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When Do Advertising Parodies Hurt? The Power of Humor and Credibility In Viral Spoof Advertisements

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How harmful is a parody for the target brand? To address this question, the current study focused on negative advertising parodies created by amateurs and spread through social media. It examined the types of consumers for whom— and contexts in which—negative advertising parodies would adversely affect attention, attitudes, purchase intentions, and intentions to pass along an advertisement. Using a purposefully designed print parody (an advertisements for McDonald’s) and manipulating the level of humor and claim credibility, the authors found that advertising parody is detrimental for the parodied brand if the parody is strongly credible and contains humor. Highly committed consumers are not isolated from this detrimental effect. These findings have implications for both research and practice.
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DOI: 10.2501/JAR-54-2-000-000 June 2014 JOURNAL OF ADVERTISING RESEARCH 43
INTRODUCTION
A parody is a form of creative art that mimics a par-
ticular work or authorship style, such that it reima-
gines a serious, copyrighted work as a comic form
through the use of ironic, humorous, or satiric imi-
tation (Bush, Bush, and Boller, 1994; Johnson and
Spilger, 2000). Parodies may borrow copyrighted
material without any previous authorization. The
law generally does not prohibit this phenomenon if
the parody represents a “fair use” of the trademark,
with the purpose to comment on or criticize the
original work (Johnson and Spilger, 2000; Zinkhan,
1994).
In the United States, Congress solidified the
defense of fair use by incorporating it into the
Copyright Act of 1976 (Harvard Law Review, 1984);
the Lanham Act, the primary federal trademark
statute, also contains a fair-use provision (Cele-
donia and Doyle, 2007). According to the parody
exception in the Trademark Dilution Revision Act
of 2006, parodies are exempt from liability as long
as they do not indicate their representation of the
When Do Advertising Parodies Hurt?
The Power of Humor and Credibility
In Viral Spoof Advertisements
•
The most harmful parodies are those with strong claim credibility and humor. By using
humorous and strongly credible parodies, parodists may have more chance of attracting
attention from both consumers and the parodied brand and changing behaviors.
•
A credible parody with humor may harm the brand attitudes of both more and less committed
consumers. Brand managers and organizations, therefore, must acknowledge the damaging
effect of parodies. Marketing managers could use the established results to justify the need to
develop a detailed response strategy to credible negative parodies.
•
Distinguishing attention, brand attitudes, intentions-to-pass-along, and purchase-intention
outcomes can help managers predict the potential impact of a parody. Public-relations
departments could take responsibility for identifying such potentially reputation-
damaging parodies.
OUIDADE SABRI
Université Paris-Est,
UPEC, IRG
ouidade.sabri@u-pec.fr
GÉRALDINE MICHEL
Sorbonne Graduate
Business School
michel.iae@univ-paris1.fr
How harmful is a parody for the target brand? To address this question, the current
study focused on negative advertising parodies created by amateurs and spread
through social media. It examined the types of consumers for whom—and contexts
in which—negative advertising parodies would adversely affect attention, attitudes,
purchase intentions, and intentions to pass along an advertisement. The authors
found that advertising parody is detrimental for the parodied brand if the parody is
strongly credible and contains humor. Highly committed consumers are not isolated
from this detrimental effect. These findings have implications for both research
and practice.
44 JOURNAL OF ADVERTISING RESEARCH June 2014
WHEN DO ADVERTISING PARODIES HURT?
source of goods and services (Lim, 2012).
In Europe, Directive 2001/29/EC similarly
introduces copyright exceptions, including
uses for the purpose of caricature, parody,
or pastiche (Article 5; Meale and England,
2008). And in France, according to the
French Code of Intellectual Propriety (law
n°2013-595 of 8th July 2013, art. 77), the
author of a particular work cannot prohibit
a parody.
Such legal limitations have prompted
extensive brand parodies, both positive
and negative. Some parodies encourage
positive receptions by consumers, such
as when the movie “Shrek 2” featured
a coffee chain called “Farbucks,” which
parents considered “a witty ribbing of the
ubiquitous 8,000-store Starbucks chain”
(Fielding, 2005, p. 11). Others have con-
veyed negative experiences and ideas;
the famously disgruntled passenger and
songwriter David Caroll took his revenge
by creating “United Airlines Broke My
Guitar” and posting it to YouTube after
the carrier had damaged his guitar and
refused to compensate him; the piece
generated approximately 4 million hits
and prompted a reaction from the United
Airlines customer-service department
(Palmeri, 2009). “Logorama,” a parodied
brand entertainment from 2010, depicted
well-known brand icons in negative roles
(Ronald McDonald was depicted as a thief,
kidnapper, and weapons dealer).
The above examples reflect one descrip-
tion of parodies as the practice of “cul-
ture jamming” (Harold, 2004), defined as
“an organized and social activist effort
that aims to counter the bombardment of
consumption-oriented messages in the
mass media” (Carducci, 2006).
In an advertising context, at least two
parody types have been identified (Van-
Den Bergh et al., 2011):
• Parodic advertisements, or those
“that parody other advertisements or
well-known cultural works and gen-
res such as paintings, films, newscasts,
cartoons, political speeches, and tele-
vision series to serve an overarching
commercial purpose” (VanDen Bergh
et al., 2011, p. 109). For instance, a
SanDisk advertisement protested the so-
called iTatorship of iPod by proclaiming:
“The time has come to rise up against
the iTatorship…. Now is the time to
break free from restrictive formats and
a single source for music” (Jean, 2011).
• Advertising parody, “which may occur
within an actual advertisement, and the
target of its parodic techniques is always
specific, existing advertising campaigns”
(VanDen Bergh, 2011, p. 109) but does
not serve a commercial purpose.
In contrast with just “negative advertis-
ing,” a “negative advertising parody”
thus must be rooted in the original brand
advertising. Although advertising paro-
dies may be produced by professional art-
ists and entertainers for commercial mass
media, more frequently they are authored
by amateurs, who spread them through
social media (VanDen Bergh et al., 2011).
New technologies support this culture
jamming practice, enabling easier access
to parodic production content and distri-
bution (Harold, 2004). Ever since YouTube
went live in 2005, any citizen anywhere in
the world instantly can share and distrib-
ute homemade parodies (Lim and Golan,
2011). In fact, 10.2 million people viewed,
in just 18 months, a YouTube parody of the
iPhone 5’s “A Taller Change.”
