Monday, September 24, 2018


Humor lauded in marketing

Capturing the attention of consumers isn’t easy in today’s marketplace, one in which technology and other developments have expanded choices and increased competition.

But at the local level, creativity — in this case regarding signage — can help set a business apart. Some shingles bank on colorful lighting to draw in customers. Others trumpet their latest sales or need for job applicants. For at least a few local ventures, however, humor is the strategy of choice.

Within a couple square miles on the east side of Eau Claire, the signage at several businesses stands out. Milwaukee Burger Co. may have had the best signage last week, as bold letters declared “My boss told me to change th(e) stupid sign.” Nearby, fellow restaurant Bug Eyed Betty’s announced on its signage “Legalize pot ... roast.” (We added the ellipsis for dramatic effect).

Houses of worship employ the tactic as well. In the same area of Eau Claire, First Presbyterian Church often offers a message that utilizes a play on words. Johnson, Runkel & Hazen, an accounting, tax and financial services firm, provides on its signage quips or predictions of Green Bay Packers scores each week during the NFL season.

But does humor in advertising work?

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An article in The Atlantic magazine a few years ago including a quote from the late advertising pioneer John Caples.

“You can entertain a million people and not sell one of them,” he said. “There is not a single humorous line in two of the most influential books in the world, namely, the Bible and the Sears Roebuck catalog.”

Times have changed.

UW-Eau Claire’s Rama Yelkur and Chuck Tomkovick, who passed away in 2013, earned national attention for their analysis of Super Bowl advertising over many years.

“Super Bowl audiences typically seem to appreciate commercials that are viewed as funny,” the duo’s research found. “In the context of the party atmosphere created by the Super Bowl, humorous advertisements seem to be better liked by viewers than non-humorous advertisements.”

Scott Swanson, a professor in the Marketing and Management Department at UW-Eau Claire, agreed.

“Humor appeals are generally among the most popular and best remembered of all advertising messages,” he said. “Advertisers use humor for several reasons, including attracting and holding consumers’ attention, putting them in a favorable mood, creating effect (i.e., positive emotions) that may transfer to the good or service being advertised, and to reduce counterarguing (i.e., the consumer questioning the information being provided by the advertiser) by serving as a distractor.”

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Using humor to sell products or promote a brand, however, can have drawbacks.

“Problems with humorous appeals include the possibility of drawing attention to the ad but at the expense of message content,” Swanson said. “The effectiveness of humor is clearly tied to the type of product and audience characteristics. In general, the humor used needs to be related to the product.”

Social media also has been influential.

“The ability of social media to target more specific groups of customers that have similar characteristics likely improves the ability of a company to identify and use appropriate humor to reach a particular market,” Swanson said. “Research has also shown that younger consumers have greater expectations to be entertained by advertising and are therefore more accepting of humorous approaches.”

So are we.

We appreciate the efforts put forth by the aforementioned businesses and others in the Chippewa Valley that take a humorous approach. Keep up the good work.

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