How to exploit irony in the advertisement world


In today’s globalized and always connected world, brands and products are becoming more and more identical. Consumers are getting more fed up with marketing activities such as advertisement; they just do not pay attention and sometimes even block them. A product that once may have been unique and revolutionary is now just another ordinary product that is accessible to most consumers.

For that reason, it has become necessary to make use of all ways to get consumer’s attention and involvement for more than the product, such as the ironic advertisement.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, irony is “a type of usually humorous expression in which you say the opposite of what you intend”. Stern, in 1990, pointed to an inconsistency in ironic advertisement between what is said and what is meant.

Pehlivan, Berthon and Pitt (2011) argued that the best way to get consumer’s attention is through ironic advertisement since is considered “unconventional and unique”.

It is estimated that global advertising spending, only in U.S in 2019, will amount 687 billion dollars. For an organization to take full advantage of the money spent on the ads, they should embrace different techniques which will differentiate them from the competitors.

The modern consumer is exposed to new information and new ads every second. To capture customers’ attention, the ironic ads play an important role when they astonish the viewer by presenting a random situation, or something that goes against the natural order of things — make fun of competition, use social references and other political issues to people have another point of view. Ironic advertising intends to deliver a message to potential consumers with a hidden meaning in an intellectual way. The example depicted in the left shows one ad about non-alcoholic beer in an ironic way, using a pregnant women as the model.

A study was conducted to test the attention and the attitude to advertisements — ironic and non-ironic ads, with a higher need for cognition. The purpose was to view several advertisements and one experimental stimulus ad. As expected, participants attention and involvement in the message was higher in the ironic advertisement. However, with the visualization of these kind of ads, there was no transformation of attitude toward the brand.

Ironic content catches the attention of the viewers

In 2013, Pepsi made a bit risky and daring campaign, where the main competitor appeared in the image with a disguise for Halloween. News spread fast nowadays and quickly a coke fan replied with the same image but changing the main line.

Another example is the advertising campaign of Costa Rica’s National Insurance Institute. In this campaign the institute teaches how to exceed the speed limit, how to run a red light or how to overtake in traffic. Of course, the real aiming of this campaign is to emphasize the dangers of this actions, as we see in the video below.

It’s important to understand that ironic advertisement can have different impact on consumers. Different persons have different levels of need for cognition (NFC) and it impacts the way a person is willing to solve problems that ads can suggest to them. People with higher levels of NFC will interact with ironic ads with more pleasure and will try to fully understand the meaning of the ad. Although this doesn’t mean that people with lower levels of NFC aren’t able to understand the ad, people with higher NFC will have more pleasure solving the puzzle. Those people will look closer to the ad and will raise the level of satisfaction towards the advertisement.

What about you: do you dedicate more attention to an advertisement when it is ironic?

This article was written by Guilherme Bernardo, Rute Ribeiro, Sérgio Candeias and Tomás Cerejeira based on “Effects of ironic advertising on consumers’ attention, involvement and attitude