 Evaluation 3.73; mean for humorous ad = 2.67). However, the dif-
ference is not statistically significant (F = 3.35, p <
.10). Thus, Hia is supported, but not Hlb.
NoHumor
Level of Humor Level of Humor
Brand choice. Subjects' brand
Humor Nochoices wereHu.m
coded as
1 if the advertised brand was chosen and 0 otherwise.
The choice data were analyzed by logistic regression.
The analysis was conducted with brand choice as the cri-
attitude when exposed to the terionnonhumorous
variable and ad version, prior
ad brand
(mean evaluation,
=
.98) than when exposed to and the humorous
the interaction between thead (mean
two as predictors. =
.63). However, the differences in means
The analysis are not
reveals a significant statis-
main effect of prior
tically significant (F < 1). brand evaluation (X2 = 5.16, p < .05) and an ad version
Thus, the data provide strong by prior brand evaluation
support for interaction
Hla: the (X2 hu-
= 3.83, p =
morous ad engendered a significantly .05; see Figure 1).more
The main favorable
effect of humor is adnot sig-
attitude for subjects who already nificant (x2 < had
1). An examination
a positive of the marginal
opinionmeans
about the advertised brand.for However, Hlb,
prior brand evaluation showswhich posits
that, as expected, sub-
that humorous ads are less effective than nonhumorous jects with a favorable prior brand evaluation were more
ads for persons who have a negative prior brand eval- likely to choose the advertised brand (choice probability
uation, is not supported. = .53) than those with an unfavorable prior brand eval-
Brand attitude. The ANOVA shows a significant main uation (choice probability = .29).
effect of prior brand evaluation (F = 5.37, p < .025; To understand the interaction, the cell frequencies were
W2 = .20) and a significant interaction between ad ver- examined. Subjects in the positive prior evaluation con-
sion and prior brand evaluation (F = 13.36, p < .01; dition were more likely to choose the advertised brand
w2 = .13; see Figure 1). The main effect of humor is when exposed to the humorous ad (choice probability =
not significant (F < 1). .67; choice probability after exposure to the nonhumo-
An examination of the marginal means for prior brand rous ad = .40). Conversely, subjects in the negative prior
evaluation shows that, as expected, subjects who had a evaluation condition had a higher probability of choos-
negative prior evaluation had a less favorable brand at- ing the advertised brand when exposed to the nonhu-
titude (mean = .18) than those who had a favorable prior morous ad (choice probability = .38; choice probability
evaluation (mean = .93). after exposure to the humorous ad = .20). However, chi
To understand the nature of the interaction, simple ef- square analyses for the effect of humor at each level of
fects of humor at each level of prior brand evaluation prior brand evaluation reveal that neither difference
were computed. As hypothesized, subjects who had a reaches conventional levels of statistical significance
favorable prior brand evaluation had a significantly more (positive prior brand evaluation: x2 = 2.70, p < .10;
favorable brand attitude when exposed to the humorous negative prior brand evaluation: X2 = 1.38, p > .20).
ad (mean = 2.44) than when exposed to the nonhumo- Taken together, the results for the ad attitude, brand

