"Explore the different types of humour that are used in television advertising".
- Executive Summary 3
- Introduction and Research Objectives 4
- Previous Research 6
4.0 Research Design 8
5.0 Analysis 12
- Limitations of the study 24
- Conclusion 25
- References 26
- Appendices 27
- Humour Questionnaire 28
- Table of Results 30
“Explore the different types of humour that are used in television advertising”.
1.0 Executive Summary
This report aims to investigate which types of humour are more prevalent in television advertising.
Codruta & Gail’s (2001) study of the seven classifications of humour was used to compare the study’s findings. It was discovered that silliness was used mostly in television advertising and this was similar to the results of Codruta & Gail’s own research. Observation was carried out over four days and between the hours of 18.00 to 22.00 hours. ITV was the chosen channel from which research was collected, as it is one of the most popular terrestrial channels with a wide ranging audience. In order to ensure the validity of the sample questionnaire, a benchmarking exercise took place, highlighting any errors or any ratifications needed.
Analysis has been presented to indicate key findings and relevance they have on the study. Food adverts were shown to be most humorous from all the different product categories. Characters were the main reasons for respondents finding adverts funny and research illustrated most humorous adverts were shown between 19.00- 20.00. To conclude, improvements have been suggested.
2.0 Introduction and Research objectives
Humour can be defined as ‘the ability to be amused by things, the way in which people see that some things are amusing, or the quality of being amusing’ (Source: Cambridge Online Dictionary). Humour is widely used within advertising today whether this is on radio, in print, or on television as part of everyday marketing communications campaigns.
Television advertising tells ‘most of its stories in thirty second bursts’ (Voight, 2003). With such short time frame to communicate a message across, advertisers have used humour as a way of breaking through the noise and clutter in an attempt to grab the attention of the viewer. Feelings evoked through the use of humour can also lead brand positive associations, as well as increasing the comprehension levels of the viewer (Batra, Myers, Aaker, 1996).
Although humour is commonly used in advertising campaigns today and due to the complexities involved in its measurement, the actual effectiveness of humour as communications tool is still a subject of much debate. On one hand, humour can enhance positive attitudes towards the product being promoted. On the other hand, the use of humour may be regarded as unsuitable for the product that is being promoted. If humour draws attention away from the product or message that the advertiser is trying to communicate, what is the real effectiveness of it as a tool of communication and why do advertisers still use it?
The objective of this study is to explore the different types of humour used in television advertising and to identify which is the most widely used, in an attempt to address whether the use of humour in advertising is at all effective.
Therefore, to explore these ideas, the following research objectives have been set:
- To identify the number of television adverts that contain some element of humour, in comparison to the proportion of those that do not;
- To determine whether humour is used to promote all types of products, or a specific group of products;
- To determine the type of humour used most in relation to the product that is being promoted;
Hypotheses are an important part of the approach to a research problem. Usually a hypothesis is a possible answer to the research question (Malhotra, 2000). In relation to the above objectives, the following hypotheses have been developed.
- This study will attempt to verify Codruta and Gail’s (2001) findings that
silliness is the most frequent type of humour used in advertising.
- There will be a significant difference between product category and the type of
- There will be a significant difference between types of humour used and the level of funniness.
3.0 Previous Research
A number of studies have been conducted regarding the use of humour in advertising. Although humour has been used in advertising for many years, due to its complexity in nature, only a few have been able to understand its actual impact and effectiveness (Weinberger and Gulas, 1992).
Despite humour being an effective mechanism for drawing attention, it is crucial for advertisers to find the appropriate type of humour for the appropriate product in order to ensure success. Attention is enhanced if the type of humour used is directly related to the product that is being promoted, therefore increasing advertising effectiveness.
Codruta & Gail (2001) have identified seven main classifications of humour that are used in television advertising. These include: 1) comparison; 2) personification; 3) pun; 4) exaggeration; 5) sarcasm; 6) silliness, and; 7) surprise. Although silliness was found to be the most popular type of humour used in television advertising, very few studies have directly compared the effectiveness of the different types of humour against each other. Nevertheless, a study by Speck (1987) concluded that although there were many differences between the types of humours used, no one type had a substantial universal impact, whether this be positive or negative. Furthermore, the effectiveness of the type of humour used in order to achieve the desired communication goals is still uncertain.
