As a copywriter, I can count plenty of occasions when I thought I had struck comedy gold when, in fact, I had not. It’s easy, as a “creative,” to get protective of my concepts, especially when a lot of time and effort has been put toward their development.
When considering humor for an ad, the audience/demographic can dictate the entire appropriateness of the ad’s content. Always remember to consider the target market and take into consideration specific factors that affect messaging. After all, one person’s punch line could turn out to be another person’s punch in the face.
Is the ad offensive? Is it too clever for the average consumer, too goofy, or simply not funny? A common misconception is that it’s up to the agency, creative director, or copywriter to answer these questions. But the “burden” actually falls solely on the consumer. If an ad falls flat, offends, is unappealing, or simply goes over the consumer’s head, not only has its entertainment value been lost, but, more than likely, so has the potential for product awareness.
If the above is true, why does humor even matter? Well, chiefly, because there are plenty of other options when developing the personality of a marketing campaign. Before settling on humor as a campaign tactic, consider the following pros and cons.
Let’s Start With the Pros.
Humor is always trending. Why? Because, in general, people like to be happy and they like to laugh. When people are entertained, especially by humor, they are less likely to feel like something is being “sold” to them and more likely to feel like the product/service is genuine. It’s a great way for advertisers to distract consumers.
Humor is not only a great way to grab the viewer’s attention, but also an excellent way for the company to form a long-term connection with the consumer. The result? More often than not, happy, brand-loyal consumers and exponential brand growth.
When to Consider Humor in Advertising
Humor in advertising is something that has the unique ability to glide across all mediums in virtually every industry. When it comes to playing the “funny card,” so to speak, the automotive industry has made its mark.
The following example is one of my favorites when it comes to successful, humorous campaigns. This ad is from the launch of the Kia Niro Hybrid Crossover and aired during the 2017 Super Bowl. Melissa McCarthy stars as an enthusiastic environmental crusader (unsuccessfully) making a valiant attempt to save the whales, the trees, and, of all things, a charging rhino.
The ad’s action-packed montage of outrageous stunts makes for perfect universal humor and, even if it’s a little too silly or slapstick for your taste, more than likely you’re still going to chuckle a little.
The combination of over-the-top humor, bolstered by celebrity star power and perfectly paired music did wonders to elevate this particular product and brand. The humor not only made the ad itself memorable, but also effectively pushed the Kia brand up to the top rung of the “mind awareness” ladder.
Now, for the Cons.
Despite compelling reasons to use humor, there are distinct instances where humor misses the mark or is simply inappropriate. Used in the wrong context, humor can not only come across as unprofessional, but also degrade a brand’s image and perceived value. Consumers start to feel exploited when a company cracks jokes only for attention.
So, which industries are off limits when it comes to using humor? What about, for example, a funeral business? The short answer is that it’s relative. Let’s consider the healthcare industry; specifically, let’s take a look at Life Alert, a device and alert service designed to help elderly individuals who live alone, to receive emergency help faster if they fall in their home. Ads for this product/service feature an elderly woman dramatically splayed on the kitchen floor, struggling to reach for help. Although this is a very serious and common scenario, the actual spot was executed so poorly that the message became parody-like in nature.
Despite all of this, the Life Alert ad amazingly didn’t backfire. In fact, the spot’s infamous tagline, “Help! I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” was so successful at grabbing viewers’ attentions that it actually increased the promotion and popularity of the product and has made the brand one of the most memorable commercials in history.
Humor Means Taking Risks
Using humor in advertising demands a certain degree of risk. Those who use humor risk it being misinterpreted, falling flat, or not resonating with target consumers. Nevertheless, the old adage, “With great risk comes great reward,” rings true. Humor isn’t always the best tactic; however, in the appropriate circumstances and with the proper application and execution, the payoff can be huge.