The prevalence of such advertising
parodies suggests their potentially strong
impact, perhaps to the point where they
might be able to damage a brand’s repu-
tation (Mishra et al., 2010). For example,
when Greenpeace parodied Nestlé’s “Take
a Break with Kit Kat” advertisement to pro-
test the use of palm oil in the candy, Nestlé
responded by demanding the removal
of the video from YouTube. Consumers,
in turn, responded angrily, through both
social and mass media. Two of the results
of the exchange were that Nestlé’s reputa-
tion for being unfriendly toward the envi-
ronment spread and Greenpeace garnered
more support.
The current study concentrated on nega-
tive advertising parodies that seek to enter-
tain consumers but also criticize a business
entity by spoofing some aspects of its trade-
marked brand identity. The authors focused
on negative advertising parodies because of
their increasing preponderance and the con-
sequent potential influence in the market-
place. Preliminary research demonstrated
no negative effect of advertising parodies
on the parodied brand (VanDen Bergh et al.,
2011), and these authors argued that con-
sumers could distinguish between brand
messages and entertainment.
Other research, however, has indicated
that consumer attitudes toward a parodied
brand grow more negative after exposure
to a parodic advertisement, with the main
effect moderated by consumers’ sense of
anti-commercial rebellion (Jean, 2011).
To address this discrepancy, the authors
of the current study investigated two
elements of a parodic execution—humor,
parody-claim credibility—that may be
significant determinants of advertising
parody outcomes among consumers. By
manipulating two variables to create four
parody versions of an actual McDonald’s
advertisement, the authors sought to
determine the impact of each on
• consumers’ attention,
• consumers’ attitudes toward the adver-
tising parody and parodied brand,
• consumers’ purchase intentions, and
• consumers’ intentions to share the par-
ody with others.
The results suggest that, when a humor
appeal is combined with strong claim
June 2014 JOURNAL OF ADVERTISING RESEARCH 45
WHEN DO ADVERTISING PARODIES HURT?
credibility, the resulting advertising parody
exerts a negative impact on brand attitudes
and purchase intentions, for both more and
less committed brand consumers.
CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
AND HYPOTHESES
Advertising Parody and Negative
Information about the Parodied Brand
Prior research on parodies in advertis-
ing has focused mainly on communica-
tion effects for the parodist, more than
for the parodied brand. By using parody,
which often is associated with a humorous
intent, the parodist can attract consumers’
attention, create positive emotions, and
enhance attitudes toward the advertising
parody, though humor detracts from mes-
sage recall (Zinkhan, 1994). Its effective-
ness increases if the brand parodied is well
known and if the parody can create asso-
ciations with the original work (Johnson
and Spilger, 2000).
With a few exceptions (e.g., Jean, 2011;
VanDen Bergh et al., 2011), researchers
have not considered the communication
effects of negative advertising parodies for
the parodied brand itself.
In contrast with the positive effect for the
parodist, the authors of the current study
speculate intuitively that negative adver-
tising parodies may damage the parodied
brand, in that advertising parodies, also
called “subvertising,” represent “a satiri-
cal version or the defacing of an existing
advert, an inversion designed to make us
forget consumerism and consider instead
social or political issues” (Barley, 2001,
p. 45). In reacting to some aspect of culture,
advertising parodies tend to spread nega-
tive attributes and information about the
brand, which can impact adversely con-
sumers’ attitudes and purchase intentions
toward that brand.
Such negative information can have
potent effects on evaluations. For example,
impression-formation research has shown
that actors’ negative attributes influence
observers’ evaluations of those actors and
their personality traits (Anderson, 1965;
Fiske, 1980; Showronski and Carlston,
1987). Negative information also has
had unfavorable impacts on product and
brand evaluations; negative information
related to a celebrity lowered consumers’
evaluation of the brand that this celebrity
endorses (Till and Shimp, 1998).
It has been argued that parodies must
have a negative effect on attitudes toward
the parodied brand (Jean, 2011), yet other
research has found no significant impact
(VanDen Bergh et al., 2011). To reconcile
these contradictory results, the authors
of the current study integrated two
kinds of variables rooted in the theory of
attitude change (Hovland, Harvey, and
Sherif, 1957):
• message specificity (humor and claim
credibility) and
• personal characteristics (consumer
brand commitment).
“Humor and message” credibility address
the persuasive power of the negative
advertising parody. “Consumer brand
commitment” refers to a person’s unique
processing of negative parody advertise-
ment information. In addition, the current
study focused on one type of parody—
namely, an advertising parody—to test
the potential ability of the two execution
factors and one personal characteristic to
explain disparate findings about the effects
of parodies.
Joint Effects of Humor and Claim
Credibility on Parody Persuasiveness
As an art form that mimics a particular
work, a parody engages both humor-
ous and critical intentions (Kenny, 2009).
An effective parody should make people
laugh (Hariman, 2008). If it aims, however,
to engage in culture jamming, it also must
challenge some taken-for-granted ideas,
question consumption-oriented messages,
or highlight the social responsibilities of
major companies, politicians, and stake-
holders (Harold, 2004). The television
series “South Park” has been cited as an
insidious parodist (Rhodes, 2002). The tale
of Harbucks, the fictitious coffee chain
attempting a hostile takeover of a local
coffee shop, offered an opportunity to cri-
tique and debate organizational behaviors,
including the global expansion of a corpor-
ation that might drive smaller businesses
out of the market.
Noting such advertising-parody functions,
the authors anticipated that the persuasive-
ness of an advertising parody depends on
both humor and claim credibility.
• Humor
A humor appeal in advertising aims to
evoke feelings of amusement (Aaker,
Batra, and Myers, 1992), which can have
positive effects on attention (Madden
and Weinberger, 1982; Weinberger et al.,
1995) and attitudes toward the adver-
tisement (Eisend, 2009; Weinberger and
Gulas, 1992).
Some research has suggested that
those effects are accentuated when the
Prior research on parodies in advertising has
focused mainly on communication effects for the
parodist, more than for the parodied brand.
