Top 10 Ways to Make Your Content Funny: #3 Perceptual Discords

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Download buttonAre you hesitant to provide entertaining content for fear of missing the mark or falling flat? In our countdown of the top 10 ways to make your content funny, we demonstrate a wide range of humorous techniques that have stood the test of time.

In fact, if you follow these 4 tested techniques for applying “perceptual discords” to your YouTube videos, you can be assured of boosting audience engagement with your content. The use of perceptual discords comes in at number 3 on our list.

perceptual discord4 Ways to Boost Viral Video Stats with Perceptual Discords

Perceptual discords cause us to laugh as we witness or experience something out of touch. Stemming from the Theory of Incongruity, this concept entertains us by contrasting what we see with what is routinely expected.  Mentally, we are asking ourselves: “…Did I see that correctly?..”

This perceptual discord can be realized in the form of visual anomalies (e.g., distortions or impersonations), aberrant behaviors (eccentricity) or conceptual incongruities (e.g., nonsense or unusual settings). In each case, we detect a mismatch with common perceptions.

In general, most viral videos featuring perceptual discords fall under the following four categories:

  1. Odd Behaviors
  2. Context Misrepresentation
  3. Bizarre Substitutions
  4. Nonsense
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Comic Devices Used in Perceptual Discords

Odd Behaviors

In the case of odd behaviors, we often laugh at the innocence of children or animals acting as adult humans. Witnessing the character contrast, our laughter is created by a harmless cognitive shift where we often imagine an underdog putting others in their place.

This was a common form of comedy in the 1960’s. Many laughed when Uncle Joe of Petticoat Junction was beaten in checkers by his dog. Similarly, Mister Ed featured a horse who could talk. The owner, Wilbur, was portrayed as a big klutz who inadvertently caused harm around him. Recognizing Mr. Ed’s animal inferiority,  we likely laughed at the wiser choice made by the horse.   

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Mr. Ed, the Talking Horse

Throughout the last decade, this concept has been played out with over-performances. Consider the babies in E-Trade and Evian that pose as adults. Several viral videos also feature animals going the extra mile to motivate themselves or their masters. Check out this Nolan Cheddar video where a mouse driven by “Eye of the Tiger”  musters up the energy to escape its trap: 

At the other extreme of unusual behaviors are depictions of under-performance such as the foolishness exhibited by adults making futile attempts to be profound. Both the over-performance and under-performance approaches to discord work off a similar principle that laughter results when we witness behavioral anomalies.

Context Misrepresentation

Our second technique used in perceptual discords relates to our visualizing objects or scenes taken out of context.  Some of the top viral videos in our study showed unconventional routines or unusual settings surrounding the highlighted activity.  

In other cases, the viral videos make us laugh when we imagine a literal interpretation of idioms or the human depiction of abstract concepts. In each of these cases, the attempt at humor is based on audience detection of a mismatch with what their minds see as a common practice

Bizarre Substitutes

A concept similar to misrepresentation involves the substitution of animals or objects with a bizarre alternative. One popular technique includes anthropomorphism, where human attributes are ascribed to abstractions.  Allstate used this form of humor to depict the concept of “mayhem” through the careless habits of an unruly actor who exemplified the dire consequences of poor insurance coverage.

Some viral YouTube videos portray scenes of animal substitutes such as that found in the herding of cats, performing bulls and squirrels substituted for running bulls. Like sound imitations, these bizarre substitutes allow our imaginations to vicariously live through the substitute actor.


Our final comic device used in perceptual discord relates to nonsense. As a cognitive exercise, this form of humor makes us logically see something off kilter. Humor in this case arises out of our confusion with the relevance or choices made by the actor. Upon witnessing their naiveté or imbecile nature, we then laugh at blaming the confusion on the actor’s ineptness or empty dialogs.

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 7% involved some type of perceptual discord. This form of viral video engagement ranked number four, four and nine 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 perceptual discord as an entertaining content marketing theme?

Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

42 thoughts on “Top 10 Ways to Make Your Content Funny: #3 Perceptual Discords

  1. Perceptual Discords is an effective content marketing theme, especially to people like me. I enjoy a humorous commercial. My two absolute favorite categories of Perceptual Discord, or probably of any content marketing theme, are Odd Behaviors and Nonsense.

  2. I think perceptual discord is a great and effective tool to use in marketing. My favorite example was the E Trade commercial that uses talking babies as an example of odd behaviors that causes the viewer to not only think “Did i see that correctly” but through this attracts their attention and engages them. I think this tool is effective and can be strengthened by adding humor or by adding a famous personaalty. The example I used in my post was the Statefarm commercial that uses Chris Paul to have multiple personalities not only engaging the viewer through this characteristic but by also using a well known athletic figure. I have never had the opportunity to use this effective tool in marketing but as I grow in my career and gain knowledge and experience, this post along with the previous posts, will help me to use different tools and characterisctics as viral video engagers.

  3. I think these a great examples of perpetual discords, really drawing in people’s attention with oddities and humor. Commercials that contain cute animals are smart because they humanize animals so that viewers can relate as well as resonate well with viewers because they are watching animals. As far as social media goes, there is a phenomenon with animal pictures, from cute dogs to bunnies, there are famous animals like Boo the Pomeranian dog who is only popular because of his cuteness! Commercials that contain humor as just plain effective marketing.

  4. A good example of Odd Behaviors is the Kia Hamsters, because they act with human qualities and act like adult humans. They dress like humans, dance like humans, work out and interact with each other like humans and also interact with other humans like nothing is out of the ordinary.
    Working out and transforming from old to new, slimmer hamsters:
    Break dancing and interacting in a human neighborhood setting:

  5. The use of Perceptual Discords is definitely a way to capture the attention of an audience. This type of marketing should actually be very effective for getting consumers to take notice to a brand because the unusual nature and behaviors displayed in the commercials. Bringing attention to the brand is the bottom line for any organization and in today’s information age most consumers are aware of the brands that they want and are usually not interested in viewing information about products they feel are of no benefit to them. Capturing the attention of these consumers require some clever maneuvering and this might just be the way to get it.

  6. I found the videos to be a great representation of perceptual discords. It definitely helped me understand the topic a bit more. Comic devices for odd behaviors was one of my favorites.

  7. I like perceptual discord as an advertising method. I think that this style of advertisement captures the viewer’s attention and imagination. It also offers opportunities for brands to create a line of commercials off the success of one. If a commercial with one of these characteristics is successful brands can easily create more of a similar nature because viewers watch to see what unexpected thing will happen.

  8. There are many different examples of perceptual discords out there. This is a very effective and indirect way for a consumer to engage with a brand or product because they do not feel like they are being “sold” anything directly. Instead, the company uses perceptual discords to perhaps lighten the marketing of a product so instead of remembering that AT&T sells cell phone service, you remember how cute the kids were that were on the commercial.

  9. I believe “perception discord” is an effective marketing tool because it really allows the viewers to imagine something that is not the norm. Many people want to live out a sort of “fantasy” world at times and these commercials help that need for a little. Whether its talking babies/animals or a completely unusual setting, these types of commercials draw the viewers to want to watch it. I feel that has been an increase in the number of “perception discord” commercials lately and that there will be many more to come from companies.

  10. After viewing all of the perceptual discord video examples, there were many commercials that I found to be memorable. When creating a commercial I think that it is important for a company to not only establish their brand and product but also make viewers remember it. By utilizing perceptual discord i think companies can be successful in achieving both of these goals. One of the commercials that really stuck out to me was the talking stain for the Tide to go pen. I had never seen the commercial before but found it very funny, and until the end I kept wondering what the commercial was going to be for.

    1. I wanted to use this example of attracting your audience through “Perceptual Discord “as presented by Travelers insurance. I feel this to be a great example of odd behaviors. It uses animals to act as if they are all friends, regardless of their place on the food chain. They all seem to get along and love one another much like humans would look in a paradise vacation commercial. I enjoy the feel good nature of the video. I think it reaches young and old alike.