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HUMOR IN ADVERTISING 473

attitude, ness of the ad. The reason is intent,


purchase that the two ads were de- a
consistent signed to be identical
pattern. in terms of brand-related
Humor in
and favorableinformation.
effect Hence an ANOVA was conducted with
only w
prior evaluation BRANDCR of as the the
dependent variable.
adverti None of the ef-
HIa is supported. fects are statistically
When significant (humor:
prior F = 2.51, p >
brand is unfavorable, humorous ads tend to be less ef- .10; prior evaluation and interaction: F's < 1; grand mean
fective than their nonhumorous counterparts (see MAN- = 1.33).
OVA results). However, univariate analyses of each of H3a and H3b. H3a posits that subjects with a positive
the individual dependent measures reveal that for sub- prior brand evaluation would produce proportionately more
jects with a negative prior evaluation, humorous ads were positive cognitive responses toward the ad and the brand
significantly less effective than nonhumorous ads only when exposed to a humorous ad than when exposed to
for the measure of brand attitude. Thus, Hlb receives only a nonhumorous ad. H3b posits that message recipients
weak support. with a negative prior brand evaluation would produce
proportionately less positive cognitive responses toward
Cognitive Responses: Test of H2, H3a, and H3b the ad and the brand when exposed to a humorous ad
Subjects' cognitive responses were coded by two in- than when exposed to a nonhumorous ad.
dependent judges (neither of whom were the authors) blind To test these hypotheses, we conducted two ANOVAs
to the experimental conditions. Responses were coded with humor and prior brand evaluation as the indepen-
into four categories: positive brand-related responses, dent factors and PBI and PAI as the dependent variables.
negative brand-related responses, positive ad-related re- The first analysis involving the positive brand index (PBI)
sponses, and negative ad-related responses. The two reveals a significant interaction only between humor and
judges agreed in more than 95% of the cases. Disagree- prior brand evaluation (F = 7.76, p < .01; 02 = .08;
ments were resolved by discussion. prior evaluation: F < 1; humor: F = 1.20, p > .20).
Four cognitive response scores were computed for each An analysis of the cell means (see Figure 2), using
subject: (1) sum of the brand-directed cognitive re- simple effects of humor at each level of prior evaluation,
sponses (positive brand-related plus negative brand-re- shows that message recipients with a positive brand eval-
lated, referred to as BRANDCR), (2) sum of the ad- uation tended to have a higher (more positive) PBI score
directed cognitive responses (positive ad-related plus when exposed to the humorous (mean = .44) than when
negative ad-related, referred to as ADCR), (3) propor- exposed to the nonhumorous ad (mean = .27). The dif-
tion of positive brand-related cognitive responses (the ference between the two means is not statistically sig-
number of positive brand-related cognitive responses di- nificant (F = 1.28, p > .25). However, for message
vided by the sum of the positive and negative brand- recipients with a negative prior brand evaluation, the PBI
related responses, referred to as the positive brand index score is significantly higher (more positive) for those ex-
or PBI), and (4) proportion of positive ad-related cog- posed to the nonhumorous ad (mean = .54; F = 8.39,
nitive responses (the number of positive ad-related re- p < .01) than for those exposed to the humorous ad (mean
sponses divided by the sum of the positive and negative .16).
ad-related responses, referred to as the positive ad index In the second analysis, involving the positive ad index
or PAI). The choice of the positive responses as the nu- (PAI), again only the humor by prior brand evaluation
merator in constructing the PBI or PAI indices is arbi- interaction is statistically significant (interaction: F =
trary. The results would have been the same had we used 20.92, p < .01, w2 = .21; humor and prior evaluation:
the negative responses in the numerator. F's < 1). Followup analysis of the cell means (see Fig-
H2. To test H2-whether subjects exposed to a hu- ure 2), using simple effects of humor at each level of
morous ad generate a greater number of ad-directed cog-
nitive responses than those exposed to a nonhumorous Figure 2
ad-an ANOVA was conducted with ADCR as the de- EFFECTS OF HUMOR AND PRIOR BRAND EVALUATION
pendent variable and humor and prior brand evaluation ON COGNITIVE RESPONSES
as the independent factors. We found a significant main
effect only for humor (F = 15.10, p < .01; 02 = .16;
prior evaluation: F < 1; interaction: F = 3.27, p > .05).
A. POSITIVE AD INDEX B. POSITIVE BRAND INDEX

The marginal means for humor show that subjects PAI ex- PBI

posed to the humorous ad produced a greater number I


of o I.O[

cognitive responses (mean = 5.06) than those exposed


08- 0.8-

to the nonhumorous ad (mean = 2.62). These results06


are (0.6- Prio
consistent with H2. 0 4 E\aluation Prior 0 4 Poc..... Prior

Though we had no explicit hypothesis about the num-


02N Prior 0.2-u
ber of brand-directed cognitive responses, implicitly no Bv rvluallvm 0

differences in the number of brand-related cognitive re- NoLHunr


Level of Hunmo HunrLevelLNoeHulor
ot Humor Humor
sponses were expected as a function of the humorous-

