Humorous reappraisal of threat information in advertising
Yoon, Hye Jin
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Studies have often observed the effects of threat persuasion strategies on attitudinal or behavioral changes in advertising. But seldom studied is the potential power of humor in increasing the persuasiveness of the threat persuasion strategies. Using humor to communicate the threatening issue may attenuate perceived threat and fear and increase the acceptance of the message. But furthermore, this research proposes that the success of using humor in threat persuasion will depend on the individual’s level of issue involvement, a trait and enduring involvement concerning the issue that is inherent in the individual. To test this proposition of involvement as a key factor, three experimental studies were conducted. First in Study 1, the responses to a non-humorous threat persuasion message and a humorous threat persuasion message were compared to understand how the underlying mechanisms that influence persuasion differ between the two message types. The stimuli used were Public Service Advertisements (PSAs) dealing with environmental issues. Next in Study 2, the proposition of a humor and involvement interaction in threat persuasion messages was tested and validated in an experiment with the same stimuli as in Study 1. Furthermore, because past threat persuasion literature considers the intensity levels of threat information as important in determining persuasion effectiveness, a replication and extension of Study 2 was conducted in Study 3 with threat intensity levels varied. To increase the applicability of the findings, brand advertising for sunscreen was used. While the two previous studies focused on the buffering effects of humor, Study 3 discussed the varying roles of humor that were determined by the threat intensity and individual involvement levels. The results provided evidence for the following propositions: 1) in Study 1, the valence of the responses was found to be more negative for the non-humor than for the humor message, 2) in Study 2, lower involvement individuals responded more positively to the humorous threat persuasion than to the non-humorous threat persuasion messages, 3) in Study 3, it was generally found that the message persuasiveness of the various threat intensity and humor combinations depended on the individual’s involvement with the issue. Theoretical as well as practical implications for future threat persuasion campaign planning are discussed.