Laughter is Behavioral Medicine
June 05, 2009
The problem with using the generic ad narrative structure 'extreme consequences' with public service ads is that, usually, it shows you the truly horrible things that could actually happen, rather than the ridiculous results of either getting or not getting a specific product.
And this tends to turn me right off.
In fact, in order to protect myself from the possible reality that my behavior may be engendering in the future, I switch over when I see most smoking cessation advertising.
They scare me, make me feel uncomfortable, and so to avoid confronting that possible truth, I cognitively disengage and make a joke about doing so.
[I've since quit smoking. It's hard. Changing behavior is really hard. Habits are incredibly powerful. The trigger > behavior mechanism are powerful. Ask P&G - they love creating habits, if they can.
A friend who is a doctor told me, very directly, TO STOP. Normally doctors advise you - my mate just TOLD ME outright. Which I seemed to take seriously - although there were loads of contextual factors, like my impending birthday.
And, in fact, I think the reason I really did is because my brain loves that story of how it happened that I just told you. We love stories, especially myths we can create about ourselves.]
Humour is a very powerful human emotion and driver of behavioral change, according to my mate Adam, who's a psychologist as well as a brand thinker.
And this makes sense to me.
As I've discussed before, humor works primarily around the idea of disrupted expectations: the deviation from the expectation is what causes our brains to find something funny, often by exploiting the ambiguities of language, and the expectancy violation makes us pay attention and disrupts our existing model of the world, which aids memory formation as the model re-writes itself, and in that moment, perhaps, allows a behavior to be modified.
Add into this fact that most public service ads use guilt and shock, ones that use humor add in another layer of disruption, like these Oxfam ads from a couple of years ago.
Which is why I like this World Blood Day ad from Australia my mate Swanno just sent me.
Like any joke, it all comes together in the punchline.