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Cars.com Witch-Doctor Shrunken Head TV Commercial – The Humor Hook

Commercials such as this one from Cars.com rely almost exclusively on humor to grab the viewer’s attention and create positive associations with the product (e.g. car shopping with Cars.com).

In this Cars.com commercial, you actually see a secondary advertising method used, namely celebrity association (here the actor from the popular TV Show Bones is used). But this ad succeeds or fails based on the humor.

The commercial starts off mundane enough…the first 10 seconds are actually quite boring, with typical brand mentions artificially sprinkled in…but that’s part of the strategy for setting up the humor. At 12 seconds, the Cars.com commercial transitions from mundane into hilarious and outrageous. In fact, it is not uncommon for people who have viewed this commercial to break out laughing as soon as they see the big man with a shrunken head.

Perhaps the most commonly used strategy for Super Bowl commercials is what we refer to as the “humor hook.” People love to laugh. Laughter is a tonic that makes people feel good. So, it comes as no surprise that you can make a lot of progress simply by associating your product with the good feelings a person feels when laughing.

The one downside to the humor hook is that the humor can draw more attention than the the actual product, making the product forgettable. In fact, consumer interviews clearly show that a significant number of viewers will remember “the funny witch-doctor commercial” but not the product it was advertising.

In the case of the Cars.com commercial they partially resolved this issue by situating the whole thing at a car dealership. So at the very least, viewers of the commercial would have a vague notion that “the witch-doctor commercial” was about cars and car shopping.