Research Shows Consumers Are Ready for Return of Humorous Ads

Research Shows Consumers Are Ready for Return of Humorous Ads

This post was adapted from Unlock Health’s The Link newsletter. Subscribe to The Link to get insights like this directly in your inbox.

What’s going on?

After years of consistent decline, humor is finally making its return to advertising in 2024.

Humor has continuously faded from advertising over the past two decades, largely due to:

  1. The risk of appearing tone-deaf during major global crises and periods of economic, political, and social tension
  2. The rise in purpose-focused advertising amid growing consumer popularity and award show favoritism
  3. The increase in media fragmentation and decline of linear TV, where humor is arguably hardest-hitting

But coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are displaying a growing sense of purpose fatigue and a yearn for levity, and the industry is responding. Two-thirds of this year’s Super Bowl ads featured amusement as the lead emotion, and Kantar reports that nearly one-third of all current ads contain some form of humor. Some brands’ efforts have been more successful than others, but then again, humor is largely subjective and can be polarizing. Getting some people to laugh often requires turning off others, which is a risky trade-off many brands aren’t willing to make. Humor is a powerful tool. Kantar finds that humorous ads garner increases in engagement and distinctiveness across all channels. And a study from Oracle found that 90% of audiences are more likely to remember funny ads, and 75% of audiences would follow a brand they found funny on social media. Those are results worth considering even for the most sensitive of subjects. A light-hearted ad can transform a potentially stressful subject into something more relatable and enjoyable — think of how well the insurance industry has embraced it. Unlock Health infused some comedic relief into healthcare advertising, highlighting the chaotic reality of life with three kids in this campaign for Centra Health:


What’s The Link?  

Though humor may not always be the right fit for the message, sometimes it’s just what the doctor ordered.  

According to Unlock’s Consumer Compass® survey, 86% of Americans believe there’s nothing better than a good laugh. Our chief creative officer, Jim Larmon, touches on the need to challenge the assumption that humor and healthcare don’t mix:

“This subject is close to my heart. Much of my career has been spent doing comedy. I remember writing the most ridiculous and funny stuff for financial services clients. Which was not the norm. Some in the industry thought it was silly or strange. The thinking was you needed to make emotional work in order to connect with audiences. But everyone forgets that the most powerful of all emotions is joy, happiness, amusement. Comedy does that! People remember when you make them laugh. When people say you need to connect with people emotionally (and you do), never forget that humor is an emotion, and it's super powerful.” 

Already convinced? Here’re five things to consider when infusing humor into healthcare marketing:  

  1. Align with brand values: Ensure that the humorous content aligns with your brand’s values and overall messaging to maintain consistency and credibility. Don’t force it. Humor should support and enhance the primary message rather than overshadow it. 
  2. Know your audience: Have a deep understanding of your intended audience’s demographics and cultural sensitivities. Drawing on everyday relatable scenarios can ensure the humor will be well-received while maintaining respect and empathy. 
  3. Blend it together: Mix humor with other emotions so that the message can evoke a range of feelings and create lasting impact without solely relying on it being funny. 
  4. Amplify on social media: Leverage humor to create shareable content that can boost engagement and reach across your social media platforms. 
  5. Test, iterate, and measure effectiveness: Just as comedians do with jokes, test your content to gauge reactions and make necessary adjustments before pushing it out. By measuring engagement metrics and audience response, you can hone your message for the biggest laughs and ROI. 

See how humor helped drive cardiovascular appointments

To get at-risk patients back on their screening routines following the pandemic, one health system used humor and an integrated campaign to drive nearly 400 appointments in one month. Check out our Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System Case Study to see it in action.

The Link is an insights-focused newsletter connecting you to the latest trends driving the integrated marketing and media world forward. Previously published as The Squeeze by SPM Group, The Link is produced by Unlock Health for healthcare marketers to inform, inspire, and ignite ideas.

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