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Weinberger and Spotts (1989) have further identified that the different types of humour used in television advertising varies by product category. Television adverts for products such as snack foods, deserts, beer and alcohol and tobacco tended to be more humour dominant in comparison to other product groups.
Madden and Weinberger (1982, 1984) further stated that the effectiveness of humour in advertising varied across product groups. Weinberger and Gulas (1992) later went on to identify two dichotomies, which constituted product category. These include whether the product was fictional or actual, as well as whether it was a high involvement or low involvement product. Such variables were believed to affect the rate of success of the advertising campaign. However, although the effectiveness of humour varies across product groups, it is still uncertain whether the type of humour that is used also varies with product category.
This study will therefore test Codruta & Gail’s (2001) different classifications of humour used in advertising; in an attempt to discover which type is the most widely used in television advertising.
4.0 Research Design
The literature review demonstrates the complexities in measuring the effectiveness of the use of humour within advertising. In terms of reliability, data collected will be compared to that of: 1) Codruta & Gail’s (2001) findings (the seven classifications of humour), and; 2) Weinberger and Spotts (1989) findings (the relationship between product category and the different types of humour used to promote it). The research design will also help to discuss the process of data collection as well as the necessary methods of analysis.
Research Design Classification
In this instance, exploratory research will be conducted, as the primary objective of this study is to “provide insights into, and an understanding of a marketing phenomena” Malhotra (2000). Important characteristics of exploratory research and this study, which have to be taken into account, include the small sample sizes and flexibility involved.
The research design will be of a descriptive nature and data will be quantified and statistically analysed. Results will be entered on to SPSS and analysed. The package was chosen due to its definitive uses as a marketing research tool. This is discussed in detail in Section 6.0.
Choice of Research Method
Research methods used in this study include structured observations and surveys. Structured observation involves clearly defining behaviours or events to be served in a controlled environment. This method has been chosen as it reduces the potential for observer bias and enhances the reliability of the data. Content analysis, will also be used as it is the objective, systematic and quantitative description of the manifest content of communication (Malhotra 2000). A structured survey will aid observation, by keeping a record of adverts watched through predetermined questions.
Potential Sources of Error in the Research Design
There is a possibility of non-sampling errors occurring which can be attributed to sources other than sampling, either random or non-random (Malhotra and Birks 2000). A possible error in this study is recording error, which may arise due to misinterpretation in hearing and recording correctly. To reduce this error, a benchmarking analysis will be executed before hand in order to test the data collection method. There is no likeliness of surrogate information error as the criteria sought are predetermined.
Construction and Pre-testing of the Questionnaire
Before proceeding with the experiment, a pilot testing exercise was carried out. Mahlotra (2000) defines this as “testing the questionnaire on a small sample of respondents for the purpose of improving the questionnaire by identifying and eliminating potential problems”. This was to ensure that all researchers understood what questions needed to be answered and how these related to the research objectives. To coincide with this, a benchmarking analysis was also carried out. This involved researchers viewing the same adverts on the same day during the same time, in order to measure the similarity, reliability and validity of the results. Hence, the researchers were looking for major differences in the way that questions were answered and the way that adverts were rated.
Benchmarking prompted the inclusion (or exclusion) of further criteria, which had initially not been considered. This made the study more focused and controlled, increasing the accuracy, reliability and the validity of the results obtained.
Selection of the Sampling Procedure
Non-probability sampling will be used despite probability sampling being commonly associated with quantitative research. In particular, quota sampling will be undertaken. This is a form of judgmental sampling, which occurs when the researcher selects the population elements based on their judgement.
A reason for selecting quota sampling is because of the predetermined information the researcher will be observing, viewing adverts on a particular day and at a particular time. Further advantages of using quota sampling include that it is a low cost technique and offers greater convenience to the researcher in selecting elements. Due to the resource and time constraint of the study, this is the favoured option.
Population & Sampling
Adverts shown between 18:00 hour and 22:00 hours will be observed. This will ensure a greater variety of both humorous and non-humorous adverts. This time period was chosen, as some humorous adverts are aimed at the adult market and would therefore not be shown any earlier. By using a large time frame, a large enough sample of adverts can be obtained after removing any overlaps from the results. To increase the variety of adverts, observation will take place on four days: 1) Wednesday; 2) Thursday; 3) Friday, and; 4) Saturday, with each of the four researchers viewing adverts from 18:00 hour and 22:00 on one day each. There will be no specific sample size obtained due to these reasons.
