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The Surprising Power of Sarcasm in Communication

MARKETINGThe Surprising Power of Sarcasm in Communication

Sarcasm can be utilized not only to convey a biting remark, but also to help transmit the speaker’s point of view. this is the conclusion of a study conducted by researchers at INSEAD school. It appears that the use of this tool in interpersonal communication can aid the recipient in understanding the speaker’s perspective. The recipient thus becomes more open to what the speaker is trying to convey, even if it invokes feelings of guilt or embarrassment. This discovery could be especially useful in the realms of business language and advertising.

“Sarcasm is expressed in content intended to convey a specific meaning (like ‘Who came up with such a terrible idea?’) with words of the opposite meaning (‘Who came up with such a great idea?’). It serves many communicative and social functions, expressing criticism, amusement, emotional control, and politeness. Sarcasm makes a stronger impression and can also be an attempt to save face in a situation,” Li Huang, assistant professor in the field of organizational behavior at INSEAD, explains to the Newseria Innovations agency.

The research, published in the “Current Opinion in Psychology” journal, examines the complex nature of sarcasm. The scientists from INSEAD set out to investigate whether it could serve purposes beyond being a humorous or snide remark, particularly whether it aids or hinders the understanding of the speaker’s viewpoint.

“Our model suggests that sarcasm can give recipients cognitive readiness and the motivation to adopt the viewpoint of the speaker. Based on psychological and sociological knowledge, we hypothesized that sarcasm triggers two factors leading to the adoption of another person’s perspective—conscious processing and openness,” Huang explains.

Sarcasm often depends on the discrepancy between the literal and intended meaning of the expressions used. As the intended meaning is more challenging to process, it encourages the recipient to step away from their egocentric perspective and better comprehend the speaker’s viewpoint. The communicated disapproval inherent in sarcasm might also trigger feelings of guilt or embarrassment, which also increase the ability to understand another’s outlook.

The model also identified moderating factors related to the speaker, recipient, and their relationship, which can decrease or reverse the positive impact of sarcasm. “When sarcasm expresses excessive criticism towards the recipient, it may provoke anger, not guilt or embarrassment, which research shows limits the recipient’s ability to understand another’s perspective. The recipient’s ability to decode sarcasm also determines whether they will be able to grasp another’s perspective,” Huang adds.

Sarcasm is frequently employed in communication, including marketing. “Our study helps us better comprehend what happens to the recipient of sarcasm, especially in regards to cognitive benefits. As an example, consider the sarcastic Ford Explorer ‘men-only’ advertisement. The advert is amusing and showcases the broad application of sarcasm. It draws attention to the need for more detailed investigation of its impact,” the researcher suggests.

Bearing a stylistic resemblance to other car adverts, the Ford Explorer ‘men-only’ joke advertisement begins similarly but showcases a vehicle devoid of elements like windshield wipers, turn indicators, rear-view mirrors, and GPS. The voice-over concludes the advert with “Are you kidding? Wow, whose great idea was this?”. These components highlight the contributions made by women to the development of cars and the automotive industry, a field stereotypically considered to be male-dominated.

Scientists emphasize that future research should examine under what conditions sarcasm would be most effective, whether it depends on specific recipient characteristics like a propensity for guilt, or on the relationship between the speaker and recipient, such as the level of trust.

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