46 JOURNAL OF ADVERTISING RESEARCH June 2014
WHEN DO ADVERTISING PARODIES HURT?
humor appeal is relevant to the issue
being promoted (Weinberger and Gulas,
1992) or unexpected (Lee and Mason,
1999). In the specific case of advertis-
ing parody, because of its humorous
intent, humor may increase attention
and trigger positive emotion and atti-
tudes toward the parody and its parodist
(Zinkhan, 1994).
The authors of the current study,
therefore, predicted that the persuasive-
ness of the advertising parody depends
on its humor content.
• Claim Credibility
Claim credibility is the “extent to which
the consumer perceives claims made
about the brand in the advertisement
to be truthful and believable” (Mac-
Kenzie and Lutz, 1989, p. 51). Thus,
it focuses on the message and its con-
tent, rather than the source of the claim
(Eisend, 2010), such that claim cred-
ibility appears synonymous with claim
believability or truthfulness (Atkin and
Beltramini 2007; Beltramini and Evans,
1985; Oehler, 1944).
Advertising literature has acknowl-
edged the influence of claim credibility
in inducing attention (Chan, 2001), posi-
tive attitudes and beliefs (Cotte, Coulter,
and Moore, 2005; McDougall and Fry,
1975), and purchase intentions (Arora
and Arora, 2006; Kavanoor, Grewal, and
Blodgett, 1997). Additional research has
studied various impacts on credibil-
ity, such as the advertising format (e.g.,
comparative messages) (Earl and Pride,
1984; Kavanoor et al., 1997), message sid-
edness, and the use of test results in the
advertisement (Earl and Pride, 1984).
For a negative advertising parody, the
advertisement aims to be critical and raise
social or political issues (Barley, 2001). If
this criticism is directed at a specific firm
or brand, its perceived credibility and
truthfulness likely varies among consum-
ers and contexts.
Perceptions of the truthfulness of the
advertising parody have positive impacts
on attitudes toward the parody and inten-
tions to pass it along (VanDen Bergh et al.,
2011); a trust dimension also may be influ-
ential when advertising parodies reflect
consumers’ perceptions of advertisers’
false or exaggerated claims about their
branded product. For example, because of
past ecological crisis with oil spill involv-
ing Total petroleum group, such as Erika in
1999, an advertising parody for Total brand
advertisements should be then credible if
it emphasizes the company’s negative
ecological impact.
In this context, the authors of the cur-
rent study also considered research on
comparative advertising. Negative com-
parative advertising may lower consum-
ers’ advertised brand attitudes and more
negative advertiser attributions (Jain and
Posavac, 2004)—this apparently due to the
reporting bias, such that perceivers tend to
believe a communicator’s stated position
is motivated by circumstantial considera-
tions “because paid advertising is usually
motivated by profit and attacks on a com-
petitor are a fairly transparent persuasion
tactic” (Jain and Posavac, 2004, p. 48).
Negative parodies may offer credible
critiques of the parodied brand and may
not be profit-oriented. In such instances,
consumers may be less suspicious of the
motives of the parodist and, instead,
develop more negative attitudes toward
the parodied brand.
Parody Appeal
On the basis of previous research into
humor, claim credibility, and parody, the
authors of the current study predicted
that the persuasiveness of negative
advertising parodies would be greatest
when the parodies were humorous and
offered credible critiques, compared with
advertising parodies that contained only a
humor appeal or only a claim credibility
(or neither):
H1: When exposed to a negative adver-
tising parody that contains humor
and strong claim credibility, consum-
ers exhibit:
H1a: greater attention to the
advertisement;
H1b: greater positive advertising
parody attitudes;
H1c: greater negative parodied brand
attitudes;
H1d: lower brand purchase inten-
tions; and
H1e: higher intention to pass along
the parody, compared with
when they see an advertis-
ing parody that contains only
a humor appeal, only a claim
credibility appeal, or neither
humor nor claim credibility
appeals.
Role of Brand Commitment
“Brand commitment” refers to a psycho-
logical attachment to a particular brand in
a product category (Traylor, 1981). Com-
mitted consumers tend to reject communi-
cation that does not support their position
and select information that reinforces their
choice (Crosby and Taylor, 1983). When
exposed to negative information about a
particular brand, committed consumers
tend to defend the brand by developing
pro-brand sentiments or mounting coun-
terarguments to detract from the nega-
tive publicity (Ahluwalia, Burnkrant, and
Unnava, 2000; Dawar and Pillutla, 2000;
Pullig, Netemeyer, and Biiswas, 2006).
For the specific case of a negative adver-
tising parody with humor and claim cred-
ibility, however, the authors of the current
study did not expect to find differences in
consumers’ brand and parody evaluations,
regardless of whether they were more
June 2014 JOURNAL OF ADVERTISING RESEARCH 47
WHEN DO ADVERTISING PARODIES HURT?
or less committed. Even though brand-
committed consumers exhibit stronger
brand attitudes (Wood, Rhodes, and Biek,
1995) and resist counter-attitudinal infor-
mation that attacks their preferred brand
(Ahluwalia et al., 2000; Raju, Ummava,
and Montgomery, 2009), this resistance
should tend to be lower when the evi-
dence provided is strong or irrefutable.
Therefore, negative credible information
in a parody should cause both more and
less brand-committed consumers to con-
sider the message and possibly alter their
brand evaluations.
In addition, the combination of a humor
appeal and a negative credible claim
should increase consumers’ attention to
the advertising parody, regardless of their
level of commitment. Empirical research
has documented the attention increases
associated with humor (Madden and
Weinberger, 1982; Weinberger et al., 1995).
Similarly, negative stimuli have substan-
tial attention-grabbing power (Peeters
and Czapinski, 1990), in that negative
information elicits more cognitive effort
than positive information, causing infor-
mation recipients to focus on the reasons
the negative stimulus has diffused and its
corresponding implications.
Based on that reasoning, when exposed
to negative advertising parody with
humor and high-claim credibility, no dif-
ferences were expected between low- and
high-committed consumers in terms of
attention, attitudes, purchase intention,
and intention-to-pass-along the parody.
METHODOLOGY
Design and Measures
To test for the joint effects of humor, claim
credibility, and consumers’ brand com-
mitment on evaluations of the advertis-
ing parody, the researchers implemented
a 2 (humor: “humorous” versus “non-
humorous”) ´ 2 (claim credibility: “strong”
versus “weak”) between-subjects design.
