Journal of Marketing Behavior > Vol 1 > Issue 2

Not a Problem: A Downside of Humorous Appeals

A. Peter McGraw, University of Colorado-Boulder, USA, Julie L. Schiro, University of Colorado-Boulder, USA, Philip M. Fernbach, University of Colorado-Boulder, USA,
Suggested Citation
A. Peter McGraw, Julie L. Schiro and Philip M. Fernbach (2015), "Not a Problem: A Downside of Humorous Appeals", Journal of Marketing Behavior: Vol. 1: No. 2, pp 187-208.

Published: 21 Oct 2015
© 2015 A. P. McGraw, J. L. Schiro, and P. M. Fernbach
Behavioral Decision Making

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In this article:
1. Humorous Appeals
2. Humor and Problem Solving
3. Study 1: Problem Recognition
4. Study 2: Problem-solving Behavior
5. Discussion
6. General Discussion
7. Conclusion


Public service announcements (PSAs) are traditionally designed to elicit negative emotions that spur problem-solving behavior. However, in order to improve their reach, some social marketers are forgoing traditional strategy by creating PSAs that are humorous. Because of humor’s positivity and association with non-serious situations, we hypothesized that humorous appeals can decrease problem perception and problemsolving behavior. Study 1 examined problem perceptions using matched pairs of humorous and non-humorous PSAs. Respondents judged a social issue as less important to solve after viewing the humorous version of the pair. Study 2 examined problem-solving behavior through a partnership with a non-profit organization seeking to improve young adults’ sexual health knowledge. Humorous PSAs were less effective than a non-humorous version at spurring people to search for health information. The inquiry revealed a previously unaddressed tradeoff: using humor to benefit a message’s reach creates a potential cost to solving a personal or societal problem.