Humor Could Be The Best Selling Tool In Advertising

Published in Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 8, 2005

“I’ve seen more humor back in advertising. Maybe we’re allowed to be a little lighter, which I think is a happy return from a few years ago when you felt guilty if you laughed”, said John Hunt, Film Jury President during the recently concluded Cannes 25th year International Ad Festival held in Cannes, France.

Similarly in the Philippines, the 2004 Creative Guild Awards counted among its winning roster a number of brands that used a liberal dose of fun and humor in its creative executions among them Ad of the Year Coca Cola Beat commercials as well as Fita biscuits, Biolink soap, Immodium, Skyflakes and McDonald’s French fries promo.

Ironically, for many years the use of humor in marketing and advertising has been a constant source of debate among practitioners. Non-believers maintain that the use of humor in marketing communications is no guarantee of a brand’s success. Among the reasons cited include humor as distracting while often leading to many cases of the brand and its name losing itself in the joke; humor as relative and culturally or gender sensitive; and humor being appropriate only to certain product categories.

On the other hand, advocates of humor argue that it helps the brand rise above the clutter; generates a favorable, positive impression; gets people to talk; and in many cases even create a bond with the brand.

Capitalizing On Humor

When does a marketer use humor as a pivotal strategy in building brands? Below are some situations that lend to fun and humor as a marketing and creative strategy.

Parity products. When a brand is a mere parity to other products or services in the same category, humor generally creates consumer awareness, aids in memory recall and retention.

Low cognition products or services. Use of humor is often more effective among brands that have very little or effortless consumer processing of information around the product or service. For example, some convenience goods need not rely on strong advertising claims and reason whys to persuade consumers to try or use the product. Brands belonging to categories where benefits need to be presented in detail as part of a persuasive argument may opt for a more serious rather than humorous execution. Notwithstanding, the use of humor in marketing communications even for serious categories may be explored but must be copy tested to determine its acceptability among targeted consumers.

Use emotive appeal to re-energize mature brands. Humor helps generate positive feelings of interest and fun, further enhancing strong brands or creating a turnaround for mature brands in trouble.

Targeting age-specific segments. Older, mature consumers due largely to their age and life experiences have adopted a more comedic view of life. Clever word play, absurd humor, even witty satire are some of the ways that humor can be used to get the interest of older audiences. However, a string of no-no would be sarcastic, put-down, cruel types of humor.

Using Humor Effectively

Not a few brands worked their way to success while using fun and humor in their advertising and marketing activities among them Joe boxer underwear, Bud Light, Wendy’s, Budweiser, Jack In The Box fastfood, Southwest Airlines, etc. Below are some of the ways by which these brands have wisely integrated humor in their brand-building efforts:

Humor is strongly linked to the brand’s value proposition. Anheuser Busch’s Bud Light Real Men of Genius long-running campaign and insightful, humorous and witty creative treatment is a testament to the fresh, real, smooth taste of Bud Light.

Humor is a mere device to catch the target audience’s attention. While the target market’s attention is hooked, the marketer drives the point he needs to make. Wendy’s strong brand awareness happened with the airing of the Where’s The Beef? Advertising. The classic Fluffy Bun commercial opens with three old ladies looking at a huge, fluffy bun they get at a regular fast food restaurant. One of ladies suddenly asks what all three have been thinking all along, “Where’s the beef?” cueing the smooth transition into the product presentation.

Humor is a means to project a maverick, yet fun, spirited, dynamic brand personality. Joe Boxer, a brand of underwear and sleepwear popular among the 15 to 30 year old Americans role models this personality. Its marketing mantra is to “think locally, laugh globally”. Joe Boxer combines laughter in all its marketing efforts along with “creativity and individuality in everything it does including providing customers with product designs that are unique, imaginative and innovative”. Use of humor is restricted to situations and not meant to ridicule, put down individuals. Likewise, successful humor brands have avoided highly offensive communications.

Know the audience profile. Marketers must assess its audience profile well. Consumers have different levels of comprehension and cognitive processing capabilities. The use of humor must be suitable to the target market profile.

Humor can be a powerful device to generate awareness and recall when used well. It does the opposite and can even be detrimental sometimes leading to the brand’s failure when used inappropriately and irresponsibly.