Comedy Central and the Hidden Power of Laughter
In advertising, there is a strong belief that appealing to people’s emotions influences behavior more effectively than catering to their sense of reason. It’s important for advertisers to create positive emotional experiences – especially for Millennials, who value humor highly.
Laughter goes hand-in-hand with positive experience. And research has shown that it has many beneficial effects. Not only does it release endorphins, which produce a general feeling of well-being, it burns calories, lowers blood pressure, and boosts immune function.
Like other behaviors, laughter is complex and driven by the subconscious mind. We may think we’re just laughing at a joke because it’s funny, but there can be hidden factors at play. In a scientific study in which one group of people nodded “yes” and another shook their heads “no” while listening to music, the “yes” group reported liking the music more – proving that the mind can pick up positive signals from the body.
With the goal of understanding laughter in more depth, Comedy Central International commissioned a study of behavior in real time as part of a larger report, “Power of Laughter.” This groundbreaking analysis measured the laughter of 2,250 respondents across 9 countries using online facial coding, which unobtrusively tracks minute facial expressions – as many as 10 per second – via a webcam.
Respondents were separated into two groups who each watched five minutes of TV content. The only variable for both groups was the type of content presented to them – one saw a funny video that stimulated laughter; the other viewed factual programming. They were instructed simply to watch the video scenes and behave naturally. Afterwards, both groups viewed the same commercial block with five ads and then answered several questions.
These moment-to-moment measurements revealed a halo effect surrounding the funny content. For the group primed with humorous programming, emotional flow was higher during the commercial block than it was for those primed with factual content. Subconsciously, the group that saw the funny content was more entertained throughout the commercials – creating a “halo effect” around those ads.
The questions asked afterwards of both groups produced surprising results. More people in the group that saw serious content said they laughed during the commercials. In reality, however, the group that watched funny content had laughed more. Because of the contrast between the factual content and humorous commercials, the “serious” group thought they laughed more during commercials than they actually did. This illustrates how hard it can be to reconstruct behavior after the fact. Sometimes, it’s better to measure behavior directly, in real time, instead of asking questions later.