Top 10 Ways to Make Your Content Funny: #9 Sentimental Humor

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Does the thought of inspiring your YouTube video communities with entertaining content make you nervous? What if your attempts at having fun simply fall flat? 

sentimental humorFollow these 4 tested techniques for applying sentimental humor to your YouTube videos, and you will be well on your way towards engaging your audience. In fact, our study of the top viral videos demonstrated that the use of sentimental humor is the twelfth most effective technique used by advertisers to boost their viral video statistics.

4 Ways to Boost Viral Video Stats with Sentimental Humor

Sentimental humor taps into our emotions through an arousal-safety mechanism. For example, in the first stage or arousal-safety, emotions are aroused with sentimentality, empathy or some form of negative anxiety. As the story-line develops, we then see this heightened arousal state as safe, cute or inconsequential. This shift from high arousal to relief is what creates laughter. 

A way to imagine this type of humor is to consider how we laugh. Comic wit, for example, is normally expressed as “Ah Hah.” Laughter from disparaging humor (e.g., putdowns) is normally expressed as “Ha, Ha.” Sentimental humor would be expressed as “Ahhh.” This could happen when we witness someone escaping danger as well as when we experience a child doing something cute.

Among the types of humor that capitalize on this arousal-safety mechanism are the following:

  1. Child Innocence
  2. Fear & Anxiety Relief
  3. Melodrama
  4. Inner Secrets
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Comic Devices for Sentimental Humor

Child Innocence

Children can easily arouse our emotions with their youthful discoveries and mimicry of adulthood. The laughter tends to result when we see them successfully overcome their struggles to get through complicated situations.

Story-lines usually start with a sentimental attachment or an empathetic feeling towards the child. We then laugh when we see how their first battles with courage, romance or independence conclude with a happy ending.

In some situations, we may be laughing at how their trials prove more fruitful than our own. This may be the reason why we love scenes of children reflecting our own inner self.

No character perhaps aroused us more with child innocence than Shirley Temple. The child prodigy started her film career at the age of 3. With her innocent coquetry, she was known for her advice to clergymen and other adults that often had profound implications. 

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Shirley Temple Epitomizes Child Innocence

In the following film clips, we see several viral YouTube videos based on child innocence where the laughter results from children topping their adult counterparts as well as our vicariously living through their incorruptibility. 

Fear & Anxiety Relief

Another successful way to get laughter from sentimental humor is through the relief of fear and anxiety. For example, just when we expect some disturbing outcome, a story-line then shows the fears to be baseless. This is often done with scenes of individuals barely escaping tense situations.

The arousal-safety mechanism in this case starts with a buildup of suspense. As the fearful sensation rouses within us, we then experience a physiological shift when the fearful situation fizzles into something inconsequential. This swing in emotional response is what produces laughter.


Sentimental humor can also be created through melodrama. Consider how we laugh when we experience someone’s over theatrical behaviors. For example, a story-line may start with someone’s passionate reaction to a mundane situation. But as we begin to process their intensity with our own empathetic reflections, we then find the cause of their melodrama to be unfounded.

In effect, this arousal-safety mechanism takes us from our own passionate empathy to a feeling of relief from the false alarm. Laughter then results from the arousal-safety shift. Similarly, we might laugh as we conclude the melodramatic actor is rather pathetic.

Inner Secrets

A fourth method used in sentimental humor derives from the exposure of inner secrets such as when we witness someone passing in and out of dreams. A fantasy, for example, could arouse our emotions. We then laugh from a shift in these emotions as we are made aware of the false state.

This arousal-safety mechanism could also work when an innocent scene turns out to have sexual overtones. In essence, we are likely laughing at the tension relief we experience from keeping our inner desires secret.

Finally, inner secrets can produce laughter when we observe and hear a contradicting inner voice. In this case, we are likely experiencing an emotional shift when the imagined inner voice allows us to safely escape from a hostile or awkward situation.

Study Background

A total of 3351 high performing videos (> 50K views) were examined in this ranking of top YouTube videos. These viral videos included re-casted television commercials that were posted on YouTube as a social media video back channel. Statistics were then recorded on the number of likes, dislikes, comments and views, where an exploratory study was subsequently published with the Academy of Marketing Science and 2013 Cross-Cultural Research Conference.

From the final list of most viewed YouTube videos, about 3% involved some type of sentimental humor. This form of viral video engagement ranked number eight, twelve and ten in average views, comments as % of views, and net likes as % of views, respectively.

So what do you think? Is this an effective way to go? Have you ever resorted to using sentimental humor as an entertaining content marketing theme?

Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

31 thoughts on “Top 10 Ways to Make Your Content Funny: #9 Sentimental Humor

  1. I think it is a great way to sell certain products; obviously some products would not be ideal for a child spokesperson (alcohol, cigarettes, adult movies or adult products) but the majority of them yes. I have not resorted to using children as a marketing tool, but I know they are a great distraction when someone you don’t like is trying to talk to you. It is very easy to divert anyone’s attention to the little kid or baby, because we are all trained to give them more attention.

  2. Child Innocence is one of my favorite methods for conveying Sentimental Humor. An example to add to the list is this commercial for Wet n’ Wild that portrays parents acting like children (even dubbing over the dad’s voice with a child’s voice) and having a great time:

  3. As much as we tend to laugh when someone gets hurt, we are also touched by sentimental humor. Child innocence will almost always win the hearts of the viewers, whether a man or woman, young or old. Children are always innocent and honest because they don’t know any better.

    With fear and anxiety relief, there is that thrill of action that takes place. Similar to action movies filled with suspense, these types of ads keep you on your toes. Melodramas are funny also, however they can be a bit too much for the viewer.

    Inner secrets can work for fantasies or dreams, in which we all encounter every day whether at night or day dreaming.

  4. I love the idea of using Sentimental Humor as a content marketing theme. The melodrama category, however, is not my favorite of all the categories. Sentimental Humor is an effective way to go and I can also see this becoming more popular. People love to laugh, and after all laughter is the best medicine.

  5. I think sentimental humor is a great form of marketing and a good way to attract viewer’s attention. Children are a great way of capturing emotion and putting a spin on a normal adult story. Most of these types of commercials make some type of remark or gesture that an adult would do, but somehow we think what we are watching is so innocent! I have never used this form of marketing but will definitely consider it when given the opportunity.

  6. I agree that using child innocence, and playing here again with the emotional chord of the viewers is an excellent way to have them remember the ad. It is much more difficult to forget and change the channel or the ad when you are emotionally involved. It reminds me of a similar ad to the Verizon one: HSBC LEMON AD. where little girls make lemon business as if they were adults. very sweet and nice ad, which definitely touches the emotional chord of the viewers. I absolutely agree with the blog.

    Martin Tavernier,

  7. I feel that sentimental humor is a great marketing strategy. The fact that relief can occur after some form of high arousal has taken place and then laughter be taken from it is a great way to keep consumers interested in commercials. These different types of sentimental humor include child innocence, fear and anxiety relief, melodrama and inner secrets. I feel that of these types of sentimental humor I have probably used fear and anxiety as an entertaining marketing strategy. Scaring is the best type of humor to get people’s attention. Once the relief has stricken after suspense build up it produces laughter. Once you get the consumer to laugh your marketing strategy is proven successful.

  8. Although these categories would seem to be amongst the easiest to relate to on a purely humanistic level, it took more effort than I predicted to find a comparable example.

  9. I chose the ATT “We Want More” commercial as my example of sentimental humor for this discussion. This ad shows child innocence at its finest. I love the way the little girl gets so involved with her explanation of expectations. The adult asking the question keeps a serious face, and it makes a great impression on the viewer. ATT continues to make similar commercials with children Q & A’s.

  10. Child innocence is a good way to market a product. In the early 90′s many products were marketed using child innocence such as McDonald’s and many board games which had great success. Now more marketing strategies are being used in order to market a product more efficiently. Sentimental humor is another good marketing tool which despite using emotional humor, it helps to appeal to the person when they are wanting to purchase a product and helps to get their attention.

  11. Sentimental humor is a great way to gain business through commercials. As stated above, it pulls at the heartstrings for several difference reasons: memories from the past, emotional content, or having secrets. It is one of the most relatable types of commercials that gain the audiences attention. By being more relatable, customers are able to gain relationships with the companies better than usual.

  12. Something about using children in commercials whether they are acting as adults or adults acting as children, it happens to be very effective. Not only are the commercials usually funny but they grab your attention and hold on to it. Often times they cause you to ponder what life would be like if children really did act like that. This keeps the product or service at the back of your mind.

  13. Many of these commercials use a lot overabundance of false dramatics, which make them either humerous or have a charm. I really enjoy these types of commercials.

  14. Almost everything on a subconscious level is about sex, at least thats what I have observed from society, so these commercials are channelling just that, which is very interesting.

  15. Hello everyone,
    I believe that this is an effective way to go because of the way that these types of videos catch attention. I think that this is a great marketing strategy because they are entertaining and humorous. My favorite commercials are the mimicry of kids. Every time I watch the AT&T commercials I cannot help but laugh. I have not resorted to use sentimental humor as an entertaining content marketing theme but if I had to I would. I think this is the perfect strategy because of how amusing it can be towards the public.

