LONDON: Humour sells, but how funny an ad is perceived to be is not simply down to the creative but also to media placement, according to a leading industry figure.

More than 20 years ago research by University of Houston psychologists showed that the same piece of creative is regarded as funnier when seen by the viewer in a group setting: ads watched in a group of three were found to be 20% funnier than those watched alone.

Writing in MediaTel about the social nature of humour, Richard Shotton, head of insight at media agency ZenithOptimedia, also cited more recent work from Millward Brown, which ran the same creative on TV only in one region and cinema only in another. Some 61% of those seeing the cinema ad said they "enjoyed the humour" compared to 52% of the TV viewers.

"The perception of funniness can be boosted through channel selection or implementational tactics," Shotton stated.

So, for example, it makes sense to run humorous ads in cinemas as they will be consumed by much larger groups.

Similarly, a useful tactic is to identify those TV genres which tend not to be watched in isolation – films, documentaries and news are around twice as likely to be viewed in groups.

Comedy Central's Power of Laughter research, which won an award at this autumns' ESOMAR Congress in Nice, took a different angle to analysing the impact of humour.

This used facial coding in a domestic setting to measure actual rather than reported behaviour. The study established that funny content creates a "halo effect" for the ads which follow it, with increased ad attention and engagement.

Further, the halo effect continues throughout the ad break and does not cease after the first ad. The results are even more impressive when an ad is also humorous.

Across all markets, there was an average +57% uplift in positive engagement throughout the advertisement sequence for those who had watched the funny content compared to those who saw the serious clips.

"Presenting your message within a format that is both entertaining and consistent with your brand, together with placing it in a conducive environment, can lead to higher engagement," the authors concluded.

Data sourced from MediaTel, ESOMAR; additional content by Warc staff