Chinese and British TV Advertisements: Differences in Humour Elements


Advertising is a type of marketing communications millions of people are involved in intentionally or unintentionally. It is a very useful tool for the development of new brand campaigns and the improvement of the already existing projects (Kelley, Sheehan, & Jugenheimer, 2015). Managers and advertisers have to increase such factors as liking (to make people eager to watch and investigate new areas and products introduced in ads), awareness of new and already known brands (to explain why certain products and services are worthy of attention), and communication (to connect the intended audience with their potential sellers and managers). There are many ways to make a captivating project from a simple advertisement using specific figures of speech (Hoyer, Maclnnis, & Pieters, 2013). Humour and positive mood are the advertising means with the help of which it is possible to attract awareness and make people like something. Advertisements may gain numerous forms, meet different goals, and lead to various outcomes in different countries. To be successful in advertising, it is necessary to learn specific rules, use theories, and understand that each definition has its impact on different spheres of human life. Besides, it is necessary to learn that each country is characterized by specific cultural norms and histories that have to be respected. This dissertation aims at discussing advertising in such countries as the United Kingdom and China and investigating a specific advertising appeal, humor, with the help of which consumer behavior can be thoroughly studied. Humour in advertising is one of the recent approaches used by many advertisers around the whole world. Marketing can be thoroughly improved in case humor is properly used in advertisements of products, services, and ideas.


The cultural backgrounds and social environments of the East and the West are different and always bring something new to the development of various businesses and people. A deep investigation of Western and Eastern regions in terms of advising and marketing is a unique chance to understand how different countries develop their campaign strategies, what portion of attention is paid to their cultural development, and if social norms could determine advertising in different centuries. The history of China and the United Kingdom is rich proving that the Eastern nature of China can easily compete with such an icon of Western culture like the UK.

First UK ads appeared on TV in 1955. The goal of those ads was to introduce a new product and to educate people about its effectiveness. Though no humor was observed in such advertisements, the middle of the 20th century was an important period for the citizens of the United Kingdom due to the development of fresh 1-minute long black-and-white commercials on TV (O’Reilly, 2016). In comparison to many countries where the rise of digital advertising cannot be neglected, UK television remains to be in its good health with its advertisers earning more than £4 billion annually, and these numbers can be dramatically increased in the next several years (Cookson, 2015).

In China, the situation in the sphere of television is similar to the situation in the UK because this field continues to play a dominant role in countries’ economies (GroupM, 2016). Besides, it is necessary to admit that China remains to be one of the biggest advertising markets in the world (Ciochetto, 2013). However, despite successful economic growth, the development of ads on Chinese TV was not as fast as it was in other countries. Even in the 1970s, TV ads were considered taboo (Koetse, 2015). Only after the death of Mao and the growth of the Cultural Revolution, first TV commercials appeared. It was 1979 when the commercial for Shengui Tonic Wine was aired (Koetse, 2015). People did not even understand what they saw and what they had to do with that information. Still, many people were eager to buy a bottle of wine they saw on TV, and the result of a TV ad was achieved. Today, in China, there is a new law in terms of which the use of jokes in ads has to be re-evaluated due to the necessity to measure a room for interpretation caused by jokes or other humorous elements (Donald, 2015).

Humorous advertising was introduced in the middle of the 1990s when cultural education, the recognition of national norms, and research of advertising were promoted. Researchers tried to answer the question of when humour could be appropriated and how to use cultural profiles in order to succeed in advertising and achieve the goals (Hoffman, Schwarz, Dalicho, & Hutter, 2014).

Advertising Purposes

Nowadays, many organizations aim at developing strong and interesting advertising messages for different reasons. First, advertising helps to attract consumers and make them buy products or choose services (Koneska, Teofilovska, & Dimitrieska, 2017). It is not an easy task to make people choose one particular product or service. Therefore, companies are ready to spend much money and time in order to create powerful advertising that may contain an interesting story, a call for action, or even a short lesson. In social media, content means a lot because it determines further decisions of consumers and helps to discover the meaning and explanations of human actions. Second, an effective advertisement is used to find stakeholders and partners for business development. The development of business relationships is a serious step that has to be made. Some companies have special people to deal with such relations, and some companies find it effective to use the services of other organisations. In any case, the creation of an ad is a possibility to strengthen the business. Such opportunities cannot be ignored. Finally, advertising is one of the possible methods of communication that can be developed between certain people, groups, and even nations with strong identities (Kelly-Holmes, 2016). Communication is a combination of rules, standards, and expectations. It has to be developed properly with no parties being afflicted or confused.

