Disclaimer: There is profanity and some lewd imagery in some of the videos linked to in this post.
I’m a comedy nerd. I love truly silly comedy: films, old cartoons, comic strips, you name it. I like the occasional modern, dark, brooding type of comedy, but only in small doses. I’m more of a “classic rules of comedy” kind of guy—Mel Brooks, Looney Tunes, Laurel and Hardy…you get the idea.
Being a professional marketer as well as a comedy nerd, you can imagine how much I love it when people apply the classic rules of comedy to make funny and inspiring marketing messages. Here are a few examples of comedy and marketing coming together, as well as a few classic rules of comedy to keep in mind if you’re trying to bring the funny into your campaign.
Keep It Simple…and Relevant
Let’s start with a classic rule, and some classic examples. I’m dating myself, but here are some examples are from the late Eighties (yes, that’s thirty years ago). These are some of the first examples I can remember of ads that did this well. Here they are, from Phillips’s “Time To Change a Light Bulb” series (please pardon the VHS quality):
There are lots of reasons why these ads are so effective from a comedic standpoint—timing, visual perspective, etc. But the main reason they work is that they’re so darn simple. They’re one shot, one gag, and they relate immediately and directly to the product.
Here’s another ad that was hilarious in the context of the SuperBowl and its high-dollar placement, and (in the end) does a good job relating directly to the service that ETrade provides.
I love when an ad makes me laugh and remember a product, company, or service.
When You Stray Too Far from Your Product
Here’s a quick example of an ad series that asks too much from the viewer. It’s a clever concept, but it overshoots a little—it takes too much piecing together before we connect the dots back to their services or brand.
Be a Real Character.
By “real character” I don’t mean hammy. I mean actually real—empathetic, vulnerable, caring. Comedic Jedi Carol Burnett described the thin line that separates comedy from tragedy this way: “Comedy is tragedy mellowed by time”. Sure, your character can be exaggerated, but it’s much better when they’re real, human, and relatable.
Here’s a classic example—the Mac vs. PC series. Sure, these were played to death, but the real trick here lies in the relationship between the characters: “Mac” has actual empathy for PC. It would be so easy to play Mac as condescending or chiding. But these ads actually make use feel a little sorry for “PC”, and they work that much better.
Be “Edgy” Responsibly
I’ll admit it—I like a dirty joke every now and again. But using vulgarity just for shock value pays little in dividends for your brand. Here’s an example of an ad that attracted a good deal of attention, but fell short in the long run, in my comedy nerd opinion.
Yes, it got a healthy locker-room chuckle out of me first time I saw it, but how does this relate to the personality of the brand? And is it really helping us remember the service or brand promise? This seems more of a desperate attempt by Kmart to be edgy to me.
Conversely, here is an absolutely brilliant use of some perfectly placed edgy-ness and profanity to make a beautiful point from Donate Life America.
Not only is this brilliantly-produced, the profanity is the perfect touch to give us a little smile while taking in a poignant message.
Here’s another example of a campaign that grabs your attention with irreverent humor, and keeps it:
I love that this commercial shows how ridiculous traditional advertising stereotypes can be, and how much funnier and more interesting real life is, in all its messy, stained, rushed, and profane glory.
Topical and Timeless
If you can take advantage of a current trend or hot topic and still be funny (and keep it about your product), the payoff can be big for your brand. Here’s a recent example by Gain laundry detergent, playing off of the (then-)current wave of popularity and affection for Modern Family’s Ty Burrell.
These ads build off of Ty’s recent quirky success, and also make a comment by parodying recent fragrance ads. The result is clever and quirky—a bright contrast for what would normally be a pretty boring detergent product!
I hope you’ve enjoyed the above examples, and hopefully had a laugh or two. One last observation—notice how the successful ad campaigns cited above are mostly series. If you use humor in the right way, your campaign will grow legs.
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