Reliability & Validity
Reliability and validity are used to determine the quality of evidence and help define the strength of the data collected. Reliability is defined as the “trustworthiness” of results according to Glaser & Strauss (1967) and the “dependability” of the evidence according to Lincoln & Guba (1985). Validity however, has been described as the “credibility” and “plausibility” of research by Glaser and Strauss (1967). In order to ensure that the data collected is as reliable and validated as possible, the following steps have been taken:
- A benchmarking exercise which has highlighted differences in interpretation from researchers. This enabled the questionnaire to be altered and improved, ensuring that similar meanings to terms and definitions were attached and abided by in the main study, ensuring the consistency of the results obtained.
- As researchers will also play the part of respondents, cheating will be eliminated, as respondents will not be writing down just any answer. Also adverts will be recorded so that respondents can play them back if they have not had enough time to fill the in the questions whilst watching the advert the first time
- Analysis will be carried out systematically to reduce the level of error. It will be portrayed in a “true” form, replicating original data.
Data Collection Procedure
The data collection method will be as follows: A questionnaire will act as the data collection tool (See Appendix 1.0). Each of the researchers will be designated a different day to watch adverts (Wednesday to Saturday). Adverts will only be watch on ITV and during the same time slots (18.00 - 22.00) to increase the reliability of results. All adverts will be examined even non-humorous adverts, to allow the opportunity to examine the balance of humorous adverts against non-humorous.
A number of key findings were discovered regarding different types of humour used in television advertising. These will be analysed in the following order:
- The proportion of adverts shown which were found to be humorous
- Which product category the majority of adverts fell into
- Which time slot showed the most humorous adverts
- How funny adverts were rated on the four point scale
- Which types of humour were more prevalent in the research collected
- What factor attributed to the adverts’ humour
- During which type of programme were most adverts shown.
5.1 Proportion of humorous adverts
In order to discover the use of humour within advertising, it was important to measure the quantity of adverts that used a humorous theme in comparison to those that did not. This not only showed the popularity of humour as a communication tool for advertisers, but also represented the view of advertisers with regards to whether it was an effective mechanism or not (constituted by its use). Figure 1.0 illustrates that only 39% of adverts from a 227 sample were of a humorous nature, demonstrating that although humour is used in advertising, it is not a very common method.
Figure 1.0 Percentage of adverts which are non/ humorous.
5.2 Product Categories of Adverts
To identify whether humour is used to promote all types of products or a specific group, adverts were classed in product categories. Figure 2.0 identifies seven main categories. It is evident that humour is used most widely for the promotion of food
related products, and far less for products such as alcohol, magazines and newspapers. Thus demonstrating that the use of humour does vary across product categories, and not all companies choose to use humour when advertising their products.
Further to this, our hypothesis stated there would be a significant difference between product categories and type of humour used. This was supported through using a chi-squared test that showed there was a significance figure of 0.01. As this result is below the 5% confidence level, a significant difference between them has been achieved. Figure 2.1 shows Chi Squared Testing from SPSS.
Figure 2.1 Chi Squared Test to show whether humour is used in across product categories
5.3 Time slots in which humorous adverts are shown
Figure 3.0 Number of humorous adverts shown between 18.00 to 22.00.
Time periods were devised in hourly slots to help determine whether the number of humorous adverts varied with the time of day. Figure 3.0 exemplifies that the majority of humorous adverts (37.1%), were shown between 19:00 – 20:00 hours. The least number of humorous adverts (11.2%) were shown between 18:00 – 19:00. 27% of adverts were shown between 20:00 - 21:00 hours, and 24.7% between 21:00 - 22:00. The data demonstrates that the number of humorous adverts shown on television does vary with time of day. This could be because advertisers realize the effectiveness humorous adverts can have in relation to purchase intentions and as many adverts are aimed at the adult market, these are shown later in the evening.