Taking into consideration the effects of advertising on people, many modern organisations want to use ads as the best and the most available means to inform people, make them recognize their services, and choose one particular product because of the level of knowledge and impression obtained. Advertising has already gained popularity on social media so that the citizens of different countries can observe new ads in a short period and make their conclusions fast (Voorveld & Noort, 2014).

Humour as an Advertising Appeal

In advertising, millions of appeals can be used to underline a message, support developers, and make people believe in their social roles. Humour is one of the most frequent elements in advertisements around the whole globe. As a rule, humour is chosen by advertisers to introduce memorable and enjoyable products and involve people in buying and distributing services and ideas. When there is a portion of humour in an ad, it is easy to remember the message and comprehend that there is something useful in an offer. Advertisements with humour are interesting to watch because people do not think that they can be used, or that someone wants to force them to buy or choose something.

In humour, there are three main elements that matter: character, a situation, and wordplay. They can be developed in different ways and gain different forms, including puns, irony, jokes, cartoons, exaggeration, or surprise (Buijzen & Valkenburg, 2004). In case an advertisement contains one of such devices like a joke, an understatement, satire, or intent, it can be called humorous (Chan Fong Yee, 2011). Each element and form of humour have its own characteristics that determine their possible impact on consumers. In such countries as the UK and China, TV commercials can be easily online for analysis and recognition of their strong and weak aspects.

The outcomes of humour used in commercials are hard to predict. Cultures and nations may demonstrate different attitudes and understandings of their use of humour (Martin & Sullivan, 2013). On the one hand, humour helps to cover the details that should not be disclosed to a direct recipient. Brown (n.d.) considers humour of two types, funny and light-headed, and admits that there are approximately 14% of funny ads and 38% of light-headed ads are in North America, and 13% of funny ads and 36% of light-headed ads are in Europe. Such statistical data proves that people cannot avoid humour in their lives, and advertisement is not an exception. On the other hand, humour can be a dangerous tool in the wrong hands. If an advertiser or a manager fails to learn all aspects of humour in social media thoroughly, there is a threat of making mistakes that may cost a lot. Each country has its attitude to and understanding of humour. Though people like to laugh, the reasons for laughing may vary among nations. The use of humour is a controversial concept on a global scale due to the necessity to follow special ethical norms, historical background, and moral concerns that may bother one nation and stay insignificant for other countries (Guttman, 2014). One humorous statement may be appealing to one nation and offensive to another nation.

Humour is everywhere, and people can hardly avoid it due to its possibility to be introduced in different forms (Berger, 2017). Though there is no agreement on how to define humour in advertising, there is still a possibility to examine it by determining its types and forms. In this paper, the following elements taken from the works by Chan Fong Yee (2011) and Buijzen and Valkenburg (2004) will be used: pun (also known as paronomasia that is a literary technique when a word or a phrase with one interpretation is used in a situation when another interpretation is appropriate (Gan, 2015); understatement and exaggeration ( the techniques used in advertising to explain a product or a service by minimising or overstating its characteristics (Laroche, Nepomuceno, & Richard, 2014); advertising jokes (speaking or actions which are free from seriousness and aim at making people laugh with no additional goals to be achieved); ludicrousness (the situations when something ridiculous or absurd occurs and cannot be explained so that people find such situations silly and hard to comprehend or enjoy their own humorous reactions) (Nguyen, Nguyen, & Tran, 2016); satire (the genre that is based on humour with the help of which it is possible to expose special social limitations, weaknesses, and problems and criticise a person or even a society); irony (a literary device to express an opposite to a real meaning in order to observe an emphatic or comic outcome (Chan Fong Yee, 2011); comic cartoons (devices that aim at combining oral information with interesting and informative cartoons); peculiar music (a supportive technique which creates effective surrounding to perceive the required portion of information); surprise (an effective humorous tool where sudden changes occur to cause innocent still cognitively important effect) (Buijzen & Valkenburg, 2004); and surreal ads (one of the latest trends ads’ developers are fond of to attract people and prove that it is always possible to discover something new) (Hariraksapitak, 2016).

Research Goals and Questions

In this dissertation project, the attention to human elements in the UK and Chinese TV advertisements will be paid. Chinese and British cultures have a number of differences and one specific similarity is global-wide recognition. Humour is a topic that has been already discussed for many years, and advertising is the field where humour takes an important place. However, humour may vary in different countries, and the goal of this research is to investigate the UK and Chinese advertisements and discover how humour elements can be used regarding the existing cultural and historical differences. The main research question is to disclose the differences, if any, in humorous advertising that is used in the UK and China. Humour elements in TV advertising are numerous, and the UK and Chinese consumers may demonstrate different attitudes to the messages sent through these advertisements, as well as different understandings of how to accept the information and use their background knowledge. The recognition of the differences in understanding humour among the British and Chinese people promotes the development of the research in the UK and Chinese advertising humour regarding the nature of different nations’ behaviors, backgrounds, ethical and social norms, and expectations. This dissertation helps to clarify how humour is used in the development of Chinese and UK ads and if the approach of one country is more beneficial than the approach of another country.

