unizeit Schriftzug

Witty works

Humour is well received - even in advertising. Professor Stefan Hoffmann has investigated how sales can be increased through emotions and what cultural differences there are in this respect.

Werbemotiv drei Fische in Plastiktüten und ein Igel.
© DDB Group GmbH

Je emotionaler Werbung ist, desto mehr findet sie Beachtung. Und umso mehr ein Betrachter oder eine Betrachterin sich Gedanken macht, wofür genau geworben wird (hier der »Einparkassistent«), desto besser bleibt sie im Gedächtnis.

"Nothing is impossible!" This one sentence is enough to create images and a melody in the mind of the 40 plus generation. About monkeys, who in the early 90s roared the slogan of a Japanese car brand through the jungle. It's a catchy tune that won't leave your ear canal - and has been for over 25 years. "With this animalistic TV commercial, the makers have achieved a real success," says Professor Stefan Hoffmann. During his marketing lecture at Kiel University, the psychologist with a doctorate in business administration regularly deals with the subject of "Humour and absurdity in advertising and the influence on advertising impact".

"Many things are important when introducing new products," explains the marketing expert. One of these is to define the target group, and another is to think about a strategy for getting the new product to the man or woman. The price of a product, the place where and the way the product is to be sold are also important. But in order to sell a product, you first have to make it known. In many cases, well-done, funny advertising helps here. Humour such as the singing monkeys of the car manufacturer, for example, increases the attention of the viewer, emotions are aroused and the product remains in the memory, which in the best case leads to a purchase decision and a recommendation of the product.

Portrait photo
© pur.pur

Professor Stefan Hoffmann

Hoffmann identified three types of humor or absurdity in advertising in his studies, in which he presented test subjects with various print advertisements, some of which were modified. These can be found in commercials on television: The first form is the lack of correspondence between text and image, called Comic Wit in technical jargon, which attracts the attention of viewers. If the ad resolves this so-called incongruity, experts speak of humor, by the way; if it doesn't, they speak of absurdity. This is well done with an ad for a type of beer. In it, two senior citizens are sitting comfortably on a bench in front of the house. The title "Homebanking" above the scene makes you smile, because the scene has nothing to do with banking business that you do from home.

The second form is satirical, derogatory advertising. "Here too, text and image do not match, and there is also a satirical-aggressive component," explains Hoffmann. The best example of this is the advertisement of a car rental company, which in 2001 made fun of the Chancellor's hairstyle, which was much criticized in some media at the time ("New hairstyle? Rent a convertible"). Angela Merkel took it with humour.

Warm-hearted and sentimental advertising is the third form of humorous advertising that goes straight to the heart. "Usually children or animals play a big role," says Hoffmann, citing as an example a German car manufacturer who placed a porcupine in his advertisements at a perfect distance between "parked" goldfish in transparent bags. The company used it to advertise the parking assistant - as it appears in small print below the oversized picture. "If advertising succeeds in getting people to think about the poster and, at best, to come up with the solution themselves, then the viewer has positively saved the advertising".

This third type of emotional humour is, by the way, more widespread in advertisements in southern countries such as Spain and Italy and is better received there. In Germany, however, satirical advertising is more popular. In Russia, people expect little or no entertainment when it comes to advertising, but rather tangible, textual information, says Hoffmann, citing the results of various ten to twenty-year-old studies. There are no more recent figures.

"In a planned economy, manufacturers did not have to fight for the attention of many buyers as they did in a free market economy," explains Hoffmann. It's different in the USA: As early as the 1970s, TV advertising was more entertaining than informative. This has continued until today. Around a third of all TV commercials and around ten to twenty percent of all print ads there work with humor.

But that alone is not enough: "Good advertising is characterized by the fact that humor simultaneously points out the product benefits. However, advertising cannot be shown one-to-one in every country. "There are many factors to consider in order for humor to work in advertising."

Author: Jennifer Ruske