Advertising needs its sense of humour back

The advertising industry has lost its sense of humour.

Now, more than ever, we need to laugh. We need bold, funny, out-there ideas and sharp satire. Humour engages us, makes us question the world around us, and ourselves. Done in the right way, it can be a powerful medium for brands.

Crying at an advert is indicative of serious emotional wellbeing issues and so why the obsession with making heart warming, tear jerking, and vomit inducing adverts? Brands need to flip the industry on its head and start looking at how they create Lol adverts instead. And not the kind that are trying to be funny, the kind that are really funny.

Old adverts seemed to know how to pull off humour. Children who went to school in the eighties will remember laughing at the Carling Black Label ads and then going to buy it once they nearly reached drinking age, only to realise that the beer actually tastes like goat's urine (probably does). Even with a sub-par product, humourous and memorable advertising can give market clout to a brand beyond its merits.

Convincing clients to step out of their comfort zone can be the biggest obstacle when creating humourous ads but boundaries need to be pushed, possibly upsetting people in the process, if funny ads are to be achieved. There is a sheep-like pattern emerging within the industry. Since John Lewis created its big, emotional adverts for Christmas, every client going seemed to want the ‘John Lewis effect’. Brands need to break out of this thinking to really stand out.

Laughter is infectious, and infectious is another word for viral. The secret to content going viral is to let humour work its magic; people love to share content that will make other people feel emotionally engaged. It’s no surprise that out of Time’s top 50 YouTube videos of all time, 34 are humourous.

If your target audience love it but some of the non-target are offended it's still job done. Unruly's white paper on the Super Bowl adverts shows that 20% of the audience felt worse about Mountain Dew after Puppymonkeybaby but close to 50% of its target (male millenials) loved it. Job done!

Challenger brands are able to take more creative risks than their incumbents when it comes to humour. Looking back at the legendary Tango ‘Orange Man’ advert, it was very successful in using slap-stick humour in a direct and truly funny way that visualised the brand strapline ‘you know when you’ve been Tango’d’. As a challenger FMCG brand, it took a risk – and it paid off. Startups and dull, or hated, products also have scope to be really funny. The Dollar Shave Club's ‘our blades are f***ing great’, did a great job showing how a mundane product can grab attention through humour.

When writing comedic material, you need the right people in the room. I am also a TV comedy creator and writer for satirical sketch shows such as the Revolting series, on BBC2 now. This gives Don't Panic access to a brilliant pool of TV comedy writers who are ready, willing and able to work for brands. This ensures material is actually funny, not trying to be funny.

There is a huge opportunity with the internet to test and learn, which can offer clients reassurance if they’re feeling out of their comfort zone. The more a video is tested, the more radical you can be. One thing to remember is that humour sometimes needs to be localised for it to be really successful. Apple had a simple global concept which it localised in the Mac vs PC ads (imagine Apple using humour now!).

Humans can laugh before we speak, it’s in our nature. So, let’s put a stop to unfunny and over-emotional ads and turn our attention to humour; there are massive opportunities to be funny in advertising.

Let’s own humour and not be scared of it. Get your brand out there, and make your customers laugh.

Joe Wade is managing director of Don't Panic. He tweets @mrjoewade

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