Effective Use of Humor: A Content Analysis of the Gender Roles in Related Types of Humor used in TVCs for different Product Categories

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Kenstina Sharon Nigli, P. E. Thomas


Background:Since the beginning of the twentieth century, advertisers have been debating the effective use of humor in comparison with the rational or the ‘tell vs. sell approach’. Although advertisers earlier felt that humor appeal was the right choice to only entertain people and not to sell their products or brands, recent studies contradict the previous findings as humor proves to attract attention, minimize counter-arguments, and negative attitude towards the commercials and the brands advertised. Advertisers are also swayed by gender roles as they add more meaning to any advertisement. When compared with how it was earlier in the 1950s, gender roles have changed so much in our society and this change is now permeating into television commercials as well. This positive attitude towards gender roles connect with the principles that are appropriate for advertising as stated by Geoffrey Warnock (1971) i.e. Nondiscrimination, Beneficence, Non-maleficence and Non-deception. According to Eagly’s social role theory (1987), gender roles are closely related to gender stereotypes. Hence, in this study, since one out of five ads is created as humorous ads by the advertisers, content analysis is done to analyze the types of humor used in the humorous ads for particular product categories and also to examine whether gender stereotype exists even in the humorous TVCs or whether the gender roles are portrayed in accordance with the changing societal trends. Creating humorous ads and portraying gender roles in line with the changing societal factors hold better attention as it doesn’t just help viewers connect with the new trend and the happenings around but also entertains them with the elements of creativity, fun, and positive messages that are added to it.


  1. To analyze the types of humor present in the humorous commercials of different product categories in today’s scenario

  2. 2. To examine the portrayal of gender roles in humorous commercials according to the principles of advertising and Eagly’s theory

Methods:In this study, the researcher collected and analyzed the humorous TVCs that were telecasted on the top Tamil channels during the time of her research in a checklist format to identify the types of humor used in them and whether they adhere to the principles of advertising. The portrayal of gender roles in accordance with the way in which men and women are portrayed was also examined in the selected commercials to see whether the commercials are sticking to the gender stereotypes or whether they are portraying men and women according to the change in societal trends. 

Results:Though the effectiveness of humorous commercials and their impact on consumers have been studied by several researchers, the types of humor that are predominantly used in those Television Commercials (TVCs) haven’t been analyzed except by Kaur et al. (2018). As the characteristics of humor can speak more about the type of humor used, in this study different humor techniques are considered and analyzed. From the analysis done, it is clear that ‘Puns or Terms of phrases’are widely used humor techniques by various brands. In around 25 commercials, this technique is used for different product categories with the play on words and phrases, and also by including famous Tamil songs and dialogues, advertisers have created humorous commercials to advertise different companies' brands and products. Considering the Principles of advertising and Stereotypes according to Eagly’s theory, most commercials have adhered to the basic principles of advertising, which are Beneficence, Nonmaleficence, Nondeception, and Non-discrimination by doing good, doing no harm, not deceiving, and discriminating audience, yet a slight touch of discrimination is sensed among 9 commercials.

Conclusions: It is evident from the study thatin humorous commercials, advertisers are adhering to the basic principles of advertising though importance is given to the type of humor and how well it can be executed to get the attention of the public. Even if the ad message is weak, humor as an appeal can reduce negative cognitions towards the ad and the brand as it serves as a source of distraction from counterarguments. This enforces a strong impact and a positive attitude towards the ad as well as the product and brand advertised (Eisend, 2011). Even if the gender roles portrayed in a few humorous commercials are stereotyped, according to the vampire effect, the audience’s attention would be directed towards the humorous element conveyed and not the other aspects of the commercials. Yet, advertisers have to avoid stereotyping gender roles and portray them according to the changing scenario where there is no traditional role behaviors, traits, physical characteristics or occupations set particularly for men and women, but more equality and equity in all the areas in which gender is involved.

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