The advertising parody in the current
study reflected the manipulation of an
actual, original print advertisement for
McDonald’s that was relatively recent at
the time of this study. In the original adver-
tisement, a smiling, attractive woman was
shown with different hair and clothing
styles, together with the tagline: “Come
as you are.” Because this advertisement
appeared in the area in which the study
was conducted, respondents could have
had preexisting reactions and could have
made a connection between the parodies
and the original advertisement.
To manipulate claim credibility, the
researchers first identified more (and less)
credible claims with seven consumers who
had been exposed to the original print
advertisement (mean age = 31 years; three
women). These respondents discussed
the kind of claims they would perceive as
most and least credible in a McDonald’s
advertising parody. The most credible
claim was to denounce McDonald’s as an
active contributor to consumers’ obesity;
the least credible version was that eating
at McDonald’s was not enjoyable. Drawing
on the findings, the researchers modified
the original McDonald’s advertisement by
digitally altering the original print version
to create two new versions.
Based on previous results, in the strong
claim-credibility advertising parody, the
pictures of the attractive woman were
modified to give the impression that
she was very overweight. In the weak
claim credibility advertising parody, the
woman’s face was altered, transforming
her smile into a frown, which gave the
impression that the woman was in a bad
mood and not happy at all. By doing so,
the researchers illustrated that consum-
ers can have a negative experience in
McDonald’s restaurants, but this was con-
sidered as weak claim credibility by the
interviewed consumers.
To manipulate advertising parody
humor, the researchers varied the tagline
of the original print advertisement:
• In the non-humorous conditions, no tag-
lines were included;
• the humorous conditions featured
two different taglines that played on
the original version, together with the
new visuals;
• for the strong-credibility advertising
parody, the humorous tagline, translated
from French was, “Soon, you will never
again be as you are now—McDonald’s,
Creator of obesity”; and
• for the weak-claim credibility advertis-
ing parody, the humorous tagline read,
“Soon, you will never again be as you
are now. McDonald’s, Sponsor of bad
moods” (See Figure 1).
Relying on the sample of the main study
(n = 256 participants), the researchers
tested the reliability of the constructs
measured. High- and low-committed con-
sumers with two items were adapted from
Ahluwalia (2002), such that respondents
indicated their agreement on 7-point scales
(1 = “strongly disagree”; 7 = “strongly
agree”; Pearson correlation r = 0.584):
• “If when I want a hamburger or a sand-
wich, I cannot find a McDonald’s restau-
rant nearby, it would not bother me to
To manipulate advertising parody humor,
the researchers varied the tagline of
the original print advertisement.
48 JOURNAL OF ADVERTISING RESEARCH June 2014
WHEN DO ADVERTISING PARODIES HURT?
choose another restaurant (Quick, KFC,
for example).”
• “If another brand of fast food other than
McDonald’s (Quick, KFC, for example)
offered a promotion on its menus, I’ll go
to KFC or Quick rather than McDonald’s.”
Thus, commitment was the measured vari-
able for this experiment. Consumers with
commitment scores above (below) the
mean (M = 5.04) were categorized as more
(less) committed.
Between high- and low-commitment
groups, the authors also checked for dif-
ferences in the participants’:
• mean prior-brand attitudes
(Mhighcommitment= 3.44, Mlowcommitment= 3.60
p > 0.05),
• product-category involvement
(Mhighcommitment= 3.35, Mlowcommitment= 3.12;
p > 0.05), and
• McDonald’s brand familiarity
(Mhighcommitment= 6.18, Mlowcommitment= 6.0;
p > 0.05.
For prior-brand attitude, three 7-point
items were used (α = 0.963; MacKenzie
and Lutz, 1989): “good–bad”; “unpleas-
ant–pleasant”; and “favorable–unfavora-
ble.” Brand familiarity was measured with
a single item (“unfamiliar”/“familiar”)
on a 7-point scale with the use of single-
item measures for concrete constructs
(Rossiter, 2002), which are as valid predic-
tors as multiple-item measures (Bergkvist
and Rossiter, 2007).
Four items provided the measure of prod-
uct category involvement, on 7-point agree-
ment scales (α = 0.835; Strazzieri, 1994):
• “Fast food is an important service pro-
vider for me”;
• “I find talking about fast food
interesting”;
• “I enjoy eating in a fast food”; and
• “I especially like talking about fast foods.”
Pretest
An independent sample (n = 56, mean age
= 29 years, 40 percent female) from the
same general population used for the main
experiment was recruited for a pretest,
designed to verify that the two advertising
parodies performed as intended. Respond-
ents were randomly assigned to one of the
four McDonald’s advertising parody con-
ditions (See Table 1).
As expected, participants exposed to the
advertising parody with a weak-credibility
claim rated it less credible (M = 3.58) than
those exposed to the advertising parody
with a strong-credibility claim (M = 4.71,
p < 0.05), on a four-item agreement meas-
ure (α = 0.915; VanDen Bergh et al., 2011)
that asked whether the advertisement
provided
• “actual information about the
McDonald’s brand”;
• “realistic information about the
McDonald’s brand”;
• “true information about the
McDonald’s brand”; or
• “honest information about the
McDonald’s brand.”
The researchers also assessed their percep-
tions of the humor of the advertisements
by asking the pretest respondents to
agree or disagree (7-point scale) with three
statements (α = 0.943; VanDen Bergh et al.,
2011), describing the advertisement as
• “entertaining,”
• “humorous,” or
• “funny.”
T-tests across experimental conditions con-
firmed the successfulness of manipulation
of humor (p < 0.000).
Participants, Procedure, and Measures
For the main study, the researchers used
a U.S. online panel of 256 participants
(mean age = 33 years, 58 percent female)
reached through a SurveyMonkey Audi-
ence panel. Some instructions were given
No Humor Humor
Weak claim
credibility
Strong claim
credibility
Figure 1 Manipulations of Advertising Parody: Claim
Credibility and Humor
June 2014 JOURNAL OF ADVERTISING RESEARCH 49
WHEN DO ADVERTISING PARODIES HURT?
to the panelist to recruit participants living
in different location in the United States
and with different education levels (See
Table 1). Participants were not paid for
their responses to the survey, but they were
incentivized to do so for a charity dona-
tion of $.50 cents from SurveyMonkey to a
charity of their choice.