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474 JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH, NOVEMBER 1990

variablesthe
prior brand evaluation, shows that on ad pattern
attitude disappears
of when
meansthe effect of ad-
is as expected. That is, among message
related recipients
cognitive responses with
is partialed out. Similarly, to
test whether
a positive prior evaluation the PAI score cognitive responses and ad attitude mediate
is significantly
higher (more positive) for those the relationship
exposed between
to thetheindependent
humor- variables and
ous ad (mean = .53; F = 6.90, brand p < attitude,
.025)wethan must examine
for whether
those the effect of
exposed to the nonhumorous ad (mean
the independent = on
variables .22). Con-disappears
brand attitude
versely, among message recipients when the effect a
with of cognitive
negative responses and ad attitude is
prior
evaluation, those exposed to the nonhumorous
partialed out. ad have
a significantly higher (more positive) To test for thePAImediational
score role of ad-directed cogni-
(mean
= .65; F = 15.24, p < .01) than those exposed to the tive responses, we estimated a regression model with ad
humorous ad (mean = .24). attitude as the dependent variable and humor, prior eval-
Taken together, these results provide strong support uation, humor by prior evaluation interaction, and the
for H3b but only partial support for H3a. Subjects in the positive ad index (PAI) as the independent variables. The
negative evaluation condition produced relatively more results of the analysis show that the variance accounted
favorable responses toward the ad (PAI higher) and the for by the previously significant interaction between hu-
brand (PBI higher) when exposed to the nonhumorous mor and prior evaluation disappears (F < 1) when the
ad than when exposed to the humorous ad. Subjects in effect of PAI is partialed out (F = 65.94, p < .01).
the positive evaluation condition generated more positive Thus, the data support the contention that the effect of
ad-directed (PAI higher) and brand-directed (PBI higher) the independent variables on ad attitude is mediated by
responses when exposed to the humorous ad than when the ad-directed cognitive responses.
exposed to the nonhumorous ad. However, the increase To test whether brand-directed cognitive responses and
in the favorableness of the PBI score is not statistically ad attitude mediate the relationship between the inde-
significant. pendent variables and brand attitude, we estimated a sec-
ond regression model with brand attitude as the depen-
Cognitive Responses and Ad Attitude as Mediators dent variable and humor, prior evaluation, humor by prior
Our conceptualization of how humor and prior eval- evaluation interaction, positive brand index (PBI), and
uation influence consumer judgments suggests that cog- ad attitude as the independent variables. The results show
nitive responses serve as mediators. Furthermore, on the that (1) PBI (F = 7.58, p < .01) and ad attitude (F =
basis of previous research, we expect the impact of ad- 13.80, p < .01) account for significant portions of the
related responses on brand attitude to be mediated by ad variance in brand attitude, (2) the amount of variance in
attitude (e.g., MacKenzie, Lutz, and Belch 1986). Ac- brand attitude accounted for by the prior evaluation by
cording to Baron and Kenny (1986), a variable can be humor interaction is attenuated (02 = .04; as the effect
classified as a mediator when it meets three conditions: size for the interaction in the absence of the two media-
(1) independent variables significantly account for vari- tors is .13, the effect size declined by 69%), and (3) the
ation in the hypothesized mediator, (2) variations in the prior evaluation by humor interaction continues to be
mediator account for variation in the dependent variable,statistically significant (F = 6.97, p < .05). These re-
sults suggest that though brand-directed cognitive re-
and (3) when the variance in the dependent variable ac-
counted for by the mediator is partialed out, the previ- sponses and ad attitude are mediators of the relationship
between the independent variables and brand attitude,
ously significant relationship between the independent
and dependent variables should no longer be significant. they do not account for the entire relationship (only 69%
In terms of the last criterion, if the size of the relation-accounted for). The unaccounted-for portion of the vari-
ance (31%) could be due to a direct effect of the inde-
ship between the independent and dependent variables
tends to zero when the effect of the mediator(s) is par- pendent variables on brand attitude or the exclusion of
tialed out, the evidence suggests that all the mediators other mediators that are yet to be specified.
have been specified. However, a relationship that is at-
Experimental Demand and Alternative Explanations
tenuated but continues to be statistically significant sug-
gests that in addition to the observed mediation, either Several aspects of our study made it difficult to attri-
the independent variables have a direct effect on the de-bute the findings to experimental demand. An exami-
pendent variable or not all the mediators have been spec-nation of subjects' responses to the open-ended question
ified. asking what they thought was the purpose of the study
The results already presented satisfy the first two cri-reveals that none of the subjects guessed that the study
teria. That is, the independent variables (humor and prior was about humorous advertising. Given that we used a
evaluation) influence the mediators (PBI, PAI, and ad between-subjects design with several filler tasks to dis-
attitude) and the dependent variable (brand attitude). To guise the true purpose of the experiment, it is not sur-
test whether ad-directed responses mediate the relation- prising that subjects failed to guess the hypothesis.
ship between the independent variables and ad attitude, The actual pattern of results observed also argues against
we must examine whether the effect of the independenta demand-based explanation. The manipulation checks

