Using humor in marketing is a tried and tested strategy for brands to ensure that their campaign is impactful and remains memorable for audiences.
Tapping into what makes consumers laugh can create a more meaningful relationship between a brand and its target audience. However, there are some brands that fail in their attempts to imbue their campaigns with humor, and this can have the opposite effect on audiences. Instead of warming to these brands, consumers become convinced that the brand is out of touch and completely tone deaf.
Here The Drum looks back on campaigns that have successfully leveraged humor to creating a lasting impression on audiences, as well as some that have fallen short of the mark.
Metro Trains Melbourne: 'Dumb Ways to Die'
In 2012 as part of an effort to reduce the number of accidents that were taking place on its railway network, Metro Trains Melbourne launched this highly memorable and effective campaign video.
The cartoon campaign features an extremely catchy and upbeat song and runs through all the stupid ways a person could die, making it a viral hit. This is an example of a brand using humor in a way that gets an important message across; while we're all laughing and enjoying the campaign, we are still listening to its overarching call to people being safer when around trains. After the success of the ad, there was a game created on a mobile app.
The campaign was developed by McCann Melbourne.
Burger King: Whopper Neutrality
In a bid to explain the issues of internet neutrality, the prankster team at Burger King decided to educate their customers using Whopper burgers. This campaign is an example of Burger King's humorous, tongue-in-cheek campaigns.
The ad follows unsuspecting customers trying to buy their Whopper and being told by staff that if they are not prepared to pay more, they must wait longer to receive their food. Justifiably, they are angry and question the staff on the injustice of wealthier customers receiving better service. It is then revealed that the Whoppers are a metaphor and staff are actually looking to educate their customers. Similarly to the 'Dumb Ways to Die' campaign, humor is used effectively to communicate an important message.
The creative was put together by long-time partner agency David.
Unfortunately however, not all burger chains are able to so adeptly handle humor in their ad campaigns. Gourmet Burger Kitchen made a blunder in the launch of its Ruby Murray burger in 2018, promoting it as authentic Indian cuisine.
The ad features a white, bearded man turning customers away from Indian restaurants in London and pointing them in the direction of a GBK restaurant. The campaign faced major backlash on social media, with people calling the campaign racist and accusing the chain of bullying small business owners. GBK issued an apology for the ad and pulled it.
The campaign was put together by You Agency.
At the beginning of 2018 after KFC changed its supplier, the fast food chain faced nationwide chicken shortages, which led to store closures. This of course merited a a huge backlash from customers on social media.
In response, KFC took out full-page apologies in The Sun and The Metro. The clever play on the KFC lettering implied the word 'fuck', by way of apology for the chicken restaurant's massive cock-up. The ad went viral on social media, proving that clever and humorous handling of a PR disaster could heal any number of problems for a business.
The paper ad was put together by creative agency Mother.
Ikea: 'This ad can change your life as you know it'
In yet another example of innovative paper ads, Swedish homeware retailer Ikea had a strange request for customers when promoting its range of cribs.
The ads incorporated a hidden pregnancy strip and encouraged potential mothers to urinate on the ad and wait for the results. If the result was positive, customers could then take the ad into their nearest Ikea and buy a brand new crib at a discounted price.
Ikea collaborated with both Swedish agency Åkestam Holst and Mercene Labs in the making of this ad.
Spotify: Weird listener habits
As part of its end-of-year round-up campaign, Spotify put together a compelling OOH billboard campaign that unveiled the weird listening habits of its users. The campaign nodded to the festive season, naming the run of ads 'Wrapped'.
For a number of years, Spotify has tapped into listeners' data as inspiration for its advertising campaigns. This included ads that poked fun at users for putting together playlists like ‘I love gingers’ with 48 Ed Sheeran songs on it, Man’s Not Hot by Big Shaq getting played 42m times in 2017 and even outing one user for playing ‘Sorry’ 42 times on Valentine’s Day. The campaign is a reminder that when brands handle their consumers' data in a humorous way, it isn't viewed as an intrusion.
The creative campaign was put together by Spotify's in-house team.
However, the ads did inspire a copycat campaign from Revolut, which was less than well-received.
In a similar style of billboard campaign, Revolut tapped into consumers' data and revealed purchasing habits. As it turns out, what people don't find funny is banks putting together ad campaigns that make fun of their personal purchases.