Being happy is very important to Millennials – and positive emotional experiences are an important pathway for advertisers looking to connect with them. In particular, laughter has many healthy consequences. It releases endorphins, lowers blood pressure, and wards off illness. Making people laugh also has the power to influence brand decisions.

Laughter is complex and instinctive, however. Like all emotions, it’s influenced by the subconscious mind. In research, this can make it difficult for people to report on factors that are at play beneath their conscious level of awareness.

To understand how laughter affects the way people experience advertising, Comedy Central International commissioned a study that measured laughter in real time. Part of a larger report, “The Power of Laughter,” this analysis used second-by-second online facial coding to measure the laughter of 250 respondents in 9 countries (UK, Russia, Poland, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Mexico, and Singapore). The study was executed using EMO Scan, a groundbreaking technology that passively captures subtle changes in viewers’ emotions via webcam. This process makes it possible to map the details in video content that attract and repel viewers.

Respondents were presented with five minutes of TV content, followed by a commercial block. One group were shown funny TV content, while a control group viewed more neutral, factual programming. Both groups saw the same set of ads. Their only instructions were to watch the scenes and behave normally. As they watched, the computer measured changes in their facial expressions.

Research has shown a strong correlation between positive emotional response and engagement – and this study demonstrates that the humorous content generated a flow of positive emotion that continued through the advertising sequence. Compared with the group who watched factual content, viewers who saw comedy before the commercials had an average emotional uplift of 51% across the series of advertisements.

In other words, there is a “halo effect” surrounding funny content because it generates more positive feelings and stronger engagement than factual content.

While as expected, the uplift was highest at the beginning of the advertising block, the uplift carried through the two-and-a-half minutes of ads. The last commercial had an average uplift of 25%. This means the impact of laughing doesn’t stop when the TV content does – it carries over and continues into the advertising break.

In summary, this study proved that a strong connection with viewers begins with humorous content and continues straight through the ad break. Simply put, commercials embedded in comedy content work better. The funny content causes an emotional boost that creates higher brand activation for the advertiser.