Advertising’s Funny Balancing Act

Published October 5, 2016

“We want to give it a, you know, comedic twist. Make it ‘quippy’ if possible…” Or presumably so many creative advertising briefs have been delineated and pitched. Once the forefront for a dichotomy alternating between one’s heart strings and sexual arousal, broadcast and print advertising have more recently tried tapping into the general public’s collective sense of humor. Is this approach effective?

“Even if your jokes knock it out of the park, there’s no guarantee your product will fly off the shelf as a result. The first issue is one of substance. To inject comedy into their ads, marketers often must sacrifice informational content, and that trade-off doesn’t always translate well to the language of sales numbers,” according to an article in Ruckus. In an age where the collective consumer attention span is more and more contingent on the restricting parameters of 140 characters and some memes, it is crucial to condense as much information as possible—in a nice, engaging, memorable ad package.

If using a humorous angle in trying to achieve a consummate campaign that’s attention retaining and far reaching, those around the agency dry erase board must bear in mind the inescapable variables in what people find funny (as every comedian or comic writer alive or dead has been forced to anticipate). “What’s funny in a client presentation may not be funny on an airplane, at a country club or in a hospital,” as is pointed out in an Experience by Simplicity article. Another good point brought up by the writer Mark Levitt is the need for funny advertising to deliver humor that is appropriate to both the product and customer.

If it’s starting to feel as though you may need an Aspirin from all this, see how their attempt at being comical backfired, and perhaps learn a quick lesson in what not to do when it comes to this vein of advertising.

From the Mountain Dew ‘Puppy Baby Monkey’ to Allstate Insurance and their mangled actor personifying a claim, right down to the Budweiser Frogs, the cast of characters making up a pseudo hall of fame for niche commercial campaigns could be growing at a rate that exceeds that of their intended revenue.

Take Flo from the Progressive commercials, for instance. Initially intended to make something elusive like insurance more tangible through the convenience of a superstore, Flo’s character eventually started flirting with iconic status. However, in what the company referred to as ‘Flo-fatigue’, Progressive sales experienced a dip in 2010. That was soon followed by a sort of revival with the induction of new characters and a Flo revamp—reporting 18.2 billion in revenues in 2013. She continues to take on new facades and angles in hopes of maintaining such numbers.

Like any advertising effort, imparting a comedic edge comes with risk, and begs a delicate balance between reach, retention and return on investment. Yet considering the growing trend around companies carving out their own personal theaters of sketch comedy, alongside a collective consumer base prompted by what’s quick and mind-searing, it seems advertising injected with the right amount of quirk could be worth the gamble.

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