Not a Problem: A Downside of Humorous Appeals

33 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2015

See all articles by A. Peter McGraw

A. Peter McGraw

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Marketing

Julie Schiro

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Marketing

Philip Fernbach

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Marketing

Date Written: February 24, 2015

Abstract

Public service announcements (PSAs) are traditionally designed to elicit negative emotions that spur problem-solving behavior. However, in order to improve their reach, some social marketers are forgoing traditional strategy by creating PSAs that are humorous. Because of humor’s positivity and association with non-serious situations, we hypothesized that humorous appeals can decrease problem perception and problem-solving behavior. Study 1 examined problem perceptions using matched pairs of humorous and non-humorous PSAs. Respondents judged a social issue as less important to solve after viewing the humorous version of the pair. Study 2 examined problem-solving behavior through a partnership with a non-profit organization seeking to improve young adults’ sexual health knowledge. Humorous PSAs were less effective than a non-humorous version at spurring people to search for health information. The inquiry revealed a previously unaddressed tradeoff: using humor to benefit a message’s reach creates a potential cost to solving a personal or societal problem.

Keywords: Humor, problem-solving, public service announcements, social marketing, public policy

Suggested Citation

McGraw, A. Peter and Schiro, Julie and Fernbach, Philip, Not a Problem: A Downside of Humorous Appeals (February 24, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2569193 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2569193

A. Peter McGraw (Contact Author)

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Marketing ( email )

United States

Julie Schiro

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Marketing ( email )

United States

Philip Fernbach

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Marketing ( email )

United States

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