King of comedy and Prostate Cancer UK ambassador Bill Bailey on how humour can help brands cut through today’s content-cluttered landscape

People today are “bombarded” by more images, ideas and messages that ever before, driven by the proliferation of digital devices, making it even tougher for brands to reach their audiences, according to actor, comedian and Prostate Cancer UK ambassador Bill Bailey.

Speaking to The Drum at the launch of Prostate Cancer’s Men United V Prostate Cancer campaign, Bailey said: “It’s a bit like Blade Runner these days – there are screens everywhere, and different demographics of people are watching TV on different devices at different times.

“We are bombarded more than any other time in history by images and ideas and messages competing for our attention. And for brands' campaigns to work they have to be across all of that,” he said.

Bailey has project managed the launch of Men United Vs Prostate Cancer himself, which aims to not only shine a spotlight on how common the illness has become due to lack of awareness but also demystify it as a subject and in turn motivate more men men to address it and book check ups.

Himself inspired to become a prostate cancer ambassador after his own father-in-law was diagnosed with the disease, Bailey said: “Men United is not just about football, but about bringing together all men in the way that Breast Cancer Awareness has for women. Men are traditionally very bad at talking about their own health and this is an issue that has become more urgent than ever before,” he said.

This campaign has purposefully picked two themes which appeal to men – sport and humour - to help make the message more appealing and accessible. Bailey said comedy can be “immensely powerful” when it comes to getting a message across, but that it is vital to establish the right balance of humour when tackling serious subjects.

He referenced the recent All Nippon Airways airline ad, which later was accused of using stereotypes of Westerners. “That ad, which is meant to be funny, has been branded racist and has caused a whole furore – but interestingly the airline hasn’t pulled it yet as it has had loads of hits.

“If you get it wrong it can go disastrously so you have to be quite careful when you use it. Humour is a mercurial thing, everyone’s is different and it’s subjective – but effective. I think with this [Men United Vs Prostate Cancer] campaign we have got the balance right – it’s not too serious and not too flippant. It’s something people can have a conversation about.”

He admitted that it can be very challenging to gauge the right tone of humour to use. “You have to pitch it right. You don’t always get it right but by and large with these campaigns we have. It’s a subject which people find hard to talk about, so having a lighter approach takes the pressure off.

“Comedy can be an immensely powerful way of getting messages across. In my own stand ups shows I talk about all sorts of things - science, politics, history and language and very often these subjects are arcane, difficult subjects – and comedy is a way in – you find the right angle or point where you can access it – if you can find that you have cracked it,” he added.

The Men United Vs Prostate Cancer campaign kicks off tomorrow (25 January) with a digital, TV and print campaign, and will run until March. It will debut on ITV1 during the fourth round of the FA Cup, between AFC Bournemouth and Liverpool FC.

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