A laughing matter – How the global importance of humor in advertising varies by gender

Women, men, children, babies – we all love to laugh, right? Most people generally enjoy a good joke, a funny story and embrace a reason to smile. A great piece of advertising can often be the source of that giggle, so why do so few ads featuring women try to be funny?  by Kate Ginsburg

Around the world brands seek to use humour to get their message across. In the U.S., Amazon has been on a kick with its Alexa ads, most recently the ‘Not Everything Makes the Cut’ spot, which premiered at Super Bowl LIII, and was named the funniest Super Bowl commercial of 2019 by USA Today. The spot explores (fake) Alexa integrated products that never hit the market – a toothbrush that plays podcasts and a hot tub that puts on a fountain show to rival the Bellagio.

Smart Speakers seem to have sparked a global trend in activating on humour. The ‘Smart House‘ spot for REMA 1000 supermarket chain in Norway was a gold award winner in the “humour” category for the Epica awards. The spot highlights the downfall of a man trying to control his voice-controlled house after having some dental work – and it’s worth a watch.

Kantar’s AdReaction: Getting Gender Right report confirms that humour improves ad receptivity among men and women more than any other ad characteristic. However, the report highlights some differences by country and gender. For instance, we found funny ads to be most important among audiences in South Africa and the Czech Republic. Conversely, humor was less important in Japan and Turkey.

Globally, women find humour just as important as men (49 percent vs 46 percent), and in most markets men and women claim to appreciate funny ads to a similar extent. These results reinforce the point that a funny ad is usually a funny ad – regardless who watches it. In some countries, however, there was a discernable gender difference between the importance of humour to men and women. Across the countries included in the research, the largest gap was seen for Russia where humour is considerably more valued by women than by men.  Russian brands targeting women should therefore be especially open to using humour.

So humour is an important ad characteristic for both men and women. Despite this, far fewer ads featuring women try to be funny.  While 51 percent of global ads featuring men use humour, this is true of just 22 percent of ads featuring women.  This implies the marketing industry may be working on the false assumption that humour matters less to women or is less relevant to female characters.   Brands should consider whether they are providing sufficient opportunities for humour with the widest possible appeal in their advertising, while remaining cautious to not backtrack into the harmful gender-based stereotypes that limit brand growth and gender progress in the industry.

What do you think? Given humour’s universal appeal, why are so many brands still cautious about deploying funny female characters?

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