Can Humor Influence Your Advertising? 

Have you ever found yourself in this situation: you’re standing around with your buddies relaying the details of a funny TV commercial. Then, after a hearty chuckle, you all let out a big sigh until someone says, “Hey, what was that commercial for anyway?” Everyone collectively shrugs their shoulders in bewilderment and gets on with their day.

Obviously, that particular commercial did not get its point across; the advertisers simply paid a very expensive price to give people a free joke. However, the question remains, does humor ever work in advertising? Well, many professional advertisers say, “no.” Some say it’s too risky, misinterpretation is too likely, and consumers only remember the joke and not the product.

That said, we know funny is successful on a certain level because those are the ads we all remember, and why else would so many marketers (around 20%) be attempting to make people laugh? Obviously, comedy is working for some advertisers.

What Other Companies are Doing?

What makes humorous advertisements great is they are likeable and they get people’s attention. Instead of mentally tuning out when they appear, folks make a point to focus on what’s happening (because no one wants to miss out on a good laugh).

However, as described in the opening scenario, being funny is not enough. To have an ad that’s both effective and amusing, you must strike a fine balance between getting your message across and being entertaining. To better understand what works and what doesn’t, let’s take a look at a few case studies:

Case Study 1: Aflac

Nearly everyone recognizes the Aflac duck . . . he has a screeching voice, he shows up in unusual situations, and he says one thing — Aflac. And there’s a reason he only says one thing, because Aflac wanted to boost its brand awareness. It seems the tactic worked as recent reports state Aflac has 90% brand recognition (rivaling Cokes 95%). Aflac experienced major growth thanks to the campaign, and largely because the name “Aflac” is on people’s minds when they’re considering insurance.

Yet, despite its success, Aflac realized the commercials were lacking in one area — they told people virtually nothing about the company.

At the height of the duck’s popularity, you could show just about anyone on the street a picture of the feathered mascot, and the person would immediately say something like, “Oh, that’s the Aflac duck.”

But, if you asked that same person if they knew anything about the Aflac company, you’d probably find him at a loss for words.

Undoubtedly, most would know Aflac is a type of insurance, but few would know what makes them unique or what sets them apart from the competition. Although the ads were doing a great job of brand awareness, they weren’t telling people enough about the products.

Recently, Aflac started a new campaign called “Get the Aflacts,” which is designed to inform consumers about their offerings.

So, although humor succeeded in getting the company’s name “out there,” it wasn’t a comprehensive campaign.

Case Study 2: Geico

At first glance it might seem as though Geico and Aflac are using the same advertising approach (after all, they both feature amusing animals in their commercials). Nevertheless, there is one major difference — Geico delivers a consistent, albeit short, message in every one of its ads. No matter what comical situation the Gecko (or possibly a caveman) is in, the ad always mentions the fact 15 minutes could save people 15% or more on their car insurance.

Geico has stuck with its mascot and saying for over a decade and, unlike Aflac, they’ve not only earned name recognition but also given consumers specific details about their products.

Case Study 3: Allstate

Incidentally, another insurance company relying on humor to win customers is Allstate. In the ads, the chaos of life, which causes people to need insurance, is personified by a character named “Mayhem.” What makes Allstate ads different is they are simultaneously amusing and relevant. Instead of creating a random funny situation (as typical with Geico ads) and trying to make their message fit, Allstate has found a way to present their industry in a witty fashion (which is hard to do with insurance).

For instance, nearly everyone can relate to the type of scenarios Mayhem represents (a faulty GPS, a screaming baby in the back seat, roof collapse from heavy snow, etc.), which is why people can definitively answer to themselves whether or not they want to deal with a “cut-rate” insurance plan in such situations (as Mayhem suggests).

As proof that being relatable and funny works, the Mayhem campaign was only around for about a year when Advertising Age reported Mayhem was the third most recognized advertising character. Additionally, Allstate continues to be the second-largest personal insurer.

When Funny Works

Just based on those three examples we can tell a lot about how to use “funny” successfully.

Have a clear message

Remember, getting your message across is the most important thing; don’t let it be secondary to humor.

Be consistent

Geico’s use of humor isn’t perfect (arguably, Allstate does a much better job), but it has been consistent with its message for over 10 years. By this point, nearly everyone knows what the company is offering — cheap car insurance

Be relevant

If your ad is relevant to your viewers and your industry, you increase your chances of making a lasting impression. By being relatable, consumers are able to connect an issue in their lives with your services as the solution; the fact the ad is comical just means more people will pay attention and remember.

Don’t make light of sensitive situations

If your business deals with something particularly serious, you probably want to steer clear of comical advertising. Although insurance (as in the examples) borders on being too sensitive, none of the companies joke about anything grave enough to cause offense. Other things that don’t work well with humor are highly expensive items, sophisticated goods and services, and risky products.

Consider your audience

Creating something that’s funny to everyone is a difficult, if not impossible, task. Thus, it’s important to tailor an ad’s humor to a specific demographic who tend to have similar senses of humor. For instance, Allstate wanted to broaden its customer base, so advertisers created the Mayhen campaign to appeal to a younger audience. Still, if you have a very diverse audience, comedy can be dangerous as you risk alienating consumers who don’t “get it.”

Works best with understood, commonly purchased products

If your product or service is new or not widely known, you should spend your brief ad time explaining your product — not trying to make people laugh. Nearly everyone understands how insurance works, which is why the examples above are effective.

Don’t make a joke at the expense of others

Always be careful that your ads don’t insult any one group of consumers. Even if they aren’t your target audience, their friends and loved ones might be, which means they could be offended by association. Notice in Geico’s commercials, the only “people” who are offended are non-existent cavemen.

The tips above hold true whether you’re advertising on TV, in print, or on the internet, and in this age where people are becomingly increasingly “blind” to ads, comedy may be your best tool in getting consumer attention and having your brand fresh on folks’ minds when they’re ready to make a purchase. However, humor is a risky business, so choose your approach carefully, and consider hiring a professional advertiser for help.


  • Me

    I read this for english homewrk