Humorous health messages : "a fresh approach" for road safety advertising campaigns?

Lewis, Ioni M., Watson, Barry C., & White, Katherine M. (2013) Humorous health messages : "a fresh approach" for road safety advertising campaigns? In National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media, 20-22 August 2013, Atlanta, Georgia. (Unpublished)


Theoretical Background and research questions/hypothesis:

Recently, throughout Australasia, humorous appeals have become implemented increasingly in health advertising despite limited evidence regarding the persuasiveness of different types of humour. Of those studies available which have examined the persuasiveness of humorous messages, the type of humour is often not defined so it is unclear what type of humour is being examined. Speck’s (1991) typology includes five types of humour; comic wit, sentimental humour, satire, sentimental comedy, and full comedy. Each type of humour is based on one or more humour generation processes; namely, incongruity-resolution, disparagement humour, and arousal-safety. It has been acknowledged that more research is needed to determine the relative persuasiveness of these different types of humour and to identify those types which may be most effective for health advertising. The current research explored individuals’ thoughts about, and their responses to some different types of, humorous messages addressing the serious health topic of road safety.


A preliminary qualitative, study was conducted involving discussions with licensed drivers (N = 18) regarding their thoughts and feelings about humorous road safety messages in general as well as in response to some (5 in total) pre-existing advertisements. Men (n = 10) and women of younger and older age groups (17-24 or 25+ years) participated in one of six discussions. Participants were recruited from an existing community-based database held by the authors’ Research Centre or were approached directly on the university campus. Ethical approval was gained for the study. Each participant was offered $AUD40. A semi-structured interview schedule guided the discussion (e.g., was it humorous?, would this ad influence you?). Audio-recordings of the discussions were professionally transcribed and the transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis.


The findings revealed that, irrespective of age and gender, humour that was clever, incorporated something unexpected and contrasting with the everyday, was a preferred and relevant approach, thus aligning with incongruity-based theories of humour generation and humour types, such as comic wit and satire. As a persuasive function, humorous messages were considered likely to be talked about (and relatively more so than traditional fear-based approaches). Participants also felt that humorous messages would need to be used cautiously as humour that was considered inappropriate and/or associated with serious occurrences, such as a crash, would be unlikely to persuade.


The findings highlight some of the potential benefits of using humour, such as increasing the extent to which an advertisement is talked about as well as the types of humour which may be effective in this context. Implications for research and/or practice: While this research has provided important insight, future research which quantitatively assesses the persuasive effects of different types of humorous road safety messages within a larger, representative sample is needed. This current study has highlighted some humorous approaches which may hold persuasive promise in encouraging individuals to adopt safer attitudes and behaviours not only on the road, but in relation to serious health issues more broadly.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 62789
Item Type: Conference Item (Presentation)
Refereed: No
Additional Information: Abstract was peer-reviewed.
Keywords: road safety, advertising, humour
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES (110000) > PUBLIC HEALTH AND HEALTH SERVICES (111700) > Health Promotion (111712)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCES (170000)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety - Qld (CARRS-Q)
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Current > Schools > School of Psychology & Counselling
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2013 The Author(s)
Deposited On: 30 Sep 2013 22:45
Last Modified: 30 Sep 2013 22:45

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