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Humour. We’ve never wanted it – no, needed it, more. The ultimate escapism from the difficulties our precious society has endured as of late. 

As lockdown eases, hopefully, so too will the emotionally-weighted adverts we’ve been seeing the past few months. From a sonically selfish perspective, I’ll be relieved to hear an injection of light-hearted positivity in place of the sombre solo piano, trudging its way through minor chords. I’m not at all taking anything away from the extraordinary creative spirit in which our industry has responded to COVID-19. We’ve all adjusted to working from our kitchens, lounges and cupboards (as is the case for almost every VO I have recorded recently) and the quality of work has been astounding. But we do need a laugh now, don’t we?

From a sonically selfish perspective, I’ll be relieved to hear an injection of light-hearted positivity in place of the sombre solo piano, trudging its way through minor chords.

The perfect marriage of post-production and timing is a consistent denominator in many memorable, witty campaigns. Paddy Power’s timely Shave The Rainforest campaign was released the week before the Brazilian World Cup – the biggest sporting event of 2014. Our print team collaborated with Lucky Generals to fake some environmentally devastating images which were leaked onto the “dark web”. Mayhem ensued for the next day or so, until the ultimate prank was revealed. Of course, they didn’t really give the Amazon a Brazilian. But the result? Thousands of visits to Greenpeace’s website and an increased awareness on how the public can help save the rainforest. Genius! 

But how can wit and humour translate into moving image campaigns? What are the other pieces of the puzzle, and how can audio, in particular, contribute comedic value?

Animated TV programmes have always relied upon sound to add humour to their plot. Take Scooby Doo, for instance. 

We all know Scooby to be a slightly silly, cowardly character, with personality traits akin to his lifelong companion, Shaggy. The duo’s actions are comically enhanced by the childishness of their voice overs and the cleverness of foley. Think the sound of springs as they realise their perpetrator is on their tail (pardon the pun), the swooshing as the bandages unravel on the mystery mummy or the bang as they dopily run into a closed door. 

Animated TV programmes have always relied upon sound to add humour to their plot.

In recent years, brands have harnessed such characters and their associated sound traits to promote their own brand message. For example, Halifax’s 2017 campaign plays on the fact that, even a pair as futile as Scooby and Shaggy could benefit from a cash back current account. 

At least he could spruce up The Mystery Machine.

Halifax – Scooby-Doo

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Variation on initial concepts allow brands to keep their campaigns fresh, relevant and funny. Specsavers’ highly awarded in-house creative team have executed this admirably throughout the years. 

Sometimes, the only sound you need is a recognisable voiceover to draw the audience in.

When I first started working in audio post, I assisted on their Sheepdog advert. The spot was wonderfully written and beautifully shot in the rolling hills of the Faroe Islands. The sound design captures the rugged and unforgiving landscape and is supported by the haunting yet ethereal soundtrack, Mo Ghile Mear. The perfect distraction to lull the audience into a false sense of security, before… BAM! The unsuspected punchline is delivered. 

The close up of the black sheep’s face before the reveal gets me every time. 

Even after all these years, it still pops up on TV. A sign of a truly timeless ad. 

Specsavers – Sheepdog

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When I visit my native homeland of Canada, I can’t help but notice that advertising in North America takes itself much less seriously. 

I often see comical TV ads that wouldn’t stand a chance in the UK due to broadcast regulations. (Seriously, people actually call to complain about adverts?!) 

A great pleasure of being studio-based in audio post is working with some of the best comedians, personalities, and comedic voice talent out there.

Here’s a word for your next quiz; Mondegreen. I Googled: ‘what’s the word for when a saying sounds like something else?’. I refer, of course, to the one-two punch of the following Kmart ads that are typical of something I would regularly see growing up. 

The hero spot is Ship My Pants and the sequel, which features some of the same cast, is Big Gas Savings. How close is close when it comes to editing dialogue and cutting out a ‘p’ or closing a gap between two words? It could make all the difference.

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Kmart – Ship My Pants

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Kmart – Big Gas Savings

A great pleasure of being studio-based in audio post is working with some of the best comedians, personalities, and comedic voice talent out there. It’s no wonder client attended sessions reach capacity when such talent is voicing your campaign. Just press record and listen to the magic happen. 

Alongside casting and delivery, comic timing is imperative in nailing the perfectly-written comedic spot.

One of the funniest ads I’ve worked on was a campaign for Optus, an Australian telecoms company. They hired Ricky Gervais to promote Netflix being rolled out across their platform and got, well…Ricky Gervais. Totally ad-libbed in one take, this spot is all about Ricky, the rawness of his comedy and the performance of his delivery. 

Sometimes, the only sound you need is a recognisable voiceover to draw the audience in. That, and a company that’s only too happy to take the piss out of itself. 

Reverse psychology: it works, people!

Optus – Ricky

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Alongside casting and delivery, comic timing is imperative in nailing the perfectly-written comedic spot. 

Hamlet Cigars have churned out a bunch of solidly-written ads in the past, but top of the pile for me has to be Photo Booth. Getting that perfect passport photo was waaaay harder before the selfie… 

The humour of the spot crescendos the longer our unsuspecting protagonist waits for the camera flash. Meanwhile the calm, ambient sound of the shopping mall in the background is a stark contrast to the exacerbating experience taking place on the other side of the curtain. It’s an experience most of us can relate to when it becomes time to renew our passport. 

With my head of hair, a comb over won’t be needed anytime soon, but I’ve definitely fallen victim to the untimely photo booth shutter. Meanwhile, the calming Jazz outro track perfectly displays our character’s sudden inner-found peace – a soundly pathetic fallacy.

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Hamlet – Photo Booth

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John West – Bear Fight

I’d also like to highlight Bear Fight for John West Salmon, because who can begrudge a bit of trivial humour?! 

It’s starts off so earnestly, almost naively, with a docu-like, David Attenborough style voice over, which aids the calm, natural soundbed. This, however, is quickly hijacked with a silly exchange between man and Bear. The punchy (ahem) one liner, “Oh look, an Eagle” is delivered from the confidence of our south-London-sounding protagonist. 

Great tag line, as well.

Writing, casting, delivery, timing, and post-production are all key puzzle pieces in the creation of timeless, memorable campaigns.

So, to conclude, writing, casting, delivery, timing, and post-production are all key puzzle pieces in the creation of timeless, memorable campaigns. From an audio perspective, sound design, foley, voice over casting, delivery and music composition all play their part. In ad land, comedy has the ability and global platform to unite us all. 

2020 has been a rough ride, so no matter where in the world you are, so let's try and have a laugh, shall we?

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