Participants randomly were assigned
to the four spoof-advertising condi-
tions (See Table 2). Participants received
an e-mail invitation to visit a Web site,
which assigned them randomly to
the conditions and provided the experi-
mental instructions.
The instructions, given as a distrac-
tion from the real subject, began with the
presentation of the objective of the study
explaining that the study reportedly
was investigating opinions about some
brands and assessing consumers’ famili-
arity toward the use of social media such
as Facebook.
Participants next answered questions
about two well-known brands (Adidas,
Evian) and McDonald’s. The questions
assessed their attitudes toward, commit-
ment to, and familiarity with the brands
and their product-category involvement.
In the next step, participants were given
a Facebook page to review that featured
one of the four advertising parodies. In
each of four executions, the advertisement
appeared in the middle of the page. All
four Facebook pages were identical out-
side of the different parody images.
The instructions focused on the Face-
book page, with no mention of the
advertising parody. In addition, respond-
ents were informed that, once they had
accessed the Web page with the question-
naire, it would be impossible for them to
go back and reconsider the Facebook page.
This manipulation ensured that the atten-
tion processes related to the advertising
parody could be measured. Furthermore,
considering the growing number of adver-
tising parodies available through social
media (VanDen Bergh et al., 2011), the use
of a Facebook page helped enhance the
realism of this study and the generalizabil-
ity of the results.
The questionnaire started with a dis-
tractor task (respondents were asked
about their social-media interest and their
use of Facebook). Next, it referred to the
McDonald’s advertisement that had been
introduced in the Facebook page and
asked respondents to describe it. The ques-
tionnaire did not mention that the adver-
tisement was a parody. The subsequent
questions focused on the advertisement.
The Five-Part Questionnaire
• The researchers measured attention
to the advertising parody with a self-
reported, three-item, 7-point Likert
scale (α = 0.719; Muehling, Stoltman,
and Grossbart, 1990): “I paid attention
to the McDonald’s advertising parody”;
“I noticed the McDonald’s advertising
parody”; and “I concentrated on the
McDonald’s advertising parody.”
TABLE 1
Sample Description Depending on Location and Education Level
Education (%)
Total
(%)
Less than high
school degree
High school
degree
Some
college
Associate or
bachelor degree
Graduate
degree
Location New England 4.5 9.1 9.1 63.6 13.6 100.0
Middle Atlantic 3.0 30.3 45.5 21.2 100.0
East North Central 2.8 25.0 52.8 19.4 100.0
West North Central 6.3 25.0 50.0 18.8 100.0
South Atlantic 2.0 4.1 40.8 32.7 20.4 100.0
East South Central 11.1 55.6 33.3 100.0
West South Central 3.3 43.3 46.7 6.7 100.0
Mountain 12.5 6.3 25.0 37.5 18.8 100.0
Pacific 2.4 11.9 26.2 42.9 16.7 100.0
Total 2.4 5.5 30.8 43.5 17.8 100.0
TABLE 2
Sample Size by Treatment
No
Humor Humor
Weak claim credibility N = 68 N = 62
Strong claim credibility N = 63 N = 63
50 JOURNAL OF ADVERTISING RESEARCH June 2014
WHEN DO ADVERTISING PARODIES HURT?
• Respondents were asked to complete a
post-exposure brand attitude measure
(α = 0.885) and indicate their advertis-
ing parody attitude on four items with
a seven-point scale (α = 0.860; Holbrook
and Batra, 1987): “I dislike/like it”; “I
feel positive/negative about it”; “I feel
favorable/unfavorable about it”; and “I
feel bad/good about it.”
• To measure their intentions to pass along
the advertising parody, a three-item
scale was adapted from Kim, Han, and
Lee, (2001), measured on a 7-point scale
(α = 0.918):
“I am willing to pass along this
advertisement of McDonald’s to
my friends.”
“I am willing to tell other people
to look at this advertisement of
McDonald’s.”
“I am willing to share this ad of
McDonald’s to my contacts.”
• Participants completed a brand
purchase-intention scale on which they
expressed their agreement (1 = “strongly
disagree”; 7 = “strongly agree”) with
two statements (Pearson correlation
r = 0.896): “In the next few weeks, I will
go and eat at a McDonald’s restaurant”
and “If I had to eat something quickly, I
would go into a McDonald’s restaurant.”
• Finally, along with several demographic
variables, the researchers asked a final
question to check whether the par-
ticipants had noticed that the McDon-
ald’s advertisement they had seen was
a parody.
RESULTS
Manipulation Checks and
Potential Covariates
To check for patterns in the data—and
thereby strengthen confidence in the find-
ings discussed in the next section—the
researchers checked that the manipu-
lation of claim credibility and humor
were successful.
Five potential covariates were
considered:
• Facebook familiarity;
• McDonald’s brand familiarity;
• involvement with burger restaurants;
• age; and
• gender.
As expected, t-tests showed that partici-
pants exposed to the advertising parody
with the weak-claim credibility rated it as
less credible (M = 3.50) than those exposed
to the advertising parody with strong-
claim credibility (M = 4.53, p < 0.000).
Furthermore, t-tests across experimental
conditions confirmed the successfulness
of manipulation of humor (p < 0.000).
Next, the authors conducted an analysis
of covariance and found—with the excep-
tions of Facebook familiarity and fast-food
involvement—no significant differences
across treatments on any of the studied
covariates. These covariates, therefore,
systematically were introduced into multi-
variate analyses of variance (MANCOVAs;
See Table 3).
Despite some differences across con-
ditions, the treatments displayed group
means that were close to scale midpoint.
Furthermore, respondents’ perceptions of
the levels of humor and claim credibility
were not very strong.
