Does comedy in advertising sell?

Comedy is one of our strong suits here at TellyJuice. Our Co-Owners Jason and Niall earned their stripes at Paramount Comedy Channel and have since produced original comedy content including a broadcast television series and two feature films…

Many advertisers are similarly skilled in humour. Depending on what you are watching, the ad breaks can have more laughs than the programmes. We’re looking at you Two and a Half Men. Similarly, the fifteen-second ads before YouTube videos are often funnier than the videos themselves.

But are funny ads actually effective? It’s time to amble through the influence of comedy in advertising:

Why make advertisements funny?

Comedy gets people’s attention. If a person walks past you on the street, you probably won’t look at them. If they slip on a banana skin, you probably will.

Getting a potential customer’s attention is the first and most important goal of an advert, especially in a world of ‘Skip Ad’ buttons. Since making them laugh is a sure-fire way to get someone’s attention, it’s no wonder many brands and advertisers inject a little humour in their campaigns. But once comedy gets the viewer’s attention, what effect does it have on them?

Comedy gives a favourable view of the brand

According to a study by Ace Metrix, based on viewer questionnaires, a ‘Humor Index’ and other such perilously unfunny research techniques, humorous adverts make brands appear more appealing to customers. They are also more memorable. In the ‘should advertisers use humour?’ debate, these are two huge pros. Like pro dart player huge. A forgettable advert may as well never have been made.

The Atlantic, in a fairly stuffy article, say that viewers are happy to watch humorous adverts multiple times. Some viewers love funny adverts so much that they actually write entire blog articles about how much they miss them. This article by Matt Williams laments the loss of the Orange Wednesdays adverts that played in cinemas until almost a decade ago. These adverts were genuinely hilarious, and to be honest, we miss them too. Just what are the headstrong Mr Dresden and his bumbling assistant Elliot up to now? Do they still have a thing for Rob Lowe?

Clearly, humorous adverts can give viewers a fondness for a brand.

Does this fondness translate into sales?

The answer, according to Ace Metrix, is no. They say that funnier ads tend to be light on ‘informative content’ and this leads to a lower desire for the actual product being advertised. Nigel Hollis of Millward Brown talks about the “video vampire” effect. This is when people can remember an advertisement, but cannot recall the brand or product it was advertising.

With funny ads, this happens a lot. You remember that advert where a cute little pony dances to ‘Everywhere’ by Fleetwood Mac, right? But what on earth was it advertising? The answer is actually the mobile network ‘3’. Not that anyone remembered that. The ad probably did more to boost the pony trade, or at least the pony dance-instructor trade, than 3’s contract sales.

There are ways to avoid the “video vampire” effect with commercial humour. Making the brand or product integral to the comedy is one way to do this. The popular ‘I’m a Mac, I’m a PC’ adverts are one example of this. And they probably did boost Mac sales from people who didn’t find Robert Webb too smarmy.

Funny ads can also boost the sales of products that consumers don’t go out and buy every day. The man behind the GEICO gecko ads says that the clips may not have viewers logging straight on the GEICO website, but when the time comes to buy car insurance, they will remember that they like the company.

Is unfunny as good as funny?

These GEICO commercials raise an interesting point. Some people do not find them funny. And since humour can be so subjective, sometimes adverts that are meant to be funny can end up driving people totally mad. Specific well-known examples of this are the Go Compare opera singer ads, and the ‘Compare the Meerkat’ ads, both of which seem to have increasingly larger budgets, and some members of the public are finding them increasingly annoying.

As it happens, this doesn’t matter. Ads that aim to tickle the funnybone and instead scrape the annoyingbone (it’s kind of under your fingernails) are proven to be very effective. One case study focused on an ad campaign from Australia’s Commonwealth Bank. The ad was one of the first ‘meta’ ads, in which an American agency pitches a terrible stereotype-ridden spot to the Commonwealth Bank marketing team. Unfortunately, the actual ad did not have enough ironic detachment to keep it from being annoying itself, and 30% of the public hated it.

Fortunately, for Commonwealth and advertising agencies that are not as funny as they think they are, the ad increased brand awareness by one third to 95%. So the ad may have worked, but again, it was only in the ‘brand favorability’ way and not in the ‘actual sales’ way. Still, since this is what some brands want, it is effective. The Go Compare Man has a long career ahead of him.