Humor and Advertising

A recent poll in USA today (February 5) ranked the Super Bowl commercials.  I sorted their rankings through my listing of the humor based commercials.  Seventy-three percent of the Super Bowl commercials used humor.  However, in the Top Ten, ninety percent were humor based. 

Budweiser/Bud Light ran the most commercials of which all but one where humor based.  Eighteen percent of all the Super Bowl commercials landed in the Top Ten.  But seventy-five percent of the Budweiser/Bud Light commercials made the Top Ten.

The Top Ten had approximately twice as many humor-based commercials when compared to the Bottom Ten.

On their popularity ranking scale, the humor-based commercials averaged a score of 6.94.  Non-humor-based commercials averaged a popularity score of 6.61.

Humor gets attention.  Humor is remembered.  Humor entertains.  Humor sells.

But writing a great piece of humor is no simple task.  Take for example the ad ran on Super Bowl Sunday by Rolling Rock (apparently not during the game, I couldn’t find it on any of the lists of commercials).  They ran an ad which apparently fell so flat in a ratings poll that they ran an apology in USA Today (February 5).  Or maybe the whole thing was a scheme for PR and a viral ad campaign.  Whichever, personally I thought the ad was cute, well written and I liked it.  However, had I been advising them on whether or not to run it, I would have voted against it.  The ad titled “Man Thong” is about a man coming to work in an office where he discovers that the men wear no pants, only thongs.  Our male dominated, hetero-sexist, and generally-sexually-conservative American culture would be unlikely to warm up to such an ad.  Granted, many will like the ad.  But because of cultural bias and taboos, the choices made in the ad were risky.

Lessons learned:

1.  People love humor and it sells.  It sells in commercials.  And as speakers, we need to remember that it sells from the platform.

2.  The strength of humor comes from the relationships and strong writing.  And it comes from pacing and delivery.

3.  Sexual, body part and bodily function humor is often an uncreative attempt to be funny.  But even when the writing is good (as in the Rolling Rock ad), it’s still a risk because of our cultural attitudes.  Generally, the risks aren’t worth the rewards, especially for public speakers.