Is laughter really the best medicine? Short answer, yes.
But, I was told that blogs should contain more than one word.
Were people funnier back then? Growing up, a trait often cited as desirable in men’s magazines was “a sense of humor.” And so for years, we kept our ears to the ground, hoping for that one magic bullet that would make people fall in love with us; the class clown was as ambitious then as a YouTube influencer is today (probably, no quote needed).
I remember a time when making people laugh to sell your stuff was all the rage. From Wine Gums Hoot Man ad to the glorious Carling Black Label Dambuster ad, to, one of my favorites, Cravendale’s cats with thumbs, those ads were pretty damn funny and my consumption of sugar, lager, and milk went up about 14%. (again, no citation needed).
Yet the desire to use humor in advertising and build a brand through entertainment crumbled like a muffin in the rain, replaced by generic vanilla flavored happy families. Or even worse, a valuable accessory delivered directly to the camera.
At a time when premiums have been removed from celebratory boxes, why aren’t brands using humor more? Because we could all just laugh out loud.
What do we mean by humor?
Like any good scientific debate, the parameters must first be defined. So what do we mean by humor? For me, a joke has to be somewhat true. Cravendale cats with thumbs are funny because it’s kinda true – cats would steal our milk, little dairy marauders.
From a scientific point of view, Online advice search has divided humor into these five buckets. Print it, laminate it, stick it in your wallet.
Identification: As in ‘It’s so true!’
Surprise/incongruity: As in ‘Why did the monkey fall from the tree? Because it was dead
Transgression: A way of saying the unspeakable, as in dirty jokes, cancer jokes, most of Jimmy Carr and all of Frankie Boyle
Relief: Like when my wife laughs uncontrollably every time I bump my head (and the more it hurts, the funnier she finds it) — unless, of course, it’s…
Schadenfreude: Taking pleasure in the misfortune of others
Usually, advertising falls into the first two buckets. Historically, in the case of Carling’s commercial, a man could not parry bombs as if they were penalty shootouts. But the combination of the inaudible pilots, the black and white aesthetic, the parody of a real event combine into something magical. Would it have been such good publicity if it was about Fairy dishwasher tablets? Unlikely. It was surprising and unusual and, apart from the pack-shot, not a beer in sight.
By the way, I think a lot of brands are in danger of falling into the bottom three buckets of humor and therefore avoiding the category altogether. But, as my 80-year-old grandmother says every night before you line dance, if you risk nothing, you risk everything.
I recently listened to comedian Whitney Cummings on the Rich Roll podcast “Comedians Say Something That’s Not True, Then Prove It.” What a sequel to my main question…
Isn’t that what chuffin’ well advertising is! ?
Find the truth and tell it well. Get your brand noticed.
Remember that advertising is different from marketing. Advertising is the mouthpiece of marketing. And that’s a small part of the marketing puzzle. But that’s often the sexiest part, he rides around town on a Vespa saying “Ciao”, uses Instagram filters and shouts in his face – all to get attention.
So if the job of advertising is to get noticed, then surely you would use all the tricks in the damn book to do that job?
A guy walks into the pub…
Think pub, dinner parties, anywhere. Who do you remember? It’s not the boring guy in the corner or the peacock strutting around shouting how awesome they are. It’s the funny. The one who makes you laugh. The one you tell your wife about. Yet in advertising, we think the laughter is below us.
Look at this quote from Dave Trott in Orlando Woods Viewpoint “Laughter is a powerful motivator, but in today’s advertising, laughter is seen as banal and rude.”
Why so sad?
Listen, there are a myriad of reasons why brands don’t opt for funny. Here are a few I can think of, and my instant rebuttal:
• Because marketers aren’t that funny? No, I’ve met loads of funny traders. And the appetite is there.
• Marketers love purpose, which is often the opposite of humor. I know plenty of brands that aren’t on target. I certainly don’t need my couch business to change the world.
• It’s against the category, or, I’m a serious brand, and I need to do serious ads. There isn’t a single category that can’t benefit from humor. And who the hell wants to fit in anyway?