A chi-squared test was then conducted to explore whether there were differences in the type of humour shown and the time in which the advert was viewed. The results below show that there was no significant difference between the type of humour used and the time that the advert was shown (sig – 0.126).
Figure 3.1 Chi squared to test differences between type of humour and time the advert was shown
5.4 How funny adverts were rated on a four-point scale
In order to determine the intensity of humour used by the majority of advertisers, adverts were judged on levels of humour. These varied from: 1) slightly funny; 2) mildly funny; 3) fairly funny, and; 4) funny. The results are shown below:
Figure 4.0 Level of humour found in humourous adverts
Most of the adverts were found to be either funny or very funny. These were found to be 28.1% and 29.2% respectively. In comparison, only 15.7% adverts were thought to be mildly funny at 15.7%. This illustrates that the culture of advertising within the UK is geared towards the high use of humour, if it is decided that humour should be used at all as a tool of communication.
Figure 4.1 Level of funniness
5.5 Types of humour more prevalent in television advertising
The main aim of this study was to test Codruta & Gail’s (2001) seven classifications of humour that are used in television advertising. These include: 1) comparison; 2) personification; 3) pun; 4) exaggeration; 5) sarcasm; 6) silliness, and; 7) surprise. Figure 5.0 illustrates that silliness was found to be the most popular type of humour used by television advertisers, with 25.8% of advertisements viewed falling into this group. This finding correlates with those of Codruta & Gail (2001), and supports the hypothesis that there is a significant difference between types of humour used in advertising. Surprise and exaggeration followed on closely from this with 20.2% and 18%. Personification and sarcasm were found to have 9% and 10.1% and even fewer used comparison and pun. At 7.9% these were found to be the least popular type of humour.
Figure 5.0 Types of humour found in television advertising.
5.5.1 Anova Test
One of the hypothesis was that ‘there will be a significant difference between types of humour used and the level of funniness’. To test this an Anova test was conducted.
This compared the type of humour against how funny the advert was. The results are shown in the table below. They show that there is a significant difference between types of humour used and the level of funniness (sig – 0.012), indicating that some types of humour are funnier than others. However, this did not indicate, which types of humour were actually funnier. A T-test was then conducted to compare the two most popular types of humour found.
Oneway Anova Test
Figure 5.1 Anova test results
Silliness was found to be the most popular type of humour, with surprise following closely after. However in terms of level of funniness, surprise was rated higher than silliness. The average (mean) level of funniness for surprise was 3.1 and for silliness, 2.3 (see Figure 5.2). A T-test result of 0.02 (on both counts) confirmed that there was a significant difference between the two types of humour (see Figure 5.3). This demonstrates that some types of humour are funnier than others, but does not necessarily mean that they are used more widely.
Figure 5.2 Table to show the average mean of funniness
Figure 5.3 Table to show T Test results obtained from SPSS
Figure 5.4 Table to show T Test Variables
5.6 Factors that contribute to the adverts humour
To identify what factors make an advert funny, they were placed in four categories. These included: 1) the situation; 2) the characters; 3) the dialogue, and; 4) the environment. Figure 6.0 illustrates that with 37.2%, characters in the advert were found to be the biggest source of humour being portrayed. This was closely followed by 30.3% of adverts in the situation was responsible for humour found. 25.8% of adverts were funny because of the dialogue and the minority, arising from the environment with 6.7%. In conclusion, characters are largely responsible for the humour that is portrayed in an advert.
Figure 6.0 Factors that contribute to adverts being humourous
5.7 Types of programmes adverts were shown between
Figure 7.0 Types of programmes humorous adverts were shown in between.
Adverts were categorised according to the program they were shown before, after or during (according to the allocated hour). This would determine whether or not program type was related to whether humorous adverts were shown.
Figure 7.0 identifies that the majority of humorous adverts were shown during dramas, with 39.3% of adverts shown falling in this category. A possible reason why humorous adverts are shown vastly during dramas may be due to the fact that this direct contrast with a serious program enhances the actual humour presented in the advert. As well as this, the time frame from which the sample adverts were taken was during the evening, where much of prime time television consists of dramas and films. Soaps were found to be the second most popular program type to contain humorous adverts with 31.5%, followed on by other with 12.4%, quiz shows with 11.2% and lastly news programs with 5.6%.
