Not all brands can get away with using humour in their marketing, but given how Aldi has been responding to Marks and Spencer recently on social media, it just goes to show that even the allegedly “big and boring” brands can do it well.

Timing and context matters the most I guess when it comes to witty retorts, and not all brands have the in-house responsiveness or comedic talent to pull this off.

But what about communications that aren’t responding to something? How can your brand be funny all of its own accord? And should it even try? That’s what I want to chat about today.

To be funny or not to be funny?

In one sense, that’s a question only you can answer. You know your brand and audience better than we do. And of course, humour comes with a risk. It could backfire, or it could go viral. There’s just no way of knowing how it will be perceived until you do it, although screen testing might give you an inkling of how it might be received.

On the other hand, since a lot of humour’s effectiveness comes down to the creative and its execution and timing, we can definitely help with that. As in, working out whether humour will be the best approach to getting your message across.

And as Dom Boyd from Kantar says in his recent article:

“Humour is one of the most powerful creative weapons we have to create a strong emotional connection, so why are we using it less? Culture may change over time but the human brain is fundamentally the same. We are hardwired to respond to humour, and that provides a bigger opportunity for brands to stand out and build preference: the ultimate goal of branding.

There are a few reasons why it’s a good idea to pay attention to humour. After all, we can’t bore our way into people’s hearts and minds.”

Even boring subjects can be funny

What we find funny isn’t always a joke. We often laugh when people (sometimes with extreme character traits, think Basil Fawlty) are presented with surprising dilemmas in ordinary situations.

Take The Association of British Insurers for instance. They asked us to help them raise awareness of the Insurance Premium Tax, which they thought was an unfair burden and extra cost to UK drivers. 

We thought humour would be a good way to connect with the audience on an emotional level and reduce the potential for them to switch off as soon as the word tax or insurance were mentioned. We came up with a simple set of analogies in everyday situations that people would identify with and wrote a tongue-in-cheek script.

Getting the audience on side

We used a common enemy – someone who looked like a traffic warden – to help the audience feel like we were all on the same side and to get behind the idea that “actually, this tax doesn’t seem fair at all”. 

In other words, our approach wasn’t a full frontal assault on the tax itself. Just stating an opinion – that the tax was unfair – would have ended after about three seconds and inspired no one to think any deeper or see or feel how unfair it was. 

Instead, we put the principle behind the tax into everyday situations that made the principle seem silly. We took the tax out of context and showed people how the principle it was founded on fell apart under the faintest scrutiny. 

More humour in other brand videos

Penguin’s brand video is basically a joke, but it’s not told like a joke: what do you get if you cross a stuffed penguin, a delayed flight and a cocktail?

Smell like a man

And if you’re a Superbowl fan, you might have seen this ad from Dr. Squatch during the break. The overtly masculine pitch is so over the top, you can’t take it seriously. It’s hard to imagine anyone would be offended. And who could be with an opening statement like, “You’re not a dish! You’re a man!”

The setting in the woods is also surreal and breaks the familiar expectation that we should be seeing the man washing in the shower. Breaking expectations makes the ad more interesting. It adds an element of the unknown and increases the sense of anticipation because the audience can’t predict what will happen next, which gives the punchline impact.

And here are a few examples from a little further back…

A personal favourite of mine is The Dollar Shave Club – buying razors doesn’t have to hurt. They use a very ordinary and familiar buying scenario with a very literal punchline to convey the pain of buying razors! It’s classic, unexpected slapstick in a very ordinary setting. The CEO also features too, not something every CEO would be comfortable doing, but his presence and status as CEO add sincerity to the message. But it also sets up a repeat of the joke, implying no one is too big not to feel the pain of buying razors:

And then there’s the wonderfully ironic and ever-so tongue-in-cheek reply from Bodyform to a man called Richard: 

Funny where our mouth is

And we can’t talk about using humour in video without putting our money where our mouth is. Our About video is one of our most watched videos. When people get in touch they often tell us how much they liked our mockumentary on our six-hour day

Apart from this almost being too close to the funny bone – we really are a little bit like this when we all get together – it makes us stand out. 

People remember us for that video. And when it comes to marketing: standing out is the first step in being remembered.

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