March 2020 (Vol. 60, Issue 1): CREATIVITY
Gotcha! Realism of Comedic Violence and Its Impact on Brand Responses: What’s So Funny about that Bloody Ad? The Moderating Role of Disposition to Laughter
The use of comedic violence in advertising across media has grown in recent years, yet little is known about how it works and the branding consequences it may bear. Previous research has shown that humor appreciation and laughter are not always good predictors of subsequent brand responses, so Malgorzata Karpinska-Krakowiak (University of Lodz, Poland), looked at other factors, starting with perceived realism. “Given its power to persuade audiences,” she writes, citing earlier research, the way people perceive realism in an ad “may mediate significantly the effects of advertising content, especially when a message incorporates violent, aggressive or controversial cues.”
Karpinska-Krakowiak also included a person’s disposition to laughter as a potentially important factor in driving his/her responsiveness to humorous messages. This would add to the scarce knowledge available on who is most responsive to comedic violence. She used three measures—katagelasticism (the joy of laughing at others), gelotophilia (the joy of being laughed at), and gelotophobia (the fear of being laughed at)—defined in previous research as follows:
- Katagelasticists “frequently play the role of pranksters who enjoy telling or setting up a joke at someone else’s expense.”
- Gelotophiles are not uncomfortable when telling jokes about their personal misfortunes or embarrassing situations, as long as they gain joy from it and entertain their audience.
- Gelotophobes may embarrass easily and are afraid of becoming subjects of mockery, thus they avoid potentially disparaging situations.
Karpinska-Krakowiak’s research consisted of two studies, both conducted in Poland. Study 1—a content analysis—found that comedic violence accounts for a significant part of digital content. Brands often use it as a creative device to communicate with their online users, and most of it is meant to be shown in a highly realistic way. Out of 803 videos published by brands on their YouTube channels between October 2016 and December 2017, more than half—471—were identified as violent, according to the following categories:
- Physical harm (256 videos)
- Psychological violence (322)
- Exploiting elements of fortuitous aggression (278)
Study 2 tested two actual video ads depicting highly realistic practical jokes— the violent “Sniper Shot” by Cuisinella, and the less aggressive “Christmas Miracle” by WestJet. The ads were tested first against a small panel of experts and then against a broad consumer sample.
Among the findings: The highly violent ad had a “negative impact on perceived realism and resulted in less positive brand attitudes when compared to low levels of comedic violence.” This suggests that “when an advertisement incorporates highly violent humor … consumers tend to deny its veracity, and the mediating effect of advertisement realism becomes negative.” However, the addition of “claims of nonreality (‘This is a commercial’) might shield a brand from negative consequences of aggressive humor.”
Disposition to laughter as a factor driving responses to humor provided additional insight. “People who enjoy being laughed at and who like laughing at others were observed to respond more favorably to comedic violence than nongelotophiles [those who do not like being laughed at] or nonkatagelasticists [those who do not enjoy laughing at others],” the author writes. This was particularly the case “when advertising depictions were highly realistic.”
Among the practical implications:
- Perception of advertisement realism mediates the effects of violent humor in advertising.
- Manipulating advertisement realism may shield brands from the negative consequences of aggressive humor.
- Individual disposition to laughter may help advertisers better target humorous ads.
- People high in gelotophilia and katagelastisicm were found to respond positively to high comedic violence when they were told about the noncommercial nature of the ad.