TABLE 3
Analysis of Covariance Results
Source Df Mean Square F-Value P
a. Perceived claim credibility
Treatment
Claim credibility 1 19.15 10.03 0.00
Covariates
Facebook familiarity 1 7.18 3.76 0.055
McDonald’s brand familiarity 1 1.04 0.54 0.46
Involvement with burger restaurants 1 0.97 0.50 0.47
Age 1 5.72 2.99 0.086
Gender 1 0.014 0.007 0.93
Error 105 1.90
b. Perceived humor
Treatment
Humor 1 17.69 8.99 0.00
Covariates
Facebook familiarity 1 6.15 3.12 0.08
McDonald’s brand familiarity 1 0.00 0.00 0.97
Involvement with burger restaurants 1 17.75 9.02 0.00
Age 1 4.52 2.29 0.13
Gender 1 0.13 0.00 0.93
Error 105 1.96
June 2014 JOURNAL OF ADVERTISING RESEARCH 51
WHEN DO ADVERTISING PARODIES HURT?
Two factors might explain this finding:
• It is difficult to use humor and claim
credibility creatively in print advertising,
compared with more dynamic media
(Gulas and Weinberger, 2006), and
• using a tagline as the vehicle for the
humor meant that it was not a central
element in the overall creative platform.
Data Selection
In the questionnaire, a first filter ques-
tion asked respondents whether they had
noticed the McDonald’s advertisement
introduced on the Facebook page; 99
respondents did not, so they were excluded
from further analysis. In addition, the final
question checked whether respondents
who had seen the McDonald’s advertise-
ment understood that it was a parody. Of
the 167 remaining respondents, 43 people
did not, so they were not considered in
the final sample either, because the study
objective was to assess the effectiveness
of a parody that consumers recognize
as such.
The analyses of variance (ANOVAs)
showed that respondents who did not
understand that they were being exposed
to a spoof advertisement rated it as less
credible and humorous, with significant
mean differences for the perception of
humor (0.1 significance level; Table 4).
Accordingly, the hypotheses tests included
a restricted sample of 124 respondents,
excluding those who did not notice the
spoof or did not understand that they were
viewing a parody.
Humor and Claim-Credibility Effects
As predicted in H1, the parody with strong-
claim credibility and humor (SCC/H)
exhibited marginally higher means for
attention, advertising parody attitudes,
and intentions to pass along the advertise-
ment (Table 5) and lower brand-purchase
intentions and McDonald’s brand atti-
tudes. In addition, the research revealed
TABLE 4
Effect of Parody Recognition on Claim Credibility and
Humor Perceptions
Mean SD F-value P
Claim credibility Parody recognition 4.04 1.48 1.8 0.16
No parody recognition 3.70 1.31
Perceived humor Parody recognition 3.99 1.55 0.19 0.08
No parody recognition 3.51 1.52
TABLE 5
Descriptive Results for Experimental Parody Appeals
Experimental
Parody Appeal Commitment
Attention
Advertising
Parody Attitude Brand Attitude
Brand-Purchase
Intention
Intention-to-Pass-
Along
M SD M SD M SD M SD M SD
SCC/H 5.50 1.35 4.17 1.90 2.97 1.13 2.98 1.84 4.29 2.11
Low-commitment 6.06 0.92 4.90 1.89 2.60 1.15 2.81 1.87 4.62 2.07
High-commitment 4.82 1.57 3.26 1.54 3.42 0.98 3.19 1.86 3.89 2.16
SCC/NH 4.63 1.38 2.70 1.78 4.00 1.66 3.40 2.03 2.52 1.78
Low-commitment 4.35 1.31 2.45 1.22 3.93 1.62 3.25 2.14 2.37 1.49
High-commitment 4.95 1.43 2.98 2.28 4.07 1.77 3.57 1.95 2.69 2.11
WCC/H 5.56 0.88 3.13 1.57 4.29 1.48 3.48 1.95 2.88 1.60
Low-commitment 5.66 0.84 3.51 1.61 4.65 1.46 3.69 1.84 3.05 1.43
High-commitment 5.47 0.94 2.78 1.51 3.96 1.47 3.28 2.10 2.75 1.75
WCC/NH 4.41 1.28 2.73 1.18 3.96 1.50 3.03 1.93 2.03 0.91
Low-commitment 4.51 1.47 3.13 1.34 4.30 1.62 3.61 2.14 1.96 0.88
High-commitment 4.41 1.22 2.51 1.08 3.77 1.46 2.73 1.80 2.07 0.94
52 JOURNAL OF ADVERTISING RESEARCH June 2014
WHEN DO ADVERTISING PARODIES HURT?
no high mean differences between more
and less committed consumers across con-
ditions, except for the parody with strong-
claim credibility and humor.
Compared with the advertising parody
that contained only a humor appeal or only
claim credibility (or neither), the ANOVA
and Bonferroni’s pairwise comparison
tests (Table 6) confirmed the greater valid-
ity and persuasiveness of the strong claim
credibility parody appeal with humor. This
was in the context of developing more
negative attitudes toward McDonald’s
and intentions to pass along the parody to
others—in support of H1c and H1e.
Regarding attention and advertising
parody attitude, no significant differences
were found between the strong claim cred-
ibility appeal with humor (SCC/H) and
the weak claim credibility appeal with
humor (WCC/H). As a result, H1a and
H1b could not be confirmed.
Finally, no significant differences
emerged across the experimental appeals
with regard to intentions to purchase
McDonald’s meals; H1d was rejected.
The researchers checked for the assump-
tion that no differences across brand com-
mitment were expected. A MANCOVA
was conducted, with attention to
• brand commitment and experimental
parody conditions as the independent
variables;
• attention, advertising parody attitude,
McDonald’s brand attitude, brand-
purchase intentions, and intentions-to-
pass-along the parody as the dependent
variables; and
• Facebook and fast-food involvement
as covariates.
First checked: correlations among the
variables. Any correlation over 0.7 was
identified. The researchers then ran
the MANCOVA. Because Box’s Test of
Covariance Matrices produced a signifi-
cant result (p < 0.001), Pillai’s Trace was
used instead of Wilks’ Lambda (Mertler
and Vannatta, 2005). The overall MAN-
COVA showed that experimental parody
conditions (tested as a blocking factor)
were significant at 0.1 level ([F = 1.42,
Pillai’s Trace = 0.132, p = 0.10, meaning
that significant differences in dependent
variables were found among the four
experimental conditions.
The test for interaction between the
brand commitment and experimental
parody conditions was not significant
(F = 0.992, Pillai’s Trace = 0.727, p = 0.517).
This result confirmed that there was no sta-
tistical moderation between brand commit-
ment and experimental parody conditions.
