Sometimes I use humor in my speeches!
Friday morning I was on the Jim Blasingame radio show, and was talking about humor (Click Here To Hear The Show). So does humor work in advertising, in the social media?
It depends. A pretty good rule of thumb is that humor doesn’t work but that’s because you have to be really, really good and have a great client to make it work.
Most lesser talents think humor is jokes and vice versa and that’s simply not true. As David Ogilvy famously said, quoting Claude Hopkins, “People don’t buy from clowns.”
Humor works when it’s right, (often) self-deprecating and woven (seemingly) effortlessly into a USP.
When I was working in Canada and we had Tourism Canada as a client, we learned that US visitors came from everywhere but Texas. Could we do something about Texas? Our Creative Director, put a huge close-cut photo of a moose on the face of a white 9” x 12” envelope with the headline “Got any of these in Texas?” Bingo, Texas problem solved for Canada Tourism.
When I was head of Geller Direct at TBWA in New York, we worked on the Absolut Vodka business. The client, Michel Roux, told the creative team they could show the bottle profile with two words and one of the words had to be Absolut. The other could be anything.
They looked at each other. What? Then they came up with one of the most humorous and effective ad campaigns of all time.
One of the reasons jokes, visual or verbal, don’t do well in ads is that people often don’t get them or even notice them. And when they do get the joke, they remember the joke and not the product.
The funny Super Bowl ads (the reason I watch the game) get a laugh, once, and then all those millions of dollars are gone. Maybe they help the brand, maybe not.
I think I remember two over the years. One was back in the dot com craze when some idiots thought it would be funny to shot gerbils from a cannon (it wasn’t) and the other had a guy in a clown suit with the suit – including the clown head – upside down. He ordered a Bud and … well, never mind where he put the bottle. Two ladies in the commercial had the vapors. Ever saw the spot again.
Older readers (as old as, say 40) probably remember Mr. Whipple, the supermarket who nagged his customers with “please don’t squeeze the Charmin”. He wasn’t funny, at least not at first but over a 21 year campaign and 500 spots, Mr. Whipple (Dick Wilson appeared in al 500 spots) developed a hokey homespun kitchiness that I still think of when I buy toilet paper.
In 1984, Wendy’s hired 81-year old Clara Peller to look askance at a competitor’s puny hamburger and blurt “Where’s the beef”? Wendy’s started to take off. Humor can work, gentle humor that integrates the product and will continue over time to amuse middle America, not wiseacre agency kids.
So here are a few things you might consider about using humor in today’s climate:
1. Humor cheers people up. I got a postcard about a “hot copywriter” with a photo of a handsome young guy who writes great copy. It was fun. In mice type it said “appearance of some copywriters may vary.” Funny and focused.
2. Don’t “knock-knock” it until you’ve tried it; test a humorous approach vs. straight creative. Do a 50 – 50 split if it’s email or direct mail.
3. Play to your target audience. When using humor don’t use toilet funnies, unless you’re a plumber. The New Yorker keeps its circulation because of the cartoons, and they’re often earthy and sometimes sophisticated. Consider your own audience, and how you might laugh with them.
4. Brevity is important in this time of Twitter messages, IM and sound bites. Brevity is also the soul of wit, if you believe Polonius in Hamlet. If you use humor, begin with it and make it short and sweet to make your point.
5. Consider radio. In one commercial I heard recently an announcer called a healthcare company and had a hard time talking because a lobster had clamped onto his tongue – so the listener actually focused on his message.
Humor works if it’s relevant. If you just want to be funny, try Caroline’s.