The modern UK and Chinese commercials will be used and explained from a theoretical point of view regarding the presence and effectiveness of certain humour elements. Besides, the evaluation of Chinese and British consumers’ needs will be developed in order to clarify if the use of specific advertising elements is appropriate. TV advertising is a constantly developing field, as well as the peculiarities and preferences of consumers. The recognition of the recent changes and improvements in consumer behavior learning and advertising is a crucial step to be made in such fields as psychology, communication, business, and media.

The United Kingdom is a serious representative of the Western culture in the field of advertising, and China impresses with its huge markets that support the development of Eastern traditions. Regarding their history, social development, and the recognition of needs, these two countries are chosen as examples regarding the content analysis developed by Chan Fong Yee (2011) and Buijzen and Valkenburg (2004). These researchers developed effective coding with a number of elements that demonstrate how humour can be used in advertising and how British and Chinese consumers can develop their understanding of new products and services on TV. In the present paper, a qualitative approach will be used to clarify the elements that could be applied to Chinese and British TV advertisements and explain how consumers of these two countries could develop their understanding of humour regarding the material they obtained from ads. Despite the fact that the same humour elements may be used in ads, Chinese and British consumers share different thoughts and attitudes to the information offered. Therefore, a qualitative approach and a content analysis should help to get the answer to the question of whether there are some differences between Chinese and UK advertising. There are many important elements of humour that are appropriate for advertisements in different countries, and the evaluation of social norms and cultural backgrounds is the step that has to be made to clarify the level of competition that may occur between the United Kingdom and China in terms of the development of advertising campaigns.


Because of the discursive significance of the would-be be conducted inquiry, a researcher favored specifically the qualitative methodological approach to tackling the study’s subject matter. The rationale behind this decision is quite apparent – the research’s very topic presupposes that there is likely to be a strongly defined phenomenological quality to the insights that the study seeks to obtain. In its turn, this implies that the would-be collected data is the legitimate subject of an interpretative analysis. Another supporting consideration, in this respect, has to do with the weakened axiomatic integrity of the humor-related concepts and definitions that a researcher is going to refer to throughout the study’s entirety and also with the technical aspects of collecting the relevant data. As Jansen (2014) pointed out, “Qualitative analysis suits the best for the exploration of meanings and experiences” (p. 3). Moreover, a researcher made a point in deploying the “grounded theory” research paradigm – something that is expected to contribute rather substantially to the undertaken study’s objective value. According to Creswell (2012), “A grounded theory study intends to move beyond description and to generate or discover a theory, an abstract analytical schema of a process (or action or interaction)” (p. 63). It is expected that the application of the suggested approach will allow researchers to a) test the validity of the hypothetical suggestion that one’s perception of humor is affected by the particulars of the concerned individual’s ethnocultural affiliation, b) define the contributing forces behind the process in question.

While through the research’s sub-sequential phases, a researcher will aim to identify the most characteristic humour devices, used in Chinese and British TV advertisements, and what accounts for these devices’ appeal to the targeted audiences. The study’s initial phase will be concerned with subjecting the selected humorous TV ads (40 from China/Youku and 40 from the UK/YouTube) to the content analysis by two coders, trained to recognize the utilization of different humour techniques in TV ads (both adequately competent in Chinese and English). For this purpose, a coding manual and sheet were developed – both reflective of the discursive conceptualizations of different comedic devices and techniques, as seen in the 2011 study by Chan Fong Yee and the 2004 study by Buijzen and Valkenburg. In particular, the would-be used topology of humour is going to adhere to the main theoretical premise of both mentioned studies – the audio-visual deployment of humour serves the purpose of appealing to the affective, psycho-cognitive, and socialization-related anxieties in the targeted consumers, which in turn is expected to have a boosting effect on these individuals’ purchasing behavior (Wickberg, 2015).

