To any beleaguered parent, the sight of a baby urinating with the intensity of a fire hose is not only funny, it also hits home.
A new study by U.S. firm Ace Metrix, however, has found that it's not always enough for an ad to go for laughs: in fact, according to its research, while funny ads are more likeable and less of an imposition to viewers, they are not always the most effective in actually driving sales.
Ace Metrix has introduced a new measurement it calls The Funny Index to rate how humorous ads are. The firm already rates ads' effectiveness through thorough surveys on U.S. television commercials. To create the new index, Ace Metrix tracked the comments in those consumer surveys (each survey includes an open-ended invitation for the respondent to give any comment about the ad in question).
The firm searched those comments for instances of keywords such as "funny," "laugh," and of course "lol." It then counted what proportion of comments rated an ad as funny, and compared that against the average proportion of funny ratings across all the ads it tracks. That created the index.
Huggies' peeing baby was tops. Out of 6,500 ads analyzed in the U.S. for all of 2011 and the first three months of 2012, the "Baby Wets the Room" spot rated highest, alongside ads for such brands as Miller Lite, WalMart and Chevrolet. A minimum of 500 people are included in each survey.
Tracking the ads this way, the firm estimates that roughly one in five made enough of an impression (receiving enough comments about its humour) to rate as funny – emphasizing how much advertisers rely on humour to make people watch their commercials more closely.
But the firm found that there was no correlation between how funny an ad is and how effective it is. While some ads that rated high on the Funny Index were also effective, it was usually because they were relevant, or communicated information in a clear manner.
For example, the Huggies ad was rated as relatable for parents who have been through a particularly gnarly diaper change, and also effectively communicated the new "leak lock" technology it was meant to sell.
While a funny ad has the ability to get people's attention and helps with an ad's likeability, it does not necessarily lead a consumer to buy the product.
"There are certainly conditions and situations where humour may enhance the effectiveness of the advertisement," the study said, "however, in-and-of-itself, we found no evidence that a funny ad is necessarily an effective one."