It is therefore evident that the nature of the program does affect the proportion of humorous adverts that are shown, with majority of humorous advert being shown during dramas and the minority of humours adverts being shown during the news.
5.8 Cross – tabulations
Cross tabulation is a “statistical technique that describes two or more variables simultaneously and results in tables that reflect the joint distribution of two or more variables that have a limited number of categories or distinct values” Malhotra (2000). This technique has been incorporated within the study to gain a more insightful view of the topic.
Figure 8.0 overleaf shows the type of humour used against product category. This will highlight several key points:
- To determine the type of humour used most in relation to the product being promoted;
- To determine the effectiveness of adverts as a consequence of using humour.
Figure 8.0 Cross tabulation chart of product categories verses humour type.
A- Personification E- Silliness
B- Exaggeration F- Surprise
C- Pun G- Comparison
Figure 8.0 illustrates which type of humour was used most across product category. Research showed that surprise was often used in the promotion of alcohol, whereas sarcasm was dominant in adverts for magazines and newspapers. Cars were another category to show a dominant theme. Exaggeration was most commonly used here with the majority of the other humour categories present, with the exception of pun. Financial adverting showed no dominant humour type.
Figure 9.0 Different types of humour vs. level of humour.
6.0 Limitations of the study
There were numerous factors which created bias in the study. These included:
- The sample was small in size and was therefore not representative of the total population;
- Despite benchmarking, there would have been differences in the ways adverts were interpreted;
- Researchers were also respondents. This meant they all had previous knowledge about the subject matter and this could have resulted in bias as they knew what to look for when viewing the adverts (perhaps subconsciously);
- Some could argue that the environment was too controlled. Channel and times of viewing were all specified beforehand. It was therefore not representative of the real world;
- The length of some adverts was fairly long which meant the time allowed in between adverts to answer questions was short. This may have meant bias occurred where the most convenient and easiest answer was chosen.
Further constraints existed and should be considered in order to enhance reliability in the future:
- All days of the week should be tested. In the original study, four days were chosen because of time constraints. However viewing adverts throughout the week, would make results more consistent.
- A larger sample should also be selected which is a fair representation of the population. If time and resource constraints had not existed, differences in gender and age could have been considered. Also the issue of whether timing was a significant factor in the types of adverts shown, could have been explored.
- This study also narrowed the channel being observed, to ITV. In a future study, all channels should be observed in order to identify any underlying differences and to ensure consistency.
This study verified Codruta and Gail’s (2001) findings that silliness is the most frequent type of humour used in advertising, however it was found that surprise is the funniest type of humour. Overall the study found, that there was a significant difference between product category and the type of humour used within television advertising. There was a significant difference between types of humour used and the level of funniness.
All of the research objectives were fulfilled. The majority of television adverts do not contain some element of humour. Humour is used to promote many types of products, yet the analysis found food was the product category using most humorous adverts. It was found that certain product categories favoured a particular type of humour, for example, newspapers and magazines mostly used sarcasm, whereas alcohol advertisements used surprise.
The study conducted by Speck (1987) established there were many differences between the types of humour used. However no one type was found to have had a substantial universal impact. This study found similar results. Although humour was found to be prevalent in certain product categories, it was these categories which were high in number in terms of the adverts observed, such as food and financial. From this study it is concluded that various types of humour exist, and are used widely, however the product type can be a determining factor on which type of humour is used in adverts and when it will be shown.
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- What product category does the advert fall into?
- Food & drink
- Cosmetics/ toiletries
- Financial services
- Magazines and Newspapers
- What brand is being promoted?
- What time was the advert shown?
- 18.00- 19.00
- 19.00- 20.00
- 20.00- 21.00
- 21.00- 22.00
- Do you think the advert was funny in any way?
- On a scale of 1 to 5, how funny would you rate the advert?
(1= Low , 5= High)
1 2 3 4 5
- Which type of humour best describes the advert shown?
5. What makes the advert funny?
- Judge the amount of time the brand name appears on screen?
(1= Low , 5= High)
1 2 3 4 5
- During which program was the advert shown?
- Quiz show
- Reality TV show
- Home improvement/ holiday program
- How long was the advert?
- 5-10 seconds
- 11-20 seconds
- 21-30 seconds
- 31-40 seconds
- 41 +