Does Brand Attitude Moderate the Persuasiveness of Humor in Advertising

Amitava Chattopadhyay, McGill University
Kunal Basu, McGill University
[ to cite ]:
Amitava Chattopadhyay and Kunal Basu (1990) ,"Does Brand Attitude Moderate the Persuasiveness of Humor in Advertising", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17, eds. Marvin E. Goldberg, Gerald Gorn, and Richard W. Pollay, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 442.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17, 1990      Page 442


Amitava Chattopadhyay, McGill University

Kunal Basu, McGill University


Though the use of humor in advertising has been growing with widespread support among practioners (Kelly and Solomon 1975; Markiewicz 1974; Lubalin 1977; Madden and Weinberger 1984), academic research in the area has over the years yielded equivocal conclusions. In research studies, humorous treatments of ads have failed to evoke systematic and superior persuasive effects, either by themselves, or in comparison with serious versions of the same messages (Sternthal and Craig 1973; Duncan 1979). Both methodological as well as conceptual critiques have been directed at the above research,-particularly with increasing emphasis on the role of contingencies that might moderate the impact of humor in advertising. It has been pointed out (Murray 1987) that with the exception of a few audience characteristics, such as race, sex, etc., systematic and theoretically driven investigations are missing in the literature.

The current research attempts to enhance our understanding of the role of humor in advertising by examining the moderating role of a viewer's prior evaluation of the advertised brand. The latter was considered to be a variable of significant importance both from a conceptual as well as a managerial perspective. It was believed that while the presence or absence of humor in a message would affect the extent of cognitive elaboration associated with the message (i.e., humorous ads would lead to more cognitive responses than corresponding serious versions), the nature of an audience's prior evaluation of the advertised brand would determine the directionality of the cognitive elaboration. That is, a favorable prior evaluation would increase the persuasiveness of humor, while a negative prior evaluation would yield no improvement over a neutral version. Further, such effects were expected to persist over a period of time and hence be of managerial relevance.


Using a between-subjects design, subjects' prior evaluation of the target brand was first manipulated through product trial. Next, subjects saw either a humorous or a non-humorous ad. The effects of these two independent factors on ad attitude, brand attitude, purchase intent, and choice behavior were examined after a week's delay.


Results show that the effect of humor in advertising is contingent on the subjects' prior attitude towards the brand. As hypothesized, when a consumer's prior brand evaluation is favorable, a humorous ad is more effective in enhancing brand attitude and choice behavior, in comparison to the corresponding non-humorous ad. When a consumer's prior brand evaluation is unfavorable, the converse was found to be true. That is, the non-humorous ad was more effective in enhancing consumer attitudes and choice behavior compared to the humorous version. The above interaction was observed a week after subjects' exposure to the ads, thereby supporting our premise that the effects are persistent over time and warrant managerial attention.


Duncan, Calvin P. (1979), "Humor in Advertising: A Behavioral Perspective", Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science. 7 (Fall). 285-306.

Kelly, J. Patrick and Paul J. Solomon (1975), "Humor in Television Advertising", Journal of Advertising, 4 (34,31 -35.

Lubalin, Peter (1977), 'Humor in Radio", ANNY, (November 4), 22.

Madden, Thomas J. and Marc G. Weinberger (1982), 'The Effects of Humor on Attention in Magazine Advertising", Journal of Advertising, 11 (3), 814.

Markiewicz, Dorothy (1974), "Effects of Humor on Persuasion", Sociometry, 37 (3), 407-422.

Murray, Raphel (1987), "Leave the Funny Business to Comedians", Bank Marketing, 19 (May), 2627.

Sternthal, Brian and Samuel C. Craig (1973), "Humor in Advertising", Journal of Marketing, 37 (October), 12-18.