Humor in advertising...not so funny anymore?

on Saturday, July 22, 2006

Srinath S

Humor….the panacea to all ills...But advertisers across the globe seem to be taking this statement a little too literally. As a result we have advertisements for all kinds of products from chewing gums, adhesives, to cola’s and cars, all trying earnestly to tickle the viewer’s funny bone. But the million dollar question which logically follows is…does the humor actually help influence the customer? The reason for humor in advertisements is the expectation that the feel good factor will help sway customers when they make decisions. And everybody likes funny stuff right? No, as the advertisers are beginning to find out to their dismay. Humor is of course a very integral part of marketing communication but the operative words here are tasteful, well delivered, product appropriate humor.
The fact that needs to be appreciated is that although a tastefully done humorous advertisement can indeed help in a certain brand recall associated with humor, what can conversely happen is that the brand can become an object of ridicule in the mind of the customer if the humor doesn’t come off too well. The advertisers would do well to keep in mind the fact that humor in advertising improves brand recognition, but in no way influences product recall, message credibility or buying intentions. The first thing to watch out for while trying to incorporate humor into your advertisement is the type of product you are advertising for. If the products are essentially low involvement products where humor can tilt the balance then I’m all for it. If while in a supermarket the toothpaste brand that beamed the funny advertisement catches my eye, in all probability I might pop it in my shopping basket. But if they think that just by including a funny punch line in higher involvement product like say a car, I am going to get even slightly influenced they are suffering from delusions. While I do not say that there is no room for humor in higher involvement goods the advertiser needs to tread more carefully.
The second point where marketers need to pay close attention to is the fact whether the humor in the advertisement highlights the value proposition of the product or it merely is added on as an afterthought, in effect sticking out like a sore thumb. This is where one of the most humorous and effective series of advertisements to hit Indian television, the Fevicol advertisements pulls off a winner. The humor was inseparably entwined with the adhesive properties of the product, a fact that many brands need to make an example of. Humor induced brand recall should not be vague; it should provide an association in the customers mind to what the product stands for.
The third potential pitfall is the type of humor and the delivery of the humor in the advertisement. Agreed that humor does not have to be classy all the time, but it should neither be slapstick nor such that it offends the sensibilities of a certain section of people. Also everything might not be funny for everyone. A south Indian like me might guffaw uncontrollably at an advertisement while my north Indian counterpart might wonder what all the fuss what about. So in essence what I mean is if your advertisement takes a pot shot at certain sections of society even though they may not be the intended target segment they ploy will backfire. So when you want to be funny stay away from sensitive topics and issues, however rib tickling they might seem.
Advertisements are essentially for repeated telecast on mass media.
Fact 1: The frequency of the same advertisement being aired is quite high especially during primetime television.
Fact 2: Even the best of humor can grate on your nerves if shown again and again.
So logically from the above stated facts advertisers have a big task on their hands if people groan when your advertisement comes on for the umpteenth time .So even though a slap followed by ”doobara mat poochna” might be funny for the first time, after the nth time I might actually be so irritated that I consciously avoid the product. And if the makers of chorlmint actually ask me why, all they’ll get from me is a “doobara mat poochna”!
This might be regarded as a problem of advertisements in general and not only of humorous advertisements but the problem is only exacerbated with the use of the wrong kind of humor. So what is the solution then? The solution is a series of advertisements on the same theme with the same essential message as in Fevicol or chlormint do. The message in reinforced each time but with different characters and a different storyline. What also happens is the anticipation increases and the recall value consequently gets a boost.
Humor in essence is like spices. Add too little and the food could be bland. Add too much and it will lose its flavor. So the right promotional mix with just a dash of humor could reap big benefits. Or rather in keeping in touch with the theme ”laughing all the way to the bank”.


Deepa said...

Hey that was an awesome professionally written...shows your knowledge and your passion for the subject.
And yes, I do agree with your views as well!

anandable said...

A wonderfully written true that humor can also backfire, in any situation..if not used in right context and spirit.

I have a question regarding ads....any ad, whether it contains humor or not...if repeated n number of times, becomes very irritating...and consumers develop negative cues for the products...then why do companies repeat same ads again and again?

Srinath S said...

well to answer ur question,the thing is always a trade off..repeating it enuf times to acheive brand recall at the same time not over doing it to get viewers irrtated...think abt it ..good ads which repeated a lot but evenly spaced ovr long intervals are not iritating..its those ads which repeat at short durations...

ratna said...

Nice informative article, Srinath… as rightly written by you, humor in advertising should be edible and not indigestible.

I believe advertising without research is like shooting an arrow into the air and then looking for a target to catch it with.

Humorous advertisements in immoderation, especially for products that require high consumer involvement will only remain a passing cloud for the viewers and the effect for arousing stimulus will be negative ONLY.

Having said that, I think, the involvement level for a product can change due to circumstances and also from person to person. There is no cookbook formula to categorize it.

I am not sure if it would be right on me to say that “Advertisers fail to understand that, the advertisement should be friendly but not funny, should sell their promise and reinforce their brand but not to confuse, should attract customer and not distract or infuriate."

BTW, Hats off to your informative writing skills as well.Yooohoooo