Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

A. Peter McGraw

Second Advisor

John G. Lynch

Third Advisor

Philip M. Fernbach

Fourth Advisor

Lawrence E. Williams

Fifth Advisor

Caleb Warren


Traditionally, social marketers motivate people to wear seat belts, give to charity, or say no to drugs with vivid, distressing ads. More recently, many social marketers are shifting toward the use of humor appeals. Humor appeals get attention and are often shared on social media, potentially reaching a large audience. But, are humor appeals as persuasive as their serious counterparts? The literature offers conflicting evidence. Literature on commercial advertising suggests that humor appeals can increase ad liking, which positively influences ad persuasiveness. Other literature suggests that humor appeals can trivialize serious messages, which negatively influences ad persuasiveness. The purpose of this research is to clarify the effect of humor appeals on ad persuasiveness, specifically in the context of social advertising. I find that humor appeals have both positive and negative effects on persuasion. Across four studies, I show that humor appeals do in fact trivialize the serious messages of social ads. Trivialization occurs even if the humor appeal fails at being funny. In addition, I find that humor intensity (funniness) is positively correlated with ad liking, and ad liking is positively correlated with ad persuasiveness. Hence, at high levels of humor, ad trivialization can be offset by ad liking. I conclude that funny humor appeals may be a worthwhile strategy for social marketers, not because they are more persuasive, but because of their potential to reach a larger audience.

Included in

Marketing Commons