With the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, the introduction of a new humor category at the Cannes Lions, and a growing sense of purpose fatigue, the demand for humor in advertising is increasing.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
In November, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity announced that it would add a new comedy category to its 2024 awards. A statement on the festival’s website said, “The works included in this category must use wit and satire to provide entertainment and create a memorable, laugh-provoking connection with the audience.”
The news comes as Andrew Robertson, chief executive of Omnicom-owned creative agency BBDO Worldwide, gave a keynote speech at Cannes in 2023 and urged marketers to return to humor. “If brands really want to make the world a better place, we could do a lot worse than make people laugh,” the executive said.
It’s a sentiment that seems to be gaining increasing buy-in across the industry. While serious, pandemic-era ads struck emotional chords and led with purpose-focused messaging, audiences are hungry for lightness and levity.
And brands are responding accordingly. Google’s heartwarming 2020 Super Bowl ad, which tells the story of how the Google Assistant helped a man with dementia remember his late wife, stands in stark contrast to the brand’s 2023 Super Bowl spot, which featured Popstar Doja Cat and comedian Amy Schumer were listed to appear. Google’s Magic Eraser tool is used to remove pooping dogs and unwanted photo-bombers from image backgrounds.
Meanwhile, at the Cannes Lions 2023, 52% of film category winners were intentionally funny – up a staggering 43% from 2022. The category’s Grand Prix was awarded to Apple’s ‘RIP, Leon’, a cheeky spot about pet care.
Mapping the decline – and then rise – of humor in advertising
The resurgence of humor in advertising is particularly notable given that the industry has been in decline for several years. Kantar’s research shows that humor in advertising has declined significantly since 2002, with major declines seen around the 2008 financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. Even in 2022, only 1 in every 10 Cannes Lions Grand Prix and Gold winners used humor.
BBDO’s Robertson says he understands brands’ hesitation to rely on comedy for fear of being considered tone deaf during moments of economic, political or social tension. “People are environmentally conscious,” he says. “They look around, and there are a lot of terrible things going on. And it seems logical that you should not have fun or make fun of things during such times.
Other factors contributing to the demise of humor in commercials include the rise of purpose-focused advertising and the decline of linear TV’s dominance. As fragmentation across channels and screens in the marketplace increases, “it’s harder to make humor work in a multiplatform campaign,” says Jess Messenger, global head of communications at System1, an ad-focused market research group.
Other industry leaders take a more pessimistic view of the causes of humor’s decline. “The culture didn’t change – the advertising changed. We found that it’s not only more powerful to say that a brand is saving the world or ending racism or anything, but also easier to do than actually coming up with a great joke or surprisingly funny story. Is,” says Eric Kallman, Wieden. + Kennedy and TBWA alumnus and founder and chief creative officer of independent agency Erich & Kallman. “And most importantly, awards shows love it. Therefore, all the efforts of agencies became focused on purpose-driven content.
Kallman even says that brands rarely advocate purpose-driven messaging, and most efforts on this front are led by award-hungry agencies. But purpose-driven advertising, he argues, “has gotten steadily worse and less funny over the years.”
He’s hopeful about the return of humorous advertising. “Humor is what makes people really remember and like a brand,” he says.
And on this last point, Kalman is right. The data largely suggests that humor works. This translates into greater effectiveness in advertising – even in a tense socio-political environment and amid increasing channel fragmentation.
According to research from Oracle, 90% of consumers say they are more likely to remember a funny ad, and 72% would choose a humorous brand over the competition. Similar conclusions have been drawn by Kantar and System1.
Even when addressing serious subject matter or a purpose-focused message, Robertson opines that brands should consider the power of humor. “You can have a very noble cause, and still talk about it in a fun and entertaining way. One of the things you realize about humor is how effective it is at breaking down barriers, at making some kind of connection with people. [enables] You have to get your message across that open channel,” he says.
He cites the example of the Maltesers campaign run in the UK in 2017, which used candy to tell hilarious stories to people with different types of disabilities. ,[Disabilities] It’s a pretty serious topic – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. “That doesn’t mean it can’t make you feel good.”
In another example, Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs promoted Pfizer’s COVID and flu vaccines in an entertaining ad titled ‘Two Things at Once’ last fall. The NFL star showed off his multitasking skills, mowing the lawn while grilling and lifting a reporter off a bench while giving an interview.
Where B2B enters the picture
One brand that has had recent success with humor is enterprise cloud software company Workday. The brand’s ‘Rock Star’ campaign – which won the Chair of the Year award at The Drum Awards for B2B 2023 and was recognized by USA TODAY Admitters as one of the top Super Bowl ads of 2023 – features Ozzy Osbourne, Joan Jett Including real life rockers. , Billy Idol and others poke fun at “corporate types” for calling each other “rock stars”.
“We were able to take the cultural ideology around rock stars and apply it to an office setting,” says Emma Chalvin, the brand’s chief marketing officer.
To ensure that the ad would prove effective, Chalvin says the brand worked on an exposure study with analytics firm Triangulum Insights to test whether the ‘rock star’ concept resonated with audiences or not. No. “Calling coworkers ‘rock stars’ can be tempting to everyone, and we’ve tested it extensively,” she says. “We wanted the creative to tell a story consistent with the voice of Workday and our core values.”
The ad, which aired just months after Workday’s equally cheeky Peyton Manning-fronted campaign that featured the ex-NFLer repeated by the dozens, is testament to the growing influence of the playful message. Comedy is no longer limited to the realm of consumer-focused messages – today, B2B is increasingly adopting humor into its marketing strategies.
According to Jim Habig, vice president of marketing at LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, B2B’s shift toward humor-driven advertising is due in part to the expansion of influence on key buyers. “In B2B, we’ve always thought of the buying group as a very tight-knit, small group of people who hold the fate of a company in their hands,” he says. But today, this is changing. He explains: “You get more empowered end-users who are more vocal about their companies’ products and the platforms they want to use. Now, there is a whole group of influential people sitting outside the main buying group. So you see more B2B marketing targeting a broader group of people. “That’s really the driving force behind this big tent-style advertising in the B2B space.”
It’s this change that has informed much of LinkedIn’s own marketing lately. In November, the brand teamed up with Ryan Reynolds’ production company Maximum Effort to create a playful campaign that takes advantage of a common experience of millennials and boomers: feeling like your parents have no idea you’re making a living. What do you do for this? ,[My son] It is said, he sells clouds,” says an old woman at one point.
“We wanted to show B2B marketers, ‘Hey, we get you. We know the language you use is mysterious and closed off. We know the challenges you face are difficult and unique to you. And you can come up with more people who understand those specific needs on LinkedIn,” Habig explains. He says Maximum Effort was an ideal partner because humor “is one of their strengths.”
need to challenge assumptions
Of course, industry leaders generally acknowledge that humor may not always be appropriate for a message.
But Robertson, for his part, hopes marketers will at least engage in more thoughtful consideration. “It’s easy to convince yourself that humor doesn’t fit with your brand’s message or identity,” he says. “But it’s a good idea to challenge that perception. Because sometimes we make assumptions without thinking about how a brand can and should behave.”
He adds: “There may be brands for whom it doesn’t really mean anything, but this notion that there are categories and brands and times when you should not use humor under any circumstances, is such a thing. which we must challenge. There is plenty of good data about how well humor helps, it shouldn’t be taken for granted. “It makes people feel better, which leads to more effort in advertising.”
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