There is nothing less impressive than someone trying to be impressive. There is nothing less funny than someone trying to be funny.” (Excerpt from article by Steven James, titled “5 Story Mistakes Even Good Writers Make,” March/April issue of Writer’s Digest). This is exactly what comes into your mind when you watch ads like Jack-In-The-Box’s “Marry The Bacon” ad. The whole campaign, with such uber-banal lines as “Mom, I am getting married,” “It's not a girl, it’s bacon,” and “You may now eat the bride,” exhibits complete disrespect for the listener and the listener’s intelligence and questions the veracity of the use of humor to capture the attention of the audience.
In an age in which people can easily zap past commercials using their remote controls or watch a commercial-free video on YouTube, it is a necessary evil for companies to create ads with humor, which can be searingly painful and infuriating to the audience.
Humor in advertising is looked upon as an effective method of distinguishing the product from the crowd — a way to break through the clutter — but injecting humor does not necessarily make one ad better than others. Humorous ads create a positive mood and have more persuasive powers. But this is true only if humor is “real”: something that is out of the box, that makes you laugh and talk about it, or at least makes you look twice.
Advertising is not just a one-way street anymore; it controls and manages the destiny of the brand. In the words of Julia Miller, “Humor in advertising is like a gun in the hands of a child. You have to know how to use it. Otherwise, it can blow up on you.” (“Comedy with a Human Face,“ Advertising Age, 1992).
The aim of advertising is no doubt promotion of the brand, but advertisers need to be cautious when pairing humor with the actual promotion of a brand. Humor can widen an ad’s receptiveness if it includes the smart play of words and careful consideration of the purpose of the ad and takes into account the target audience and market standards.
To most of the audience, TV advertising is essentially an uninvited guest, so it's important that companies make TV spots more relevant to the consumers. The ad should not be silly; it should exude an air of fun and establish a connective relevance to the brand.
TV has a large, vibrant, and growing audience that is receptive to funny, quirky messages, but they would zap merrily away if an ad comes across as too casual and flippant. The audience loves comedy as it sticks with them, but the comedy has to have a conscience; a lift that thrills everyone. Companies should tweak their messages in such a way that they are funny, but also dead-on serious. A good example of this is Doritos' “House Sitting” ad, where the house sitter uses the super power of Doritos to fix up everything (including a plant and fish) in the house and even manages to bring Grandpa back from the dead.
The ad is funny but also serious to connect with the audience. It uses unreal events but a real, stereotypical lazy guy to make people believe that Doritos can miraculously fix mistakes and make things better. It demonstrates a good sense of humor and reinforces positivity, which makes the product look better and leaves a lasting impression on the audience.
Marketers should wake up to the reality that consumers today don’t have the luxury to pay attention to advertising. Humor can be an important ingredient of companies’ commercial messaging strategy to engage the audience. Admen should ensure that their ads are not bland or banal but truly funny and relevant to the audience, because as the saying goes, "There is no second chance to make a good first impression."
Anamika Pande Ved is a blogger, content curator, and content writer with Global Washington, a non-profit in Seattle, Washington. She is fascinated by commercials, more so if they are used for "social good." She is an avid traveler, reader, and a singer. Find her on Twitter here.