Our brains have a sense of humour, even when we are not laughing
Employing an emotional narrative to convey a social message has become a go-to strategy for brands hoping to win over the hearts and minds of viewers. We need only look at this year’s Cannes Lions awards to see this in action. Winners including Ariel’s #SHARETHELOAD and The Humanium Metal Initiative in particular, moved audiences with their touching narratives and clear intentions for social good.
This kind of emotional content is highly effective at building a connection with viewers, but brands should not forget that humour offers an alternative way to elicit a strong emotional connection. Encouraging viewers to crack a smile may be a more light-hearted approach, but it can pack just as much of a punch as a more serious emotional strategy.
Happiness is a highly persuasive and moving emotion, and research shows that laughing helps to boost our happiness. When we laugh, we are relieved of stress, hormones are released and our bonds with others are strengthened; laughter is, after all, an audible expression of shared values.
The results of a study recently conducted by neuro research company Neuro-Insight supported the findings of this research into laughter. The study measured brain response to the sound of laughter in American sitcoms on a second-by-second basis; one study group watched clips of Friends and The Big Bang Theory with laughter tracks included, whilst the other half of the sample watched the same clips with the laughter removed.
The results revealed dramatically higher levels of approach (positive emotional response) to the clips featuring laughter, even when the viewers were not laughing aloud themselves. This demonstrates how when we hear the sounds of laughter, mirror neurons cause the corresponding parts of our own brains to respond in the same way. Even if we are not physically laughing aloud ourselves, we still share in the enjoyment of the moment with our peers.
Moreover, the study revealed that other brain responses were also much higher when the laughter tracks were included. Laughter seemed to add another layer of meaning to the content, driving higher levels of response among the groups that heard it. Sharing in the enjoyment, which was encouraged by the sound of laughter, was responsible for driving higher levels of personal relevance, which in turn, encouraged greater levels of memory encoding – a vital response metric for brands, associated with future decision making.
The difference in brain response between the two groups in the study reflects the way in which we have evolved as social animals; we have grown to become empathetic to the actions of others and receptive to shared response. The study confirmed that humour is a dependable way of making an emotional connection with consumers that can also drive a stronger and more positive emotional response to a brand.
Although it can seem daunting, brands should not be afraid of trying to win consumers over with humour; it can move people in similar ways to that of grit and raw emotion. Done well, humour can be just as effective, if not more so, than tear-jerking narratives. The consumer’s energy for advertising is limited, so making a viewer crack a smile leaves them with a positive brand experience. From the brain’s perspective, this is a dependable way of achieving stand out within a crowded marketplace.
By Heather Andrew, CEO, Neuro-Insight.