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Our brains love to laugh - and your brand should too

30 Aug 2017  |  Heather Andrew 
Our brains love to laugh - and your brand should too

Neuroscience proves the effectiveness of using humour in advertising, writes Heather Andrew

One look at this year’s Cannes Lions’ winners reveals that emotionally-driven narratives are increasingly being employed by brands in a bid to engage with consumers. The logic is sound - tugging at viewers’ heartstrings with a serious emotional narrative can be highly effective. From Ariel’s #SHARETHELOAD campaign to Boost Mobile’s advert encouraging viewers to vote, audiences have been were moved by adverts with a convincing social purpose and an emotive call to action.

Nonetheless, a sea of emotional advertising doesn’t accurately reflect the different ways in which brands can engage with consumers, and it’s a shame to see fewer and fewer big brands attempt to make that connection through humour. Appealing to viewers’ sense of humour is still a form of emotional engagement, albeit with a lighter-touch, and therefore just as effective as employing a more serious emotional strategy.

Some of the world’s best loved adverts are award-wining, a resounding commercial success - and funny. Old Spice’s ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’, for example, used humour to underpin a campaign which turned the brand into a pop culture phenomenon and cemented it as the leader in its category - resulting in the original spot being awarded Cannes’ coveted Grand Prix in 2010.

Brands need only look at the way the human brain responds to humour for further proof that lighter-hearted strategies can stand toe-to-toe with other types of emotional narrative. Research shows that we naturally love to laugh - it releases hormones which make us happier, relieves stress and strengthens our bond with other humans.

Evidence about the effectiveness of laughter was strengthened by a recent study conducted by neuro research company Neuro-Insight, which measured the levels of brain response to the sound of laughter in American sitcoms, on a second-by-second basis. One test group watched clips of Friends and The Big Bang Theory complete with canned laughter, whilst the second watched the same clips with the laughter removed.

Perhaps not surprisingly, audience members in the first group demonstrated greater levels of approach (positive emotional response) when they heard the canned laughter tracks, even if they were not laughing out loud themselves. This is because when we hear something designed to be funny and then others laugh in response, mirror neurons cause the corresponding parts of our brains to react in the same way.

But going beyond this, the study also revealed that certain other brain responses were also higher when the laughter tracks were included. The sound of laughter added another layer of meaning to the content, thus driving higher levels of response among the groups that heard it. These differences in brain response between the two groups reflects the way in which we have evolved as social animals; we are empathic to the actions of others, and susceptible to sharing the same response.

The fact that this enjoyment was shared resulted in higher levels of personal relevance which, in turn, encouraged greater levels of memory encoding - demonstrating that humour is a reliable way to ensure your brand is stored away with a positive association attributed to it.

So, not only does laughter make us feel good, but there is also good evidence to link laughter with advertising effectiveness; it generates powerful emotional connections and forms stronger memories by dramatically increasing levels of brain response. Memory encoding is a vital metric for brands, with many studies linking it future decision making, including future purchases.

Getting creative and encouraging your audience to laugh with each other builds a strong emotional connection with both the brand, and between viewers themselves. Whilst humour can be subjective, and therefore daunting to tackle, creatives and brands shouldn’t shy away from attempting to engage consumers by making them crack a smile - it might only take a few giggles for the positive effects to take hold.


Heather Andrew is CEO of Neuro-Insight

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