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HUMOR AND AD MEMORABILITY: ON THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF HUMOR EXPECTANCY, RELEVANCY, AND NEED FOR HUMOR

Thomas W. Cline, Saint Vincent College, Latrobe James J. Kellaris, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Jason Bondra, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh
SUMMARY Humor is a popular message appeal designed to make ads more entertaining and memorable. There are circumstances, however, under which humor can impede the acquisition of information from ads. This study explores these circumstances by examining how the interplay of humor expectancy, humor relevancy, and individuals need for humor (NFH) influences message claims recall. Our experimentation crosses humor-expectancy (low vs. high), with humor-claims relevancy (low vs. high), and NFH (low vs. high) in a 2 X 2 X 2 between-subjects factorial design. Humor-expectancy and humor-claims relevancy are manipulated variables; NFH is measured. Recall of ad claims is the dependent variable. Results of experimentation show that recall is damaged when humor is expected especially when expected humor is conceptually related to the message. Additionally, the deleterious impact of humor expectancy on recall is more pronounced among individuals characterized by low need for humor. Advertisers spend millions of dollars on humorous ads. Apparently, they believe that unexpected-relevant humor is an attention-getter that may draw a viewer closer to the ad and brand. Recently, a number of brands have generated remarkable brand awareness with unexpectedrelevant humor. Citibank looked at the serious topic of identity theft by placing the mismatched voices of the thieves into the bodies of their victims. Citibank uses unexpected-relevant humor to attract attention and communicate an important brand feature. Geicos gecko lizard and AFLACs duck attempt to link the source of the humor with the brand name, and hence increase recall. Orbit gum recently featured Snoop Dog to link its dirty mouth humor with its primary attribute, clean tasting gum. Nikes More Go advertising campaign features a streaker flashing an entire soccer stadium crowd (unexpected) and racing naked across the field and into the stands. Good thing hes wearing his Nike Shox to outrun the cops (relevant). Classic successes like the VW Bug introductory print campaign (think small) and the Budweiser Frogs (Bud-Weis-ER) were designed to be both unexpected and relevant. In a print context, Absolut Vodka features the shape of its bottle in unusual (unexpected) mildly-humorous settings. Finally, sloppy milkslurping celebrities are intended to attract attention via unexpected-relevant humor. Why is the rapper Nellie wearing a milk mustache? Because milk has nine essential nutrients, just what active rappers need. On the other hand, millions of dollars may be wasted on advertisements that make no connection between the humor and the claim, subsequently creating brand confusion and inhibiting recall. How does the tagline People do stupid things relate to Vonage Internet cable services? In fact, the 2006 Super bowl hosted dozens of ads featuring irrelevant humor (at approximately $2.5 million a spot). A secret fridge may be amusing, but was it Miller or Budweiser? Similarly, how does a streaking lamb relate to the attributes of a beer? And what was the brand? The present research builds on Heckler and Childers (1992) interactive conception of congruity by demonstrating that the joint interplay of humor-expectancy with humor-claims relevancy may influence consumers memory for claims. Heckler and Childers (1992) found memory for unexpected-relevant information was generally, but not always, higher than expected-relevant information. Our results indicate that when humor-claims relevancy is high (vs. low) people recall fewer ad claims under conditions of high (vs. low) humor-expectancy. It appears that when consumers anticipate humor to be forthcoming, humor relevancy works against brand claims recall. We also find that individuals low (vs. high) in NFH recall more ad claims when humor-expectancy is low (vs. high). Further, under conditions of low (vs. high) humorexpectancy, people low in NFH recall more ad claims than those high in NFH. A number of theoretical contributions emerge from this research. First, it brings into clearer relief the joint impact of expectancy and relevancy on responses to humorous stimuli, and thereby extends our current knowledge of congruity as a two-dimensional construct (Heckler and Childers 1992; Lee and Mason 1999). In support of Heckler and Childers (1992), results of the present research indicate that, with respect to recall, unexpected information is superior to expected information, relevant information outperforms irrelevant information, and expectancy and relevancy interact to produce differential effects on recall. Second, this study demonstrates that NFH, like other individual difference variables, explains an additional source of variation in advertising outcomes through its role as a moderator. Thus, the NFH construct broadens our knowledge of the sense of humor in general,

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and under what conditions it influences responses to humorous communication. This research also has practical implications. The results suggest that the effects of message-congruent humor may generalize to other attention-gaining appeals, such as animations, drama, sex appeal or music. Based on humors pervasiveness and universal appeal, NFH may be useful as a segmentation tool. Although advertisers are not likely to administer NFH scales to members of their target audiences, market research can identify media that draw groups of people with relatively higher levels of NFH (e.g., Cracked and Crazy Magazine readers, Comedy XM Radio listeners, and Saturday Night Live watchers). This information also can be used to determine which product categories or brands tend to be popular with

specific media users (e.g., National Lampoon aficionados may be heavy users of internet services such as Netflix and Limewire or prefer whimsical brands such as Orbit and Jetblue). Here, NFH may be useful in both media-selection and in targeting audiences for specific products and brands. The pervasiveness of humor in advertising attests to practitioners belief in its effectiveness. The present experimentation examines contingencies (humor expectancy and relevancy) that shape the effects of humorous appeals on an important advertising outcome consumers recall of ad claims. In addition, we explore an important boundary condition (NFH). By this means, the research reported herein seeks to elucidate when and how humor contributes to remembering ads.

SELECTED REFERENCE Heckler, Susan E. and Terry L. Childers (1992), The

Role of Expectancy and Relevancy in Memory for Verbal and Visual Information: What is Incongruency? Journal of Consumer Research, 18, 47592.

For further information contact: Thomas W. Cline The Alex G. McKenna School of Business, Economics, and Government Saint Vincent College 300 Fraser Purchase Road Latrobe, PA 15650 Phone: 724.805.2272 Fax: 724.537.4599 E-Mail: thomas.cline@email.stvincent.edu

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