Humor and Advertising

A reader recently asked about the use of humor in advertising.  Here are some things to watch out for:

1.  Worn Out Humor.  A really good humor ad is fun to see.  The first time.  Sometimes it’s still funny after the third or fourth time.  But if an ad campaign runs too long, the humor can become more irritating than funny.  A theme can work, such as a recurring character or mascot, as long as the humor itself changes.  Would you enjoy the Sunday comics if they were the same panels every week?  The Super Bowl is normally a feast of humor ads.  These ads are celebrated because they’re well written (most of them), well produced and they’re being shown for the first time.  Freshness goes a long way.  The shelf-life of a humor ad is shorter compared to other types of ads.

2.  Copy Cat.  There is a tendency to see one ad campaign copied by another.  Apparently the thought is that if something is working, let’s clone it.  In my opinion, this is not a great idea.  The humor won’t be fresh and your ads will be stale the very first day they hit the market.  The humor was worn out by someone else’s ad campaign.  Bad idea. There are currently a number of ads, for different products, running on national TV using  the principle of exaggeration and specificity.  For example, you could say “Yesterday he burned the toast.”  Or you could say, “He burned the toast every morning for the last 216 days.”  Although the second might be considered funnier than the first, for the most part, it’s neither funny nor cute.  And when you see the technique run in triplets (series of three) on several ad campaigns, it’s definitely neither fresh nor funny nor cute.

3.  Inside Humor.  Watch out for humor that might be understood only by a small audience.  If that’s the type of humor you’re dealing with, don’t waste money broadcasting it to a general audience.  If you can narrow-cast to your target audience, go for it.  Targeted humor usually works well.

4.  Doing It Yourself.  The worst humor ads are often the ones produced for local distribution and written by the business owners themselves.  They fall into the traps of saving money and being the star of their own commercial.  Get help from a seasoned advertising person with a track record for humor.  Not me…I don’t write copy for advertisements.  A side thought:  A bad humor ad might work if it’s so bad the audience remembers the business name and service (as long as the ad does not damage the credibility or likeability of the business).  How many times have you seen a humor ad, and the next day you remembered the ad but not the name of the business or service?  The bottom line is that the effectiveness of an ad requires more than just an evaluation of the humor quality.  But if you’re going to use humor, why not develop a campaign that IS funny.

Four Related Postings:

Humor and Advertising

Why Humor Advertising is a Good Investment

An Analysis of Humor and Super Bowl Commercials
Using Humor On A Web Site