  16. I like the use of humor for advertisement in any case and it has been extremely interesting to see different methods of relaying humor. I’m not the biggest fan of this method of sentimental humor to be used for all products but I definitely could see it being successful for some. I think my biggest issue is when they go to far. For example that lady bug Peugot commercial was a bit disturbing to me and I would never want to see that on tv while sitting with my parents. I think its important for me to understand that what is or isnt ok in one country may be the opposite in another.

  17. This form of humor used in advertisements brings better elements of drawing attention to the business. When using things such as child innocence to bring out a certain aspects of the consumer to compel them to buy, people tend to be captivated by the “adorable” aspects of the commercial itself. Not only is it pleasantly funny, but it is not too crazy.

  18. I really like the use of child innocence. It is funny to watch children mimicking adults. Most of the mimics we see are true and make us aware of how stupid some things we do are. I think it is a great way to advertise something if the commercial makes us laugh about ourselves.

  19. This week was a great blog post, I really enjoyed watching the commercials. I believe when companies and advertisers use children in their commercials it provides such sentimental, valuable, clean, and innocent humor. Most comedians, actors, and people that try to be funny think they have to add something crazy and extravagant or maybe even outlandish to their joke to make it funny. That is not necessarily true and proven to be untrue by children in advertisements. My favorite commercial ever is by oral-b and it is a few kids trying different healthy candies, their reactions are priceless and hilarious. They are not saying anything crazy but it is still funny and I will always remember the commercial. It is definitely a smart and effective advertising technique.

  20. I agree that this type of marketing technique is an effective way to represent a product or company because this technique utilizes a story-line in order to present how and why the product/company is useful and beneficial. Most of the story-lines that these commercials display we can relate to, therefore, while the viewer is watching the commercial they are able to put into perspective the benefits of the company/product and how it can be useful when circumstances similar to those occur. Lastly, I have never resorted to this type of marketing technique but I do agree it is a creative one to use.

  21. I think childhood innocence is an effective way to boost viral video statistics. Children are a great way to attract attention, and especially when the kid is making cute/funny remarks. I think that people can connect with elements of childhood innocence and they are some of the best ways to have an image or idea stick in the head of the audience.

  22. I like the use of sentimental humor, especially with the use of child innocence. I find it cute and funny to watch children acting as adults. The videos that provided children mimicing adulthood provide a comical side to marketing. These make you smile and laugh and truly appeal to all audiences. I think the newest Progessive commercials do a good job of showing this marketing style. They use a young child version of Flo to show her mimicing adults like comparing prices and talking about insurance.

  23. I think the challenge, Maegan, is connecting the dots between the story-line message and the brand message. Admittedly, this type of humor often startles me, I struggle trying to recall the point or the sponsor. When your product has much to do with resolving the anxiety displayed in the commercial, I believe this this could be a very effective technique. Thank you for sharing.

  24. Many of these sentimental humor types of commercials have the ability to capture the viewer and keep them interested in the advertisement till the end. A suspenseful minute or so is created and then at the end relieved because the fear is baseless. I have never used these types of commercials though.

    1. I found this humor to be prevalent in Asian countries suggesting they relate more to “cuteness” than clever wit and putdowns. This type of humor does not resonate as well in the US where we seem more fixated on solving riddles and act out our aggression. Thank you for your comment.

  25. I think sentimental marketing is effective because it makes the viewer think about what the commercial is really getting at. The potential consumers can relate to the characters involved in fear & anxiety which creates an unconscious link between the consumer and the product. I have never used this marketing technique however.

    1. It is interesting, Kelsey, on how these different types of humor work so distinctly. Malicious joy plays on our emotions (i.e., feeling superior). Exaggeration, irony and perceptual discords work on our minds (i.e., we see something out of sorts). Here we experience laughter from a physiological effect. We literally feel the arousal witch from fear/anxiety to safety. Thank you for your comment.

  26. Sentimental humour is effective in that it builds suspense to the point where you can’t wait to see what happens next and once the anxiety and fear is relieved then you can actually breathe a sigh of relief and embrace the humour in it.

    1. I find this especially works well, Nicola, in those scenes where someone narrowly escapes danger or detection. One of my favorites is the car commercial that shows a guy locked inside with sleeping badgers. Sometimes the relief is merely knowing the story is fictional. Thank you for your comment.

  27. I think all 4 types of sentimental behavior are effective ways of catching the viewer’s attention. They each have a short story to tell whether its children acting like adults or someone having an intense dream. Whichever one is used, it will be successful and definitely sell the product or even establish loyal customers to the brand.

  28. I have never used this type of marketing technique. I think it is effective because it presents a story that catches the eye of the viewer, who in turn waits for the outcome and see’s that it is based on the product. This can help the product or service become more familiar with the consumers, which may lead to higher sales.

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