By Cara Walker
One of the oldest phenomena regarding entertainment and advertising is the humor in other people falling down. Successful shows such as America’s Funniest Home Videos and Tosh.0 are evidence of that, but why does it seem to be universally appealing for pain to be humorous?
Diana Mahony, a psychologist and humor researcher at Brigham Young University, told ABC News that this type of humor is appealing not only for the sake of laughter, but also because it makes us feel better than the one falling down – in a “I laugh in triumph and superiority at the foibles and stupidity of other people” way, she said.
Advertisers have capitalized on the idea of appealing to the emotions of their audience through various types of humor. This method is related to pathos, one of the three concepts of credibility introduced by Aristotle’s Rhetoric which dates all the way back to 350 BC. The idea of pathos in advertising is that by stirring some type of emotion in the viewer, the advertisers can prompt an immediate reaction. In the case of humor, laughter causes happiness, and the viewers link that happiness to their product.
There is power, especially in advertising, when combining our positive reactions to humor with the mindset described by Mahony. Last week, Taylor Swift posted her advertisement for Apple Music on her Instagram, which demonstrated this principle. In it, Swift is seen running on a treadmill listening to Apple Music. As she continues to run, she gets more enthusiastic about singing the song, and falls off the treadmill onto the floor.
On a basic level, this is humorous because once again, we just like when people fall down. But Apple took it step further by featuring a well-known, generally well-liked celebrity. If we have the tendency to feel positively about ourselves through others’ misfortunes, as explained by Mahony, then how much more appealing is it that a celebrity is the one falling.
Additionally, we often like to feel connected to celebrities. US Magazine has an entire section devoted to showing pictures of how celebrities are “just like us.” It makes them seem more relatable, and we, in turn, feel more connected to them. If Swift is clumsy, and I am clumsy, then we must be similar. This also builds their credibility for the product they are endorsing.
Although we logically know the Apple commercial is staged and that Swift is not even the one falling down, pathos-driven advertisements often cause us abandon logic in favor of our positive emotional response. This shows just how persuasive emotional appeals and advertising can be.