The next phase of this study will be implementing focus groups (consisting of 6 Chinese and 6 British students each). The main rationale for a researcher to proceed with the activity is that in the aftermath of having completed gathering the relevant data, it will be possible to obtain some preliminary clues about account for the culturally distinctive specifics of how the study’s Chinese and British participants react to the externally induced humorous inputs. The activity’s outlined objective correlates well with the conventional perspective on what is the foremost purpose of setting up focus groups within the context of carrying on qualitative research, “The purpose of a focus group is to gain information about the participants’ view of a phenomenon of interest (Stancanelli, 2013, p. 763). Throughout the process, the selected participants will be exposed to 4 British and 4 Chinese humorous TV commercials and asked to provide open-ended responses to 8 open-ended questions from the Focus Group Discussion Guide (see Appendix). The elicited response will sub-sequentially be examined on the presence of the semiotic “clusters of meaning” that relate to the earlier mentioned psycho-cognitive, social and affective conceptualizations of humour and its purposes. This task will be tackled with the help of the OpenCode software, which enables a researcher to detect, codify, and quantify such clusters, and to interpret the discursive connotations of the obtained data. Visualized below (Table 1) is the main principle for codifying the data:

Conceptual Classification of Humour Devices
Table 1. Conceptual Classification of Humour Devices

Incongruity resolution (a.k.a. Cognitive) humour is commonly induced by the incongruity between what viewers expect to account for the outcome of the logical flow of events and what actually happens – especially if there is a strong dichotomy between the two. Arousal-Safety (a.k.a. Affective and Physiological) humour is attributive to the situations when laughter helps people to relieve their emotional tensions/suppressed unconscious anxieties. Under certain circumstances, it also serves the purpose of helping to assure the exposed subjects that their sense of self-identity is fully compatible with that of the majority of other people. Disparagement (a.k.a. Social and Superiority-seeking) humour originates from one’s biologically predetermined preoccupation with trying to attain a dominant status within the society. Hence, its main aim – to prompt one to feel better about himself/herself at the expense of marginalising/ridiculing those that the concerned person considers (irrationally) competitors in the same environmental niche.

After having conducted this particular part of the study, one should be able to detect the presence of some distinctive patterns in how students from each focus group tend to expound on the subject of televised humour and the implications of its occurrence in TV commercials. The expected duration of each focus group is 1 hour.

The research’s final phase will involve asking the sampled participants (30 Chinese students and 30 British students) to take part in an online survey while assessing their experiences of having watched 3 Chinese and 3 British TV commercials, which have been identified by both coders to feature highly humorous content. Just as it was the case with setting up focus groups, the analytical focus of this part of the would-be undertaken research is going to be placed on discovering the casuistic relationship between the qualitative specifics of the selected participants (from both groups) written responses to the survey’s 8 questions and the cultural/national identity of the individuals in question. Even though every participant is to expound on each of the would-be viewed videos individually, the decision was made to prioritise ensuring the data’s summative integrity. The decision’s appropriateness can be illustrated with respect to our intention to ensure that the yet-to-be-obtained insights are as much cross-sectionally sound as possible, and the software’s (OpenCode) function that allows researchers to synthesise the empirical findings and discover the previously overlooked subtleties of the studied phenomenon.

One of the main limitations, associated with the deployment of the suggested methodological approach to conducting the study is that while collecting and analysing the data, a researcher will be tempted to come up with the value-based judgements, regarding the investigated issue (Hussein, Hirst, Salyers, & Osuji, 2014). Consequently, this may undermine the validly of the study’s findings.

Another anticipated limitation has to do with the fact that the proposed research-approach is prone to methodological errors/inconsistencies. This simply could not be otherwise, as there are no universally recognized criteria for defining the quality-impairing procedural deviations within the context of how a researcher is going to proceed with the inquiry.

Finally, it can also be mentioned that the actual process of collecting and analysing the data is most likely to prove excessively elaborate – all due to the time-consuming technical aspects of the codification process.

There are, however, a few notable strengths to the proposed research as well. Among them, can be named:


In the aftermath of having completed the study’s empirical phases, a researcher should acquire a holistic (multidimensional) understanding of the relationship between humour and culture.

Practical applicability

The study’s findings should prove a practical asset for just about anyone who aspires to promote products and services in the culturally diverse markets while taking practical advantage of different humour-inducing techniques.

Systemic integrity

The proposed methodological approach to collecting and analysing the data takes into consideration the fact that there are bound to emerge new qualities to the researched issue once it is being evaluated from the summative perspective.


In the aftermath of having collected, codified and analysed the empirical data, it became possible to formulate the study’s findings as follows:

  • As it can be seen on the table below, out of the total number of 128 identified humour techniques in British TV ads, 30 (Ludicrous) are concerned with prompting viewers to experience the sensation of cognitive dissonance between the cause-effect nature of the surrounding reality’s emanations, on one hand, and the actual message, conveyed by the commercial, on the other.
Content Analysis
Table 2. Content Analysis (British Ads)

The next largest cluster of humour elements in British ads was found to consist of those intended to appeal to the workings of one’s emotional realm (Peculiar music/sound/voice), with their number amounting to 24 (19%). It is followed by one made of surreal devices for inducing humour (22 (17%)). The concerned findings indicate that the directors of the sampled TV commercials from Britain tend to prefer the Disparagement approach to adjusting the ad’s themes and motifs to resonate with the subliminal manifestations of the targeted audience’s “collective unconscious”. The content analysis’s data implies that an integral part of the process is using the affective type of humour to make the conveyed messages particularly memorable.