  11. I really like the section of the blog. I think it is a major selling point for companies. The best example I can think of besides the E-Trade commercials featuring babies is the Hump Day camel in Geico commercials. The camel is a character that illustrates an odd behavior because everyone knows camels don’t actually talk. I think there is a lot to be said about how businesses and companies sell their product through perceptual discord.

  12. I feel as though perceptual discords are great ways to advertise to audiences. Although most of the scenarios that are used in advertisements cannot happen in real life, it is hard to look away from something that is so funny or just downright bizarre.

  13. I think perceptual discord is a great way to grab viewers attention. Not only is it extremely entertaining but because it is usually so out of the ordinary people remember it. I really makes the viewer notice what is going on. This creates hype and interest which gets users involved with what is being broadcasted to them. Depending on the market segment or the product/ service, this can be a great theme to gain viewers attention.

  14. I am a fan of perceptual discord. I think the reaction to perceptual discord is a lot healthier and happier. It allows one to enjoy odd and bizarre situations. For instance, seeing babies talk and animals do some out of the ordinary things is hilarious. I do believe this is a very effective way to grab an audience’s attention.

  15. I believe that the point of marketing is to make a person remember your product by any means necessary (within legal terms of course). Perceptual Discords are probably one of the most effective ways to do this. People will remember something that is strange a lot better than something they can categorize or associate it with other things. Perceptual Discords make consumers think “what did I just listen to?” or “What did I just see?”. They will remember the strangeness of the commercial, but more importantly the brand or product.

  16. I am a firm believer in perpetual discord. While most people don’t agree, I think this is an effective way to market a product or situation. For years growing up we as children and adults watch commercials that use this method and don’t even notice it. Yet using this type of humor actually gets a point across rather than being serious.

  17. Perceptual discord is probably one of my favorite ways to go! When things are weird, comical, and make you think “did I catch that right” they are memorable. The odd behaviors of talking babies and animals are my personal favorite!

  18. Hello everyone!
    After watching all these videos I believe that these types of videos are an effective way to go. I watched all the videos and I could not help but enjoy only the first video. The first video I was laughing and thinking how cool it was that they were able to think of these sorts of ideas. Although talking babies is unrealistic, it is very amusing and catches attention. At the same time, context misinterpretation and nonsense were boring for my taste so I did not find those funny. In my opinion, I would not use perceptual discord as an entertaining marketing theme because I do not feel that the other categories met the needs that other themes would. Talking babies and foolishness are the types I would probably use since they are the ones that catch attention the most but other than that this was my least favorite category.

  19. I think using Perceptual discords is a very effective way to go as I think its important to grab peoples attentions. How you do that now is of course up to the maker of the ad or commercial but it seems that the more humorous videos get more likes then the serious and out of the ordinary ones. I think that as time evolves they will get more and more bizarre.

  20. Personally I enjoy perceptual discords quite a bit. The concept of talking animals, babies doing things they don’t normally do, bizarre substitutes that make you look twice at what you’re really watching and especially commercials that simply contain nonsense. Something about being able to step out of reality for a second and give qualities to people and objects that they wouldn’t normally have is rather amusing to me. For example the use of the talking babies for E-trade or of the Gecko for Geico, these are things that stick with you, things that give a company an identity that is funny and easy to remember. In my opinion it is one of the best ways to market a product or service.

  21. I think this is an effective way to go when using babies or animals. These two subjects seem to attract people’s attention no matter what the situation, and in turn leads to an effective form of marketing. Babies and animals talking or doing various tasks that are out of the ordinary typically make people laugh or at least want to continue watching till the end. I used a combination of the animal willpower and substitution category of perceptual discord while filming my own pet rabbit. He was shown causing destruction in a dollhouse and made to look like a monster character in slow motion from the black and white horror movies of the past. Most people are naturally drawn to cute animals or babies – this appears to be one of the basic rules in the marketing world.

