Laughter is social bonding communication. It’s like saying, “I like you” or “I want you to like me.” Evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar says that belly laughing may have worked like “grooming at a distance” for early ancestors, allowing them to maintain bonds within larger groups, which explains why humor in ads can bond people to brands. Laughter is an innate, cross-cultural response triggered unconsciously, which is why it is hard to fake or control. Shared laughter synchronizes our brains in emotional attunement, the hallmark of successful communication, releasing oxytocin and tension, firing our trust circuits.
This approach felt authentic and compelling only because the brand had earned the right. VW had a storied legacy to “think small,” not boast big; not through sales talk, but by speaking human. And they attained massive sales growth back then as well as today. That’s in part because they recognized that our purpose as people is to lead better lives, not to consume their products.