• Because marketers are stuck in a bubble where they only think about their brand and its quality. We’re getting closer, but I know a lot of marketers who are coming out of the bubble.
• Because marketers are so ridiculously busy, getting pulled in millions of directions, that they’ve forgotten what their job is? Ohhh, now we’re close.
occupied occupied occupied
It’s hard to be funny. So the marketers instead opt for a middle-of-the-road, innocuous wallpaper and promise themselves the next time they’ll get the minerals.
Add to that how busy we all are and all of a sudden we’re all looking to your “Family Reunited for Their Love of Product XX” BAU. And what’s the point of doing something if you know it won’t work?
Sad and increasingly sad
And we don’t get any funnier. Research from marketing graphics shows that humor in advertising is on the decline. So even if you don’t believe in making people laugh (what the fuck?!), you might believe in zig-zagging while everyone else zig-zags. In this case, the humor argument is once again powerful.
Analysis by System1 (in the image) shows that advertisements have become less funny over the past 10 years, replaced by an increase in solemnity (objective) advertising. And I for one am grateful that my laundry detergent got its finger off and now saves the rainforest.
ARM Research shows “humor establishes a hierarchy in aggressive display”. So, for those who play at home, you have understood that being funny elevates your brand among the competition.
I’m just going to pause here to ask you – have you ever laughed at any point?
Here’s another one for CMOs to beat CEOs over the head with: Search by Kantar showed that “humor is the most powerful creative activator of receptivity”. They go on to say, “Only 33% of the ads studied incorporated some form of humor, but half of the Kantar Creative Effectiveness Award winners use it.”
In other words, if you want to be effective, be funny. Want to win rewards, be funnier.
The last quote, this time from The Journal of General Psychology published in the National Library of Medicine in 2010; Humor in the eye tracker, capturing attention and distracting from contextual cues,
“Results confirmed that humor receives prolonged attention compared to positive and neutral non-humorous information. This increased attention correlates with impaired brand recognition”
Basically, funny = higher recall = higher sales.
Let’s take emosh bags
I talked about this earlier…humor is truth, because truth is also emotional. What makes us laugh or cry is related to the truth. We laugh when we know something is true; we cry for the same reason, but often with different motivations. And, unless you’re my ex-girlfriend, in my experience, it’s much easier to make someone laugh than to cry.
Take what Karen Nelson-Field says in her book The attention economy:
So where does this leave us?
A little recap for the naughty kids in the back:
• Marketers are very busy, they take on too much and advertising is only a small part of their marketing puzzle,
• But they forget that advertising is often one of their most powerful levers,
• Also, non-marketers are afraid of humor because it’s revealing and risky, and no one else is doing it…
• But counterproductive, everyone wants their brand to be noticed and remembered,
• And humor is one of the ways, if not the most effective, to get noticed.
So how do you do it?
1. Take a look at the 70/20/10 budgeting rule. Allocate 10% of your marketing budget to experimentation. If that doesn’t work, you’ve lost nothing but the fancy 10% innovation.
2. Fight tooth and nail against all internal boffins and bean counters, especially those who think they know best. They don’t. And play dirty if you must.
3. Give your agency the time and bandwidth to surprise you. You’d be surprised how many people want to do something good if they know it’s not going to get killed.
4. Remember, if the idea makes you nervous, it’s probably the right one. Trust your instincts. 99% of marketers kill good ideas at this stage, mistaking them for heartburn.
So should people use humor in advertising? The answer I gave back then was yes and I hope now, with all these fanciful studies, you will understand why. But you don’t need those studies to get that, do you?
You already know that humor works. Because I guarantee your favorite ad uses it in one form or another. Humor crawls into our brains and settles there. Just like the Carling ad. And this beauty has been living rent-free in my head for 33 years. Mental.
Want more of this trash? Every Tuesday at 9am (UK), I have a LinkedIn Live. Next Tuesday’s topic… The $873 million question; how do online brands grow? It lasts 15 minutes and you might learn a useful summary of it. Click here to attend and see you next Tuesday.
#laughter #medicine #advertising #LBBOnline