TABLE 6
Tests
a. ANOVA
Mean Square F-Value p
Attention 9.30 5.95 0.00
Advertising parody attitude 13.58 4.98 0.00
McDonald’s brand attitude 9.43 4.40 0.00
Brand purchase intention 1.76 0.46 0.70
Intention to pass along 26.65 9.42 0.00
b. Bonferroni pair wise
Dependant
variables
(I) Parody
Appeals
(J) Parody
Appeals
Mean difference
(I – J) Significance
Attention SCC/H SCC/NH 0.87* 0.051
WCC/H –0.062 1.00
WCC/NH 1.05* 0.013
Advertising parody
attitude
SCC/H SCC/NH 1.47* 0.00
WCC/H 1.03 0.12
WCC/NH 1.44* 0.01
McDonald’s brand
attitude
SCC/H SCC/NH –1.02* 0.04
WCC/H –1.32* 0.00
WCC/NH –0.98* 0.08
Brand purchase
intention
SCC/H SCC/NH –0.41 1.00
WCC/H –0.49 1.00
WCC/NH –0.05 1.00
Intention to pass
along
SCC/H SCC/NH 1.77* 0.00
WCC/H 1.41* 0.01
WCC/NH 2.26* 0.00
*Significance levels (p < 0.05) refer to Bonferroni pairwise tests.
June 2014 JOURNAL OF ADVERTISING RESEARCH 53
WHEN DO ADVERTISING PARODIES HURT?
Ancillary Findings: Mediation of Attitude
toward the Parody
The prior literature was fairly conclusive in
documenting the mediating role of attitude
toward the advertisement (MacKenzie,
Lutz, and Belch, 1986).
To extend the current study’s find-
ings, the researchers, therefore, consid-
ered a mediating role of attitude toward
the parody, which could mediate the
relationships of parody attention with
attitude toward the brand, purchase inten-
tions, and intentions to pass along the
spoof advertisement.
To test for this mediation, the researchers
followed an earlier approach (Baron and
Kenny, 1986):
• Significant correlations of parody atten-
tion were identified with McDonald’s
brand attitude (r = –0.509, p < 0.05)
and intention-to-pass-along (r = 0.592,
p < 0.05), though not for purchase inten-
tions (r = –0.275, p > 0.05);
• parody attention correlated significantly
with parody attitude (r = 0.36, p = 0.55);
• advertising parody attitude corre-
lated significantly with brand attitude
(r = –0.38, p < 0.05), purchase intention
(r = –0.341, p < 0.01), and intention-to-
pass-along (r = 0.470, p < 0.05) when
the research team controlled for parody
attention; and
• controlling for parody attitude, a series
of regressions showed no statistically
significant direct effect of parody atten-
tion on brand attitude (t = –1.06, p = 0.29)
or purchase intention (t = 0.581, p = 0.56)
and a significant effect on intentions-
to-pass-along the parody (t = 4.156,
p < 0.000).
These results suggested that parody atti-
tude completely mediated the relation-
ships among parody attention, McDonald’s
brand attitude, and purchase intention.
Attitude toward the parody, however, only
was a partial mediator of the relationship
between parody attention and intentions-
to-pass-along the advertisement.
CONCLUSIONS AND DISCUSSION
Theoretical Implications
Not all negative advertising parodies
are persuasive.
Consistent with prior research on humor
and claim credibility (Eisend, 2009, 2010;
Gulas and Weinberger 2006; Spence, et al.
2013; Voss 2009), the current study dem-
onstrated that the most harmful parodies
are those with strong claim credibility and
humor. Parodies with strong claim cred-
ibility and humor are likely to increase
the attention paid to the spoof, attitudes
toward the parody, and intentions to share
it with others.
Parodies with strong claim credibility
and humor also can damage attitudes
toward the parodied brand, though pur-
chase intentions appear isolated from these
harmful effects.
The results of the current study extended
prior research on parodies by stressing
the predominant role of their executional
characteristics—namely, claim credibil-
ity and humor—on their persuasiveness.
Their dominant role becomes even more
significant when one considers that the
communication effects of parody appeals
completely are mediated by attitude
toward the parody, which, in turn, mainly
depends on parody humor perceptions
and claim credibility.
Parodists, thus, must carefully consider
the design of their parody if they hope to
deliver important messages to target audi-
ences. Humor and claim credibility can be
used together to improve the persuasive
impact of such an advertisement.
The authors of the current study pre-
dicted (in line with previous research)
that even committed consumers could not
resist credible, counter-attitudinal infor-
mation (Raju et al., 2009), and they did not
find any significant moderating role of
brand commitment. A credible, humorous,
negative parody, thus, can harm brand
evaluations, and committed consumers
are not isolated from this effect. This find-
ing, in fact, extends research on resistance
theory (Hovland et al., 1957) by identify-
ing contextual situations that limit peo-
ple’s resistance to attitude change. Brand
managers must seriously take into account
credible, humorous parodies, because
such efforts can lower the brand evalu-
ations even among their most valuable,
committed consumers.
The two executional variables—together
with brand commitment—therefore, can
help explain the contradictory findings
in previous studies regarding the effect of
negative parodies on consumer reactions
to the brand (Jean, 2011; VanDen Bergh
et al., 2011). Some empirical studies have
demonstrated that parodies must have a
negative effect on attitudes toward the par-
odied brand (Jean, 2011). Yet other studies
have found no significant impact (VanDen
Bergh et al., 2011), nor have other stud-
ies employed measurement and control
of brand commitment, degree of parody
claim credibility and humor. As a result,
the authors of the current study have
attempted to address this concern by iden-
tifying humor, credibility, and brand com-
mitment as determinants of an advertising
The test for interaction
between the brand
commitment and
experimental parody
conditions was
not significant.
54 JOURNAL OF ADVERTISING RESEARCH June 2014
WHEN DO ADVERTISING PARODIES HURT?
parody’s impact and factors to consider in
further studies in this area.
Managerial Implications
The results of the current study have dif-
ferent managerial implications for paro-
dists and for parodied brands.
Advertising parodies provide a means
to engage in culture jamming that may
enable the parodist to raise social or polit-
ical issues and attract attention to brands’
social responsibility (Barley, 2001; Har-
old, 2004). Culture jamming currently is
defined as “activities aimed at counter-
ing the continuous, recombinant barrage
of capitalist laden messages fed through
the mass media” (Harold, 2004, p. 399).
