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How funny was that? Uncovering humor mechanisms

Nathalie Spielmann (Neoma Business School, Reims, France)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 2 September 2014




This paper aims to uncover humor mechanisms. Humor mechanisms influencing consumer behaviors seem relatively under-researched. In consequence, the effectiveness of humorous appeals is often questioned and research has yet to provide clear guidelines regarding why, for whom and when these appeals work. After uncovering ads that contain the two main types of humor mechanisms, the distraction and combined-influence hypotheses are tested in combination with dispositional and situation involvement.


Using a focus group to define the ways consumers perceive humor, two pre-tests established a measure to identify arousal-safety (A-S) and incongruity resolution humor mechanisms. Two main studies (n = 486) test these mechanisms for two types of consumer groups (low and high NFC) in studies meant to replicate content-free and content-based media contexts.


The results show that consumers are likely to have higher attitudes towards the humor ads that contain A-S. When considering the type of ad mechanism used, the results support the distraction hypotheses even for consumers with high NFC and even when in high situational involvement. No support for the combined-influence hypothesis is uncovered.


It is shown that humorous mechanism is an important consideration when creating humor ads. The results also add more detailed support for the distraction hypothesis. From these results, marketers have a better understanding of humor mechanisms and practitioners of how to position their humorous advertising depending on the outcome behaviors they wish to encourage. Marketers are also advised to create humorous advertising that is simple rather than complex.



Spielmann, N. (2014), "How funny was that? Uncovering humor mechanisms", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 48 No. 9/10, pp. 1892-1910.



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