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HUMOR IN ADVERTISING 475

for both ond, we examine


humor and the impact of the independent variables
prior bran
icant main on choice behavior andonly
effects hence can generalizeforour results t
qualified by to consumertwo-way
the choice decisions, a construct of bothint the-
total number oretical and
of practical significance.
cognitive resp
of humor is obtained in
Considering the issue of generalizability the
further, one
again, the humor by
might speculate that our resultsprior ev
have implications for af-
ther predicted fectivenor
executions in general. Our conceptualization of
obtained.
esized, the analyses
how humor works is based onfor each
the attention-getting power
tude, brand of humorous executions. In the literature
attitude, purchase on affective ex-
indicate ecutions in general, a similar
statistically mechanism has been pos-
significan
mor and tulatedevaluation.
prior (e.g., Goldberg and Gorn 1987). Thus, though
It i
monious, the focus of our research is the role of humor-a
demand-based expla par-
data. ticular type of affective execution-our findings may be
relevant to affective executions in general. However,
DISCUSSION
further research in this direction is necessary as different
affective
Our results are generally consistent with prior expec-execution strategies may have different effects
tations: the effect of humor in advertisements on con- on consumer response (e.g., Burke and Edell 1989).
sumer attitudes and choice behavior is moderated by the Our findings are managerially useful. The fact that no
message recipient's prior evaluation of the advertised direct effect of humor on brand attitude, purchase intent,
or choice is found indicates that humorous executions
brand. When prior brand evaluation is positive, humor-
ous ads are more persuasive than nonhumorous ads.
are not universally more effective than nonhumorous ads.
However, when prior brand evaluation is negative, hu-
Our results suggest that humorous advertisements are best
morous ads tend to be less effective than nonhumorous suited for reinforcing pre-existing favorable attitudes of
ads. The size of the moderating effect is substantial audience
as members. For example, one may want to target
the effect size for the humor by prior evaluation inter-loyal customers and reinforce their loyalty, thereby re-
action, measured by omega squared, ranges from .05 to ducing their likelihood of trying a competetitor's brand.
.21 (see Cohen 1977). Further, as hypothesized, our re-
Our results also suggest that segments negatively pre-
sults show that cognitive responses mediate the impact
disposed to the brand should not be targeted with hu-
of the independent variables on attitude judgment. morous advertising as such efforts are likely to be coun-
Though the results are generally consistent with ex- terproductive. Finally, humorous ads are likely to be less
pectation, the results of the simple effects tests to ex-effective in the new product context because (1) there is
amine the humor by prior evaluation interaction are no pre-existing schema to guide processing and (2) the
asymmetric. The tests are significant for subjects with aexecutional cues are likely to draw attention to the ad
positive prior evaluation. However, with the exception and away from the message claims, thus reducing the
of brand attitude, the simple effects of humor are not consumers' ability to learn about the brand, an important
statistically significant for subjects with a negative prior
consideration in the introductory stage.
evaluation. One explanation could be an asymmetry in Finally, our results are based on a single humorous
the way people treat positive and negative information
ad, representing a particular genre of humorous ads-
(e.g., Weinberger and Dillon 1980). Research suggeststhose in which the humor derives from the human con-
that negative information is more salient and consumersdition. Further research therefore is necessary to explore
rely more heavily on negative information when makingthe generalizability of our findings to different types of
purchase decisions. Consequently, in the context of our
humorous executions. However, the type of humorous
study, the negative prior evaluation could have swampedad used in our study represents the most prevalent form
the ad type manipulation, leading to the simple effects
of humorous television advertising, which accounts for
not reaching significance. In the positive evaluation con-65% of all humorous executions during prime time (Speck
dition, the ad type manipulation was not constrained as 1987). Further, practitioners view this form of humor as
in the negative evaluation condition and therefore the most appropriate in the advertising context (e.g., Orkin
simple effects reached significance. Notwithstanding the1985).
significance levels of the simple effects, it is worth not-
ing that in every instance of a nonsignificant effect the
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