In this regard, the analysed Chinese ads appear somewhat different:

Content Analysis
Table 3. Content Analysis (Chinese Ads)

The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated regarding the fact that, as one may infer from the table above, it is namely the affective humour-inducing techniques that Chinese advertisers tend to favour more than any other. At the same time, however, it appears that the “appeal to ludicrousness” method of ensuring the humorous integrity of TV advertisements enjoys much popularity with these individuals as well, with the instances of ludicrous humour in Chinese ads having been estimated to account for 25 (19%).

Overall, there appears to be certain similarity between the topologies of humour elements identified in Chinese and British videos. For example, just as it is the case with the former, the latter contain comparatively few puns. The most notable inconsistency between the analysed TV ads from the UK and China has to do with the fact that, unlike their British counterparts, the Chinese designers of audio-visual commercial ads take a rather weakened interest in using the elements of surreal humour. Because the numerical discrepancy between the identified instances of such humour in British and Chinese ads (22 vs 14) is indeed notable, there may be more forces at play behind it than meets the eye. This particular consideration will be explored at length throughout the study’s next sub-chapter.

As a researcher continued to collect the empirical data, the phenomenological subtleties of the researched issue were becoming increasingly clearer. The validity of this suggestion can be exemplified with respect to the outcomes of having organised both focus groups, on our part. One of the reasons for this is that during the process a researcher was able to detect a few distinctive patterns within the context of how the participants from the Chinese and British group went about responding to the provided 8 questions. Below are the quantified representations of the obtained summative findings:

Chinese Focus Group
Table 3. Chinese Focus Group
British Focus Group
Table 4. British Focus Group

As it can be inferred from the table above, the codification of the Chinese participants’ responses reveals that it is specifically the humorous devices that fit in the category of Arousal-Safety humour that the concerned individuals tend to find especially appealing. The legitimacy of this suggestion can be substantiated even further, regarding the fact that Chinese students were able to identify the comparable numbers of “physiological” comic elements in both British and Chinese ads, which in turn implies that this particular finding is best examined in conjunction with the peculiarities of these students’ culturally predetermined “brain wiring”.

Essentially the same can be said about the discursive implication of the conducted codification of the British participants’ answers to the focus group questions. What is particularly notable, in this regard, is that these participants do not only seem to favour Disparagement humour above the rest of the earlier defined humorous paradigms, but that they also tend to remain somewhat underappreciative towards the audio-visual extrapolations of Arousal-Safety humour. After all, whereas the percentile ratio of the identified and codified references (both explicit and implicit) to this type of humour in the Chinese students’ responses accounts for 47%, the corresponding ratio in British focus group has only reached 27%.

The study’s focus group findings highlight yet another subject for discussion – namely the fact that the percentage of the received “Overlapped/Impossible to identify” responses in both groups is comparatively high (7% in British group and 11% in British group). After all, the earlier conducted earlier content analysis did not yield even a single discursively ambiguous finding, despite having been concerned with examining as many as 80 TV commercials.

Many interesting insights were obtained from analysing the respondents’ feedback to the questions about what can be deemed the main differences/similarities about the deployment of humour devices in Chinese and British ads, as well as to what constitutes the distinctiveness/significance of the visually represented themes and motifs in the concerned commercials. For example, according to the focus group Chinese participants, Chinese ads tend to exploit the targeted audience’s strong affiliation with the so-called “traditional values”, embedded in the philosophy of Confucianism (Chan, Leung & Liu, 2014). The same respondents have also taken a note of the fact that there is plenty of the slapstick kind of gags in Chinese commercials – something that correlates rather well with the discursive implications of the concerned feedback’s codification. As perceived by Chinese students, the main difference between Chinese and British TV ads has to do with the fact, as opposed to what it is the case with the former, British commercials tend to place a heavy emphasis on marginalising, ridiculing and stereotyping certain populations (such as gays) – all in full accordance with the provisions of the Disparagement model of humour (Limbu, Huhmann & Peterson, 2012).

The British group’s responses to the same set of questions accentuate the fact that all Chinese ads are similar in the sense that there are many overlapping features in them. British students have also noted a certain tendency of Chinese ads to prioritise surprising viewers on a continual basis, as the foremost instrument of ensuring that there is a humorous quality to the on-screen action. As it was identified by the same respondents, the key semiotic feature of just about all British commercials is that “they play on words” – something that implies the innate predisposition of Britons towards the Incongruity Resolution type of humour. Partially, this helps to explain the fact that, as it was revealed by the content analysis, British commercials are “rich” with the cognitive catalysts of laughter/fun. At the same time, however, this specific suggestion, on the British respondents’ part, does not quite correlate with the clearly inadequate number of puns (only 4) in British ads, identified throughout the previously undertaken content analysis. This once again highlights the methodological complexity of subjecting the chosen topic to the analytical inquiry.

