Mixing emotions: The use of humor in fear advertising


Published: 16Apr2012

Authors: Mukherjee, Ashesh; Dube, Laurette


Fear is used to advertise many products, services, and causes such as antismoking, sunscreen usage, and safe driving. Past research indicates that high levels of fear tension arousal can prompt defensive responses in the audience, which, in turn, can reduce the persuasive effect of the ad. We show in two studies that humor can reduce these defensive responses and hence increase the persuasiveness of fear advertising. Specifically, we show that increasing the level of fear tension arousal decreases persuasion when humor is absent but increases persuasion when humor is present. Further, this interaction of humor and fear tension arousal is mediated by defensive responses related to message elaboration and vulnerability to threat. Our results suggest that the effectiveness of fear advertising can be increased by adding an element of humor to the ad. © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Journal of Consumer Behavior, March 2012