Parodies, as part of culture jamming activ-
ities, then comprise a form of “consumer
resistance crusade” towards brands’ com-
mercial discourses (Harold, 2004). The cur-
rent study showed that parodies are more
effective when they include humor and
claim credibility. By using humorous and
strongly credible parodies, which can be
detrimental to brand sales and attitudes,
advertising parodists may have more
chance of attracting attention from both
consumers and the parodied brand.
For the parodied brand, these results
may indicate the need to measure per-
ceived credibility and humor when devis-
ing a defensive strategy against negative
parodies of their brand. Distinguishing
attention as well as advertising parody
and brand attitudes, intentions to pass
along—as well as purchase-intention out-
comes—also can help managers predict the
potential impact of a parody.
Overall, a credible parody with humor
may harm the brand attitudes of both more
and less committed consumers. Therefore,
brand managers and organizations should
acknowledge the seriously damaging
potential of parodies.
Marketing managers can use these study
results to justify the need to develop a
detailed response strategy to negative par-
odies. To that end, companies should track
advertising parodies. Media visibility and
favorability both influence the prominence
of firms and their evaluations (Carroll and
McCombs, 2003). So companies should
track humorous, credible, negative claims,
especially through social media that may
have been shared by millions of viewers.
Public relations departments also could
take responsibility for identifying such
potentially reputation-damaging parodies.
Once these parodies have been identi-
fied, brand community managers should
pursue interactions to determine why
the brand is being subjected to the nega-
tive parody. Social media offer powerful
channels for conversing with the brand’s
stakeholders (Ang, 2011), so community
managers actively should monitor and
take part in brand-related discussions.
Through interactions with parodists or
those who share the parody, community
managers can find out what people like
or dislike about the brand and learn what
the brand needs to do to match consumers’
expectations and positively change their
minds about the brand.
Finally, from a public policy point of
view, some brand parodies try to denounce
bad practices and raise social responsibility
issues (Barley, 2001; Harold, 2004). Nega-
tive parodies, in fact, offer an excellent
opportunity and challenge for brands.
Acknowledging such criticisms can be
a chance to improve the brand’s image
and change critical behaviors (Thompson,
Rindfleisch, and Arsel, 2006).
Limitations and Further Research
Previous studies of negative brand paro-
dies, though valuable, have suffered from
some limitations that narrowed the under-
standing of the damaging effects of adver-
tising parodies, an insight of particular
importance to practitioners.
The authors also acknowledge this
study’s limitations, which in turn suggest
some avenues for ongoing research:
• Although the hypothesized effects
were demonstrated successfully, these
results need to be replicated with dif-
ferent product categories and brands,
to improve their external validity.
Furthermore, personal factors (e.g., age,
gender, personality) that determine con-
sumers’ communication attention and
comprehension were not examined in
the current study. Specific emotions
from the appraisal tendency frame-
work that influence judgment (Han,
Lerner, and Keltner, 2007) also might be
incorporated into studies to gain
further insights.
• One social medium—specifically,
Facebook—was used to manipulate
attention. Although this manipulation
reflected a real-life situation, it also
introduced a potential source-credibility
effect (O’Keefe, 1990). For example, par-
ticipants might grant more credibility
to messages and advertisements posted
on Facebook because they come from
friends (Spence et al., 2013).
• Beyond intentions to share the parody,
other determinants of the impact of the
Parodists, thus, must carefully consider the
design of their parody if they hope to deliver
important messages to target audiences.
June 2014 JOURNAL OF ADVERTISING RESEARCH 55
WHEN DO ADVERTISING PARODIES HURT?
negative parody on brand evaluations
should supplement further investiga-
tions. For example, the magnitude of the
“buzz” created about the parody (Sam-
son, 2006) may trigger radicalization
of consumers’ opinions. Negative buzz
surrounding the release of a parody also
might lead to a negativity bias, such that
people assign more diagnostic weight to
negative rather than positive informa-
tion when they develop their evalua-
tions (Herr, Kardes, and Kim, 1991).
In conclusion, the authors believe that this
study offers an important contribution to
brand-parody research by examining the
role of their design—in the form of claim
credibility and humor—and of consumers’
brand commitment on attention, attitudes,
and intentions to pass along or purchase.
The generalizability of this research may
be somewhat limited, however, because
the authors excluded some moderating
variables. Yet its findings extend prior lit-
erature on brand parodies and reconcile
some previous conflicting results.
Moreover, the current study provides
important insights for practitioners seek-
ing to manage their brands’ reputations:
In fact, the authors believe, they can do so
by monitoring and responding to negative
advertising parodies.
Ouidade Sabri
is a professor at Université Paris-Est
(UPEC, IRG EA 2354) where she specializes in the
study of advertising, promotion, and marketing
communications. She has published numerous
articles in international journals, including Journal of
Marketing Theory and Practice, Jour nal of Business
Research, European Journal of Marketing, Journal of
Product and Brand Management and Recherche et
Applications en Marketing.
Géraldine Michel
is a professor at the Sorbonne
Graduate Business School where she has specialized
in brand-management research for more than
15 years. She has published numerous articles
in the field of brands in international journals,
including Journal of Business Research, Psychology
& Marketing, Journal of Brand Management and
Recherche et Applications en Marketing. G. Michel is
director of the “Brands & Values” research center and
author of two books on brands.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT
The authors thank the JAR editorial team for
their very helpful and insightful comments
and particularly the Associate Editor, Editor-
in-Chief, the reviewers as well as the Manag-
ing Editor for their remarkable involvement
and suggestions.
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... However, Sabri and Michel (2014) found that a credible advertising parody is detrimental for the parodied brand if the parody is strongly credible. Credible claims in this advertising parody (Sabri and Michel 2014) were measured in a similar manner as truth was measured in the two studies (Vanden Bergh et al. 2011;Roehm and Roehm 2014) where participants rated whether the ad parody provided actual realistic, true and honest information about the advertised brand. However, Vanden Bergh et al. (2011) and Roehm and Roehm (2014) found truth to have a positive influence on attitudes toward the ad parody and parodic ads. ...
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