The demographic data (acquired through the study’s Survey phase), concerning the groups of Chinese and British students (30 individuals in each), adds even further towards strengthening the phenomenological sounding of the study’s synthesised insights. The reason for this is that, as the tables below indicate, the selected populations on both sides appear to exhibit a number of similar characteristics.

Table 5. Survey (Chinese Students/Demographics)
Table 6. Survey (British Students/Demographics)

In particular, both groups share a comparable male/female ratio, with the overwhelming majority of the study’s participants on both sides consisting of undergraduates. Nevertheless, there still remains one notable difference between the groups – the average age of the population of British students is notably lower than that of their Chinese counterparts.

The undertaken survey yielded a number of additional insights into the relationship between the normative value of the participating students’ ethnocultural affinity, on one hand, and their psychological predisposition to handle the Survey’s questions in one way or another, on the other. In the table below can be seen the representational sketch of the percentile values, obtained through the value-based quantification of the codified data that concern the summative responses of British students to the questions about 3 British and 3 Chinese TV ads.

Table 7. Survey (British Students React to British Ads)

It suggests that 33% of British students (largest share) believe that the main strength of British TV commercials is that they are funny to watch. Because most of the identified humour elements in these ads are associated with the Arousal-Safety and Disparagement models, it will be logically to conclude that the notable offensiveness of the manner in which British advertisers exploit humour to promote commercial goods is indeed consistent with the way in which most Britons perceive the surrounding social reality and their place in it. Yet another clue, in this respect, has to do with the fact that as it can be seen below, the overwhelming majority of British students considers the main drawback of Chinese ads is that the latter are much too weird.

Table 8. Survey (British Students React to Chinese Ads)

Nevertheless, 20 (67%) students in this room ranked Chinese ads averagely. In its turn, this implies that despite the clearly negative sounding of the notion “weird”, its integration in the deployed approach to ensuring the humorous appeal of a commercial ad can indeed prove beneficial – at least for as long as the viewing audience consists of Britons. What also stands out about the qualitative essence of responses received from British students is that the one third of them considers Chinese ads very memorable. One of the possible explanations to this is that there have always been plenty of affective humour in them and that this type of humour has a universal appeal to the representatives of our species, regardless of what happened to be their ethnicity.

There is also much distinctiveness to the Chinese students’ feedback to the provided questions. For example, 17 (57%) of them rated British ads on the low end. This correlates well with the fact that as it can be deduced from the table below, most Chinese students do not appreciate the fact that many of these ads feature comic engagements with the politically controversial subjects.

(Chinese Students React to British Ads)
Survey 9. (Chinese Students React to British Ads)

What comes into the eye about how the study’s Chinese participants handled the Survey’s questions, with respect to the set of 3 commercial ads from China, is that most of them tend to hold these ads in high regard. It also proved somewhat unexpected that the open-ended responses received from 10 (33%) students have been codified suggestive of the idea that Chinese ads do, in fact, exploit cognitive humour rather excessively.

Table 10. Survey (Chinese Students React to Chinese Ads)


The foremost discursive implications of the study’s earlier outlined empirical findings can be formulated with ease:

The specifics of one’s ethno-cultural background have a notable effect on the formation of his or her sense of humour, which in turn defines this person’s humour-related preferences. As probably the best proof that it is indeed the case can serve the fact that as the study’s empirical findings imply, the demographic specifics of both student-populations exerted very little influence (if any) on how the study’s participants have gone about addressing the Survey’s questions. After all, the earlier described differences between the humour-related predispositions, on the part of British and Chinese students, are clearly psycho-cognitive – something indicative of their “archetypal” and therefore culturally predetermined origins. What this means is that it is indeed fully justifiable for producers to apply much effort in making sure that they come up with the “culturally sound” commercial advertisements.

The obtained findings suggest that the study’s Chinese participants are mostly drawn to the affective elements/techniques in humour. Apparently, ad-producers in China have never ceased being fully aware of it, which in turn explains why, despite having been designed to target different categories of consumers, just about every Chinese ad that has been examined by both groups of students appears to contain plenty of slapsticks and prominently clownish gags. British students, on the other hand, have indicated that it is specifically the Disparagement and Incongruity Resolution types of humour that they tend to find most appealing.