  22. I think it’s crazy how these Perceptual Discord commercials work. Companies take a simple concept or ordinary specimen and basically inject it with oddities. What’s crazy is that it works and sells the company’s product or service. For example, when Mars, Inc. put out commercials for M&Ms, they personify each M&M in a every day setting and it sells the product. These commercials stick out because of how crazy they are. No one really stops and judges the company for these commercials. Instead, the customer laughs at the commercial (or is confused to what may have just happened) and is intrigued to at least see the product or service they are trying to market.

    Also another point to make, not all companies should use perceptual discord as a marketing tactic. Companies like hospitals usually don’t use these to engage their customers because they want to be trusted, especially if they handle serious situations on a daily basis.

  23. -I believe that this is an effective way to go. But perceptual discord is very bizarre to me. Most of the commercials used as examples are strange and sometimes unnerving. I know many people who love the e-trade or state farm talking baby commercials, and others who are weirded out by it. As well as with animals. I think with the right audience anything can be effective and great advertising. But if the wrong person is watching it they could change the channel quick. Companies have to know who their target markets are, when to buy time slots for television, or what television shows they should by their time slots within. So yes, I do believe it to be successful but I also believe the commercials need to be executed well and placed well in the world of television.

  24. I love watching commercials and its pretty awesome to look at them from a marketing perspective. I like perpetual discord. I think Mayhem is one of the best marketing ploys I’ve ever seen. This style is definitely a winner. People like to be entertained in the simplest ways and many of these commercials do a great job of eliciting some sort of laughter as well as intrigue.

    1. It is interested to note, Chenae, that Mayhem was the beginning of the insurance humor domino effect. What started as a maverick in ALFAC eventually led to Geico, Allstate’s Mayhem, Statefarm’s magic, Nationwide’s disappearing act and Progressive’s Flo turning the tide with what was once a very serious insurance industry.

  25. I loved this article, now I can categorize all the strange and random commercials I see every year at the superbowl. I feel that these commercials, along with exaggeration, are some of the most popular commercials we have, which is strange considering all these commercials are extremely random.

    1. I believe the randomness, Richard, has more to do with the many we can use over-the-top storylines. We can exaggerate our stories, our reactions, our qualities. etc.

  26. Perceptual discords seem to work for the most part from the commercials I’ve seen. The talking babies appear to be a pretty effective way of getting a comical response from viewers. However, I could see the points the other people on this discussion have made. Some of these techniques may come off as stupid to other viewers and the advertisement may not get through to them. But in all of marketing, there will be times when not everyone can be pleased.

  27. I do agree that the technique of perceptual discord as a form of advertisement is an effective form of marketing. However, I would state that the degree of effectiveness would relate more to what type of perceptual discord is used. For example, whenever I see a commercial that displays the form of “dim-wit” I quickly change the channel because I do not find any humor or interest in watching these types of commercials. Yet, if I see a commercial that displays the technique of object substitution I would truly enjoy watching the creativity that the commercial presents. For instance, the commercial that advertised the the electric car used an example of object substitution by replacing objects that are normally electrically powered to objects that were powered by gasoline; this commercial truly displayed an effective message to its viewers. Therefore, it depends on the form of perceptual discord that is being used in order to provide an effective message to viewers.

