Journal of Marketing Behavior > Vol 2 > Issue 1

When Does Humorous Marketing Hurt Brands?

Caleb Warren, University of Arizona, USA, , A. Peter McGraw, University of Colorado, USA,
Suggested Citation
Caleb Warren and A. Peter McGraw (2016), "When Does Humorous Marketing Hurt Brands?", Journal of Marketing Behavior: Vol. 2: No. 1, pp 39-67.

Publication Date: 19 Oct 2016
© 2016 C. Warren and A. P. McGraw


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In this article:
Humorous Advertising 
Study 1: Highly Inappropriate Humorous Ads are Riskier for Brands 
Study 2: Humorous Ads with Specific Targets are Riskier for Brands 
Study 3: Humorous Ads that Prompt Avoidance are Riskier for Brands 
Study 4: Violation Severity Predicts the Effectiveness of Real Humorous Ads 
General Discussion 
Appendix: Coding Instructions for Study 4 


Humorous advertisements attract attention and entertain consumers. Nonetheless, attempting humor is risky because consumers may be offended by failed humor attempts. We propose another reason that attempting humor is risky: humorous advertisements can hurt brand attitudes by eliciting negative feelings — even when consumers find the ad funny. Three experiments and one correlational study demonstrate that humorous marketing is more likely to hurt the advertised brand when it (1) features a highly threatening humorous ad rather than mildly threatening ad, (2) makes fun of a subset of the population rather than people in general, and (3) motivates avoidance rather than approach. We conclude by offering five guiding questions for marketers who want to use humor to attract attention and entertain consumers without inadvertently hurting brand attitudes.