Advertising is not physics, not mathematics. There are no fixed rules. It’s a concept based on many different approaches and styles. Advertising is an art that mostly focuses on persuasion. 

Advertising approaches differ from an advertiser to another, and also from a company to another. That’s why, today we will see how the most prominent advertisers of all time perceive Humor, and when should it be used and when to avoid it. 

Advertisers on Humor

Claude Hopkins, one of the great advertising pioneers, said in 1923 that “People do not buy from clowns.” 

A Copywriter writes specifically to sell. His objective is to help the customer come to the best decision about a brand, product, or conversion goal. Claude Hopkins believed that advertising existed only to sell something. The copywriter needs to focus on providing the reason why the consumer must buy the products because advertising is not about entertainment.

David Ogilvy was an admirer of Hopkins and his way of advertising. He was influenced by the quote of “People do not buy from clowns.” and believed that advertisements should sell, and success is not built on frivolity and jokes. For him, if the advertising budget is invested in entertaining the consumer, you will not focus on sales anymore. He even gave an example during a speech to the Association of National Advertisers in 1992. He said that “People don’t buy a new detergent because the manufacturer told a joke on television last night. They buy it because it promises a benefit.” Same as Hopkins, Ogilvy limited the role of a copywriter to sales, and separated entertaining from Sales, as they are two different approaches. It’s more a task of a content writer. He is the one engaging the audience and entertaining them to build a relationship with them. 

Good Copywriters have always resisted the temptation to entertain.” David Ogilvy, 1963 

However, every day people are exposed to thousands of advertisements, that’s why they respond to some and neglect others. People started to be appealed to ads that entertain. Humor began to be an excellent technique to attract consumers’ attention. The unexpected and memorable message helps consumers in the decision-buying process and enhances recall and purchase intention. 

When David Ogilvy saw that Humor and jokes started to increase memorability, and overcome sales resistance, he changed his point of view. His flexibility is what makes the greatest advertiser of all time. In 1982, Ogilvy admitted that a copywriter should be witty and have a sense of humor to be able to sell. “I have reason to believe that…Humor can now sell.” 

Nowadays, we see most of the ads using Humor and jokes to advertise, but are all these ads successful? How and when can you use Humor?

Entertaining and hilarious messages became the strategy used in both Ramadan and the Super Bowl because it was proven that Humor is a powerful tool that makes people remember the commercial and the brand. 

Humor is a double-edged sword; it can have positive or negative side effects if not used intelligently. 

When to use Humor in Advertising?

Intelligent Humor is based on the products’ nature and function. It focuses on the type of audience too. Humor is used when: 

  • You target Millennials or Gen Zs: These generations are very present on social media, and they are used to jokes and memes, so they have higher acceptance of Humor, and appreciate it more.
  • The culture permits it: When the culture of the country is open for this kind of ad. As Arabs, we like Humor, and we like indirect messages, unlike Germany, for example.
  • It fits your Tone of Voice and Brand Message: Customers associate the brand with a personality; if the brand is always serious and strict, it will be difficult to accept a joke from it. 
  • If the product allows it: Some products don’t match with humorous strategies. If you are selling using Humor, you need to be selling products people have to think the least about, which means relatively inexpensive products, unlike products in which consumers feel the need of having a lot of information and facts about them.

Many commercials were successful after using Humor, like Old Spice, Tide with the famous It’s a Tide Ad, and Dumb Ways To Die. In the Arab world, there are also many success stories, and we talk about the recent one, of Etisalat Misr, with Ahmed Helmy, and their campaign Hekaya for Family packages. The Humor describes the service, its features, and benefits. It doesn’t make fun of the service, nor the user. It enhances their attachment to the service.  

When you don’t have the right copywriting team, avoid this kind of ads, and make sure not to use offensive Humor. Humor must be adequate for the target audience. 

Brands need to be very careful with humorous advertising. Excessive and inappropriate Humor can cause brand attacks. If Humor distracts the audience from the main objective (Sales, branding, and communication), it means that Humor is not an effective strategy. 

You need to keep in mind that the bottom line is to sell; however, sometimes Humor can lead to what’s called “The vampire Effect“. The vampire effect is when a content concept starts sucking attention away from what the ad was trying to say. If people remember the joke, and forget what the ad was about, and even which brand was behind this ad, it means that Humor is not effective. 

Humor grabs attention and can be an excellent way to raise awareness and increase sales, but it should be well studied, it also shouldn’t be the only advertising of the brand. Customers will not take your message seriously. In the end, it’s true when there is too much Humor; clients will see you more like a clown. 

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