  28. Perceptual discords should be utilized within videos to optimize a content creator’s chances to retain their audience when they spawn intellectual capital. It is becoming a staple for perceptual discords to perpetually be integrated into the latest viral videos of the top YouTube content creators whom have amassed an enormous subscriber base over the years. Simply put, prospects seek elements of humor or various anomalies to be integrated within a video that they have yet to indulge in witnessing in order to elicit the experience of entertainment and/or laughter when viewing the video saturated with anomalies. Experiences that are disparate from everyday generic monotonous experiences are far more likely to be remembered than ordinary, mundane, bland, and repetitious every day experiences. Neurons most likely formulate a far greater amount of memories when an emotional experience is encountered than when a vapid experience is encountered which is why it is easier to recall emotional experiences derived from witnessing riveting content such as comedic movies than it is to recall vapid experience such as driving to work. Videos poised with anomalies can generate a copious amount of views even when the meta data in the video is not optimized eminently as a result of avid subscribers as well as avid viewers of the content creator showcasing the tendency to share content on their own volition that they deem amusing with their friends. This blog was very insightful and meticulously analyzes the facets of perceptual discords that individuals find appealing. It is not an enigma why videos entertaining videos poised with anomalies have a tendency to go viral. Ultimately, people love to share their phenomenal experiences with their friends elicited from watching entertaining archived videos. Fortunately, social media websites provide ample sharing options which enables brand advocates to become far more potent at promoting content than they could prior the advent of the internet.

    1. Good points, Harrison. What I think accounts for such a high ranking is the way perceptual discords relate to everyone. Who wouldn’t laugh at cowboys herding cats, babies selling stock or Betty White getting tackled in mud football. I suspect it is easier to integrate into a concept without interfering with the brand message. i.e., Once we see something out of sorts, we need not give it much more thought. The rest of the story-line can be devoted to the brand image or message.

  29. I think Perceptual Discord is a good way to get the viewer into the advertisement, but one thing it lacks is what the company is truly trying to sell. Generally these commercials are comical, which is good because people enjoy these sorts of things but what is the point of the commercial? Depending on the advertisement, I think the company needs to think about what they are trying to promote and sell rather than putting out a farfetched advertisement. The reason I feel this way is because sometimes when I see these types of nonsense or odd behavior commercials they leave me thinking…what just happened? that was a strange ad? I guess it just all depends on how the commercial is constructed toward the viewer.

    1. Great point, Paul. This is a drawback of using perceptual discords. Concepts may not be so readily interpreted. In other cases, the discord itself could distract us from the brand association intended by the content. Thank you for sharing.

  30. I think perceptual discords used in the way of odd behaviors may not appeal to some consumers. For example, the rollerblading babies could come off as unrealistic and silly to someone of an older age and they would possibly change the channel before even seeing the full commercial. In this case the Evian water company would loose a part of it’s audience. However, because their slogan is “live young” they may not be too worried about losing these older viewers seen as their target market is most likely young people. Personally I feel neutral on this form of marketing and I believe depending on the quality of humor used the perceptual discords commercials are either a hit or a miss.

    1. Many would agree with you Kelsey. Despite its high overall rating, perceptual discords represent a small portion of viral YouTube videos. This may have something to do with your point about audience relevance. I believe discords could easily get lost in the shuffle with confusing disconnects, ambiguous brand messages and an unclear point of contrast. Thank you for the comment.

  31. Although I have never used this method in my own presentations I do think it is effective. It may not be as blunt as the basic humor methods of marketing but I think it offers similar brain stimulation to people that can relate to this kind of dry humor. I enjoy this kind of marketing just as much as I enjoyed the previous marketing styles we discussed and shared about, I think it is equally effective.

    1. Maegen, You make a good point about the lack of blunt impact. Perceptual discords are quite mild compared to over-reactive behaviors and malicious joy. Perceptional discords could be rather indirect and subtle. But the use of unusual settings and other discords has gained a lot of traction as advertisers seek safer, less offensive, routes to capturing audience attention. Thank you for your comment.

  32. The viewer has to have a wide imagination when seeing these videos in order to understand what the advertisement is all about. For some companies, perceptual discord may be the way to go. They would probably use odd behaviors (ex: kids acting as humans or talking animals like Mr Ed) at most because it is what sells and usually grabs the viewers attention.

  33. Perceptual discord, all of the videos were interesting but I feel like only a few stood out for me that I could remember. I would probably prefer the other humorous methods over perceptual discord.

    1. Justine, the use of perceptual discord helps with attention as our brains sense the disconnect. Recall is an entirely different matter. This is where gross exaggeration (No. 1 viral video engager) pays off. Thank you for the comment.

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