Standing out from the crowd: How humour helps advertisers engage with audiences
Authenticity and connectivity are just two of the reasons why Bronwyn Sweeney, Senior Copywriter and Creative at MullenLowe London, believes that making people smile is the key to your brand being memorable.
As a creative who dabbles in stand-up comedy I would have been offended if anyone else in the agency besides me was asked to make a case for humour in advertising.
“I’ll do it!” I eagerly volunteered, like the annoying kid in class who asks for extra homework. Except, now, I’m a grown-ass woman who should know better than to expect her brain to form any kind of well-structured argument in month 271 of lockdown.
In terms of being memorable, making people laugh keeps you in mind for longer.
As I sit staring at the blinding white page of a fresh Google doc, I feel like I’m bombing on stage. Surely as an aspiring comedian who writes ads, this a dream brief? Maybe I should go rewatch my favourite Tango ad to get in the zone.
*2 hours later*
Ok I’m back. It’s still very funny.
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Above: Sweeney's favourite Tango spot led her down a YouTube comedy commercial rabbit hole.
I may be a very biased judge, but I think humour is the most powerful tool in our arsenal when it comes to making memorable ads. When I
did some research for this article asked my family and friends what their favourite ads were, they could only remember the funny ones. This is not to say we can’t have sensitive, serious advertising, but in terms of being memorable, making people laugh keeps you in mind for longer. And, as we know, attention is the real currency of today.
Half our audience are on ad-less streaming platforms, the other half are desperately waiting to hit skip, or have already left the room to make tea.
A teacher of mine in portfolio school once said that, as advertisers, we’re basically like the stand-up comedian before the Rolling Stones: No one wants to see us. I remember thinking that was the wisest thing I had ever heard. Now, looking back, I see some flaws in the metaphor. The first one being that a comedian would never open for the Stones. We wish we were that cool.
The reality is, lots of people work really hard to get our ads out in the world. Half our audience are on ad-less streaming platforms, the other half are desperately waiting to hit skip, or have already left the room to make tea. We are not opening for the Stones, we are the court jesters, at best. So, having had a real think, and read through page one of the search results for ‘Humour in advertising’, I’ve compiled my top five reasons why I think humour is not a gimmick, but a seriously effective device:
Above: Bronwyn Sweeney, right, with her 'work wife', Loren Cook.
1. Comedy is universal
While humour is definitely subjective, everyone loves to laugh. From Baby Boomers to Gen Z, it’s an emotion that unites us all. No matter who the brief says your audience is, they will be happy to watch an ad that makes them smile.
2. Comedy creates faster connections
Studies show that laughter increases endorphin production. You are literally getting people high (on life!) when you make them laugh. This creates a positive association with your brand, and creates better recall later.
3. Comedy is the OG of authenticity
The word ‘authentic’ is definitely the word of the moment. My Work Wife, Loren [Cook], and I have a digital swear jar where we have to put money in every time we use the word. But if we unpack (another swear jar expression) the meaning of the word, all we really mean is ‘make something relatable’. People want to see themselves and their lives represented on TV. We all know life can be hard, but it’s also messy, chaotic and funny AF.
4. Comedy is more memorable
If you’re like me, you prefer not to revisit memories that make you sad or cringe (like being the kid who asked for weekend homework). But things that make us laugh live in our heads, as the kids on TikTok say, ‘rent-free’.
5. 2020 sucked (and let’s face it, so far, 2021 has too)
We need to laugh. That is all.
Above: Comedians, such as Richard Ayoade and Ross from Friends now feature in bank ads which, says Sweeney, "must mean something".
In conclusion, I hope this article has made a fair case for humour in advertising. Though, I would argue, most people probably already know how powerful laughter is. If not, I hope you went to watch your favourite ad on YouTube and went down a rabbit hole like I did.
As advertisers, we’re fighting harder than ever to be seen, heard and cared about. I know this has led to an era of very sensitive and worthy messaging. Brands want to be bigger than what they sell, but I hope the pendulum starts to swing back the other way and we can wave our funny flag high.
As advertisers, we’re fighting harder than ever to be seen, heard and cared about.
I am hopeful the tides are changing. I mean, we have comedians and Ross from Friends in bank ads now, so that must mean something. So, Monzo, if you’re looking for a mediocre comedian who tends to waffle on about advertising and life in her mid-30s, I’m your girl.