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Why Cognition Makes Funny and Weird Ads so Great

Let’s be honest, most of us don’t like commercials or advertisements interrupting our entertainment, but for many Americans super bowl Sunday is the one night of the year where we actually look forward to the commercials. In fact, many even relate to the meme below. We often even discuss them afterward with our friends. Unsurprisingly, the boring commercials rarely get brought up, but the bizarre ones that made us laugh will certainly start some conversation. In fact, we probably don’t remember the boring commercials we saw the day before. This is due to the humor and von Restroff effects which are cognitive biases that result in remembering information better when humor or something bizarre is involved.

Super Bowl Commercial Ad

In the video below we see an M & M turn into Danny DeVito and then get hit by a bus. He then continues to be humorously insulted by another M & M. In the next video, we see a visually appealing Hershey’s chocolate bar with almonds. Chances are you will much more likely remember the M & M video, as studies show that humorous advertisements such as these tend to be remembered better.

M & M Commercial
Hershey’s Commercial

According to Stewart and Furse 1986, in standard ad testing situations, specifically television ads, humor has been found to have a positive effect on attention. This has implications for memory as well, as, in order to remember something, we must attend to it first. Simply put, we pay more attention to things that are funny and therefore remember them better.

Not only does humor help us to remember something we see in an advertisement, it actually helps us like the brand more (Strick et al., 2009; Weinberger & Gulas, 2019). Processing humor demands our working memory, the part of our memory that processes information, so while we are focusing on humor we aren’t focusing on negative emotions as working memory has a limited capacity. Because we regard humor in a positive light, we are then conditioned to see the brand in the same way. This can be both conscious and unconscious. This blog post gives more information on the many many benefits of humor.

To be completely honest the M & M ad wasn’t just funny, it was quite bizarre. You don’t see talking M & Ms that turn into Danny Devito every day. This can also aid our memory due to the von Restroff effect, the tendency to remember things that stick out. This post gives a great overview of this effect, and it also can be largely applied to advertising. Pick, Sweeney, and Clay did a study on this in which they found a statistically significant correlation between the distinctiveness of slogans and participants’ ability to recall those slogans.

This can be explained by our tendency to process information categorically, which is the brain’s ability to naturally sort information into groups. When something is bizarre or funny it doesn’t naturally fit into a category so it is therefore isolated and easier to retrieve (Chee and Goh).

So whether you are a big-time marketer or just trying to advertise your local bake sale, try to add some humor, the more bizarre the better, into your advertisement. You’ll get so many customers that won’t just remember you, but they’ll associate you with positivity, and who doesn’t like that.


Chee, Q. W., & Goh, W. D. (2017, November 15). What explains the von restorff effect? contrasting distinctive processing and retrieval cue efficacy. Journal of Memory and Language. Retrieved April 28, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0749596X17300864 

Pick, D., Sweeney, J., & Clay, J. (1991, December). Creative Advertising and the Von Restorff effect. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.2466/pr0.1991.69.3.923?journalCode=prxa 

Drew Carey whose line is it anyway – welcome to T… memegenerator.net. (n.d.). Retrieved April 28, 2022, from https://memegenerator.net/instance/45573057/drew-carey-whose-line-is-it-anyway-welcome-to-the-super-bowl-where-the-commercials-are-the-entertain 

Eisend, M. (2021, December 28). The influence of humor in advertising: Explaining the effects of humor in two-sided messages. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/mar.21634 

Effectiviology. (n.d.). Retrieved April 28, 2022, from https://effectiviology.com/humor-effect/ 

Feng, Y. (2017, April 20). You will remember this post. Why? Because it is weird! CogBlog – A Cognitive Psychology Blog. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from https://web.colby.edu/cogblog/2017/04/20/45ds678giqrwfdg/ 

Stewart, D., & Furse, D. (2003, February). Analysis of the impact of executional factors on … Retrieved May 12, 2022, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/4854436_Analysis_of_the_Impact_of_Executional_Factors_on_Advertising_Performance 

Hershey’s commercial 2021 – (USA) – youtube. (n.d.). Retrieved April 29, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VkWptAYN0U 

M&M | Danny DeVito – YouTube. (n.d.). Retrieved April 29, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8Me7BLuZp4

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