Andrew Boulton is a copywriter with a decade of scribbling experience at places like Egg the online bank, some top agencies in the Midlands and once for a man who carved dolphins out of cheese. He...
What does Mr T do with his kebab meat? He pittas the fool.
That is the best joke I have ever created. Judge me as you will.
It actually came to me at 3 o’clock in the morning and I woke up my wife to tell it to her. She gave me a dead arm. It would seem that she is surprisingly powerful for a tiny lady.
But the reason for sharing my greatest ever comedy achievement with you is so that we can ponder the role of humour in copywriting.
My personal preference as a writer will always be to search for the humorous headline. Obviously, depending on the brand and the brief, this isn’t always possible, although I did once attempt to weave a ‘League of Gentlemen’ reference into a brochure for a company who specialised in manufacturing composite materials – ‘You’re my composite material now Dave!’
Oddly that one never made it to the final concepts, but throughout my career as a keyboard thumper I have managed to sneak in more than my fair share of humour (of various degrees) to all kinds of copywriting jobs.
My preference for amusing advertising in my writing is solely born out of the fact it is the kind of copy, and creative, I most respond to in ads.
At the agency, we often do brand workshops where everyone attending is asked to bring an example of their favourite piece of marketing. Without fail I produce a piece from an outdoor campaign from Tango that they ran a few years ago.
The campaign was called the ‘Tango With Added Tango’ campaign (you’ve all spotted the rather fruity acronym I’m sure). My favourite ad from that series read like this:
‘Too much Tango made me think I was a ninja, but I’m not. I’m just Gary.’
Every time I revealed this ad in the workshops it would make me chuckle. However the reaction around the table was mixed. Some laughed, some didn’t get the humour and some were actually irritated by what they saw as puerile marketing.
What I admired about it was the boldness of the brand to do something so irreverent, unusual and potentially divisive.
But while my tastes for copywriting are for the comical, clearly this isn’t a route that appeals to everyone.
I think I can safely say that humour in adverts has a considerably broad, if not universal, appeal and must have brought about considerable commercial and critical success.
Carlton Draught, the Australian beer company, have become such masters of the comical advert that their TV spots are heralded as showpiece events. If you have never seen one I can recommend the ‘It’s a big ad’ spot as an excellent starting point – when I first saw it I laughed so much both my contact lenses fell out. I didn’t even know that could happen.
Conversely, the reaction to an ad that attempts humour and falls flat is far more angry and scornful than one that hasn’t even attempted to be funny.
I often get the impression that many brands are nervous of attempting humour, perhaps because of the reason I just mentioned, but also because they feel that using comedy in their marketing could lead to them being perceived as flippant or frivolous.
I personally respond well to humour in advertising, and especially copywriting, as I feel it demonstrates a brand that enough confidence in its own identity so as to not take itself too seriously.
In a market where media audiences have never been more discerning, brands cannot afford to ignore techniques, such as humour, that will help them connect with their market and even generate a positive ‘word of mouth’ experience.
So, in the spirit of this piece let me end with another home made gag:
What do you call an exploding monkey? A baboom.
I’m sorry. So very, very sorry.
Andrew Boulton is a copywriter at the Together Agency. He thinks ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ is actually quite funny. The damn fool.
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