There are many overlapping sections between the reactive patterns, exhibited by both Chinese and British students – something that stands opposed to the idea that it is culture that defines one’s stance in life and not the other way around, which in turn is supported by our study’s findings. This seeming phenomenon can be assessed from two equally applicable but mutually irreconcilable perspectives, which can be generally defined as “constructivist”, on one hand, and “sociobiological”, on the other. The constructivist outlook on the issue presupposes that there is nothing intrinsic about the observable specifics of one’s “brain wiring” and that it is only natural for people to be trying to expand their intellectual horizons, such as by mean of increasing their intercultural competence (Alexandru, 2012). Therefore, there is nothing surprising about this particular finding of our study – it is merely reflective of the fact that the Globalisation process results in bringing people together, in the psycho-cognitive sense of this word (Moalla, 2015). The alternative sociobiological explanation is concerned with the fact that the functioning of one’s neocortex (“outer brain”) is invariably controlled by the brain’s limbic system, in charge ensuring that his or her behaviour ultimately serves the purpose helping the concerned individual to succeed in securing easy access to nutrients, propagating its genome and imposing its dominance on others. Consequently, this presupposes that despite appearing uniquely distinctive, all of the world’s cultures are fundamentally compatible, in the sense of encouraging the affiliated individuals to live up to the biological purpose of their existence. What this means is that for as long as a particular laughter-inducing humorous device fits the definition “atavistic” (primeval, savagely, beastly), there may be no geographical or cultural barriers to its effective deployment throughout the world for the marketing of various commercial goods and services (Yoon & Tinkham, 2013). This explains the mentioned earlier “overlapping” effect. After all, the affective (physiological) type of humour, appears to represent much appeal to both British and Chinese students, is definitely the most primitive (atavistic) of all.

Which of the above-outlined theoretical approaches to addressing the strongly?

defined phenomenological essence of this study’s findings should be considered the most appropriate? Before answering this question, one must first prove that there was nothing accidental about how the study’s participants proceed to react to the provided questions. In its turn, this will require us to outline the distinctive characteristics of one’s endowment with either “Western” (British) or “Oriental” (Chinese) mentality.

In this respect, the Bower’s (2012) following observation will prove particularly insightful, “In a variety of reasoning tasks… (Westerners) adopt an ‘analytic’ perspective. They look for the traits of objects while largely ignoring their context” (p. 57). The reason for this has to do with what has been known about Westerners since long time ago – they strive to subjuctualise themselves within the surrounding social/natural environment while often aspiring to take full control of the latter. There is a certain evolutionary logic to these people’s tendency to act in this way – it helps to increase the measure of their “predatory” specialisation in the environmental niche that they share with non-Westerners, and consequently make them more competitive. This naturally prompts Westerners to indulge in the object-centred cognition, which allows them to focus fully on exploring their domination-seeking agenda (Rocke, 2015).

People of Asian descend, on the other hand, have always been drawn to the idea that one must apply a continual effort into trying to achieve “oneness” with the environment – the activity idealized by the Buddhist, Confucian and Daoist teachings (Peng, 2013). In its turn, this can be deemed deriving from the fact that “Orientals” are driven to think contextually while focusing most of their attention on the continually “updated” environmental circumstances – most commonly on at least a few at the time. There is a good evolutionary logic behind such their tendency as well – being “blended” with the location’s surroundings increases one’s chances of survival (Masuda, Gonzales, Kwan & Nisbett, 2013).

Hence, the notable distinctiveness of British and Chinese ads. Whereas in British ads humour is mainly used to convince viewers that by purchasing the advertised product they will be seen more socially dominant than they really are, the deployment of humour devices in Chinese advertisements serves the purpose of encouraging people to perceive the advertised product as such that will prove an important asset within the context of how address the challenges of leading a socially integrated lifestyle (Stysko-Kunkowska & Borecka, 2013). This is the reason why in Chinese commercials the attention is rarely placed on the promoted product itself, but rather on how it enhances different socialisation-related activities as something that has the value of its own. Consequently, this calls for the appropriation of namely the “light-hearted” type of affective humour, the main subtleties of which have been outlined earlier. As a result, Western audiences tend to find Chinese TV commercials “weird” – being subliminal of the fact that environmental fluctuations can never be predicted on a long-term basis, Chinese ads convey the implicit message of absurd (Cowan, & Little, 2013). This simply could not be otherwise because the axis of the conventional cause-effect logic, around which the on-screen action presumably revolves, exists only in the targeted consumers’ imagination (Spielmann, 2014). The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated, regarding the comparatively high percentile ratio of codified references to the fact that Chinese ads are much too fast-moving in the received responses from the study’s Chinese participants. This, however, does not undermine the measure of these ads’ emotional appeal, as perceived by the targeted audience.

