Creative Appeals in Advertising: Humor, Fear, & Sex Appeals

Humor appeals are used in a growing number of advertisements; however, deciding what type of humor and how extreme the humor is makes the advertisements hit-or-miss. Similar to sex appeals, humor appeals follow an inverted-U curve with respect to how much (low, moderate, or high) humor should be used for the best outcome. Although humorous ads can catch the viewer’s attention or place the product in a “top of mind” position, a moderate amount of humor in ads is the ideal amount. One reason being that the humor may not apply to the viewer; therefore, the ad doesn’t appear to be humorous or it could even seem like an unsuccessful attempt at being humorous. Also, the viewer may not know the connection between the humor in the ad and the product it is representing.

On the other hand, if a fear appeal is used excessively it may cause the viewer to revolt against the ad’s intentions and refrain from purchasing the product because of disapproval. Also, if there is an overwhelming feeling of fear the viewer may go into denial and tune out the rest of the ad—missing the core concept/selling point. These types of ads often trigger a negative emotional response that’s the result of a subconscious cognitive response.

Humor, sex, and fear appeals vary among men and women in terms of effectiveness. Humor appeals, if kept appropriate, may produce an equal response from both men and women; however, if humor is mixed with inappropriate sexual suggestions then women may not find the ads as fascinating. As far as fear appeals go, they usually are more effective with women because whether they are strong or subtle, women are usually the worriers. ‘Do I have bad breath?’ ‘Does my hair look like that?’ ‘Will smoking kill me?’ These are all examples of fear appeals that men may overlook or not worry about as much as women. Sex appeals, whether women will admit it or not, apply fairly equal among the genders. Although it may generate a more immediate response or discussion between men, the ad will actually remain in a female’s mind for an extended period of time.

The differences of how effective these types of advertising appeals are between the sexes may very well be due to the individual’s age as well. The best way to determine how much of which appeal is best for ad campaign is to decide what your product or brand is trying to say about itself and communicate that message accordingly — with your demographic’s gender in mind, of course.