The recent influx of celebrity podcasts highlights the way each host chooses to engage with the mandatory ad breaks. Some hosts read the advertising copy verbatim, attempting to sound as much like a real commercial announcer as they can. Conan O'Brien (Conan O'Brien Needs A Friend) prefers to make fun of the entire commercial process during his ad breaks. With a tone steeped in irony, Conan riffs on the written advertisement copy, creates imaginary factoids about the products, and provides a meta-commentary all along the way. The end results can be hilarious, but one wonders how effective the commercials are at actually selling the product. Does Conan's ironic meta-comedy increase the listeners’ likelihood to purchase or engage with these brands or does the comedy diminish the brands in the minds of the listeners?
A meta-analysis by Eisend (2009) found that the use of humor in advertising can enhance audience attitudes toward the ad itself and towards the brand, but can decrease the credibility of the source. The latter finding is likely to translate to Conan’s commercials as he highlights the artificial nature of the commercial process. In the above clip for the Zinus mattress company, Conan calls attention to the non-sensical phrase “best in the business” in his ad copy. He then adds a layer of irony by stating, “But you know what? It’s here on the copy and that means it has to be true.” This serves to frame the rest to the commercial as something to be mistrusted or, at the very least, not taken seriously. In another commercial for Fracture, a company that specializes in printing photographs onto glass, Conan can’t help but include a thick layer of irony when discussing the company’s business model of printing photos onto such a fragile material. Surely these sarcastic quips and comments must affect the listeners’ views towards the products themselves. Scholars who found a positive effect of humor in advertising may be baffled by hosts like O’Brien, whose free form commercials, while entertaining, can sometimes disparage the very brands they intend to sell.
Eisend, M. (2009). A meta-analysis of humor in advertising. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 37(2), 191–203. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11747-008-0096-y