Essentially the same line of reasoning will apply within the context of how one may go about interpreting the discursive significance of responses received from British students. The fact that the latter exhibited strong interest in the disparagement-serving humour, is indeed indicative of the sheer measure of these individuals’ emotional comfortableness with seeing others ridiculed – something that makes it possible for the former to feel better about themselves. Apparently, it proved much harder for British participants to follow the logic of the presumably humorous developments in Chinese commercials, especially given the fact that as it was pointed out earlier, in many cases there is no such logic to be found by definition. It is understood, of course, that what has been said earlier works to substantiate the validity of the sociobiological outlook on the social function of humour and the reason why different people tend to hold different opinions on what is funny and what is not, especially when the factor of ethnocultural diversity is at play. It also leaves only a few doubts as to the full appropriates of the idea that one’s cultural background never ceases to exert strong influence on his or her way of appreciating humour.


In light of the study’s findings and provided interpretive clues, it will be appropriate to confirm once again the existence of a dialectical link between humour and ethnicity. The main rationale behind this statement is has to do with the fact that as our study shows, the latter term does not merely refer to the particulars of one’s nationality/physical appearance, but also to the biologically predetermined (and socially strengthened) quality of psycho-cognitive processes inside his or her brain. What this means is that, for as long as a particular humour-inducing technique does not directly appeal to the primeval instincts in people, its practitioners will be unlikely to succeed in trying to popularise it globally. It is well understood that this specific insight does not adhere to the conventions of political correctness. This, however, does not make any less legitimate.

Even though most of the undertaken study’s research-objectives have been achieved, there still appears to be left much room for researching the related phenomena of relevance that have only been briefly touched in this paper. In particular, researchers should aim to investigate whether there is any correlational relationship between the varying measure of one’s responsive sensitivity to the audio-visual representations of different types of humour, on one hand, and the morphological structuring of his or her brain, on the other – something that presupposes the appropriateness of conducting the suggested inquiry within the methodological framework of an interdisciplinary research-paradigm.

A researcher believes that the line of discursive reasoning, deployed throughout the study’s data-collecting and analytical phases, is consistent with what has been mentioned in the Introduction, regarding to the importance of ensuring that the application of different humour-inducing techniques to increase the emotional appeal of a commercial add never ceases to remain “culturally sound”. Although it is something much easier said than done, the interpretative insights that were able to come up with imply that it is only a matter of time before the ongoing progress in the field of information technologies will simplify the concerned task rather substantially – the objective laws of history presuppose the viability of such and eventual scenario.


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Focus group discussion Guide

  1. What do you think of this commercial in terms of humor? (After every commercial)
  2. What kind of humor do you feel this ad contains?
  3. What is the funniest (humor) sense you remembered in these commercials? (After every commercial)
  4. Is there anything in common in these Chinese (British) funny commercials? (After every group of commercials)
  5. Are there any differences between Chinese and British funny commercials we watched today?
  6. Are there any differences you noticed between Chinese and British funny commercials according to your own experiences?
  7. What style of humour do you feel most appeals to people like yourself? Why?
  8. This research is seeking to compare the styles of humor used in advertising and how this affects appeal, in between Chinese and British populations. If you have any further comments on this topic, we’d be grateful if you’d tell us.

Survey layout

Please specify your gender.
What is your age?
Below 20 years
Between 20 and 30 years
Between 30 and 40 years
Between 40 and 50 years
Between 50 and 60 years
Above 60 years
What is your educational level?
Lower than bachelor degree
Bachelor degree (including in reading)
Master degree (including in reading)
Doctor degree (including in reading)
Please indicate your nationality.
The red part below was repeated after every video advertisement shown to participants. (3 Chinese ads and 3 British ads)
Please watch this commercial below.
After watching this commercial, please answer questions next page.
(Video ads here)
Have you seen this commercial before?
Yes ( If yes, about how long ago?)
Can’t recall
How would you rate this execution in terms of humor? On a scale of 1 to 10
How much did you enjoy this ad? On a scale of 1 to 10
Was there anything you liked about this ad? (Please write in…)
Was there anything you didn’t like about it? (Please write in…)
What kind of humor do you feel this ad contains? (Please choose as many as apply)
Peculiar music/sound/voice
Others (Please write in… ) ________________________________________________
How effective (at selling the brand/product) do you feel this ad will be? On a scale of 1 to 10.
What would say was the funniest thing about this ad? (Please write in…)
What differences did you find between Chinese and British commercials in terms of humor? (Please write in…)
Do you feel there are any similarities between Chinese and British commercials in terms of humor? (Please write in…)
In general terms, what style of humor do you feel most appeals to people like yourself? Why?