Humor in Advertising: Does Your Audience Get It?

funny horse face

Very funny horse face photo courtesy of Ivan Shi.

According to the USA Today “Ad Meter,” of the 15 most popular 2016 Super Bowl commercials, 13 were funny. Does this mean they worked? Well, that depends on how you define “worked.”

According to artist and writer Craig Damrauer, “Advertising = Hey you + buy something.” Funny ads, like Hyundai’s “First Date” or Doritos “No Dogs Allowed,” definitely get our attention. In today’s social world, they also get the attention of our friends: 900,000 shares of the Doritos commercial on game day alone.

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 4.53.27 PM

Does Funny = Money?

What about the second half of the equation, though? For the most part, we don’t seem directly motivated to buy. In fact, according to Fortune magazine, “one research firm estimates that 80% of Super Bowl commercials do not boost sales or purchase intent.”

So, what’s the value of humor? Perhaps it’s more about the brand than the product: a combination of being memorable (getting our attention) and likable (we buy from people we like).

Is humor appropriate for all brands? No, but some that have used it successfully might surprise you. Like Hoover’s “Our products suck.” campaign or the “Censorship tells the wrong story” series where pixelating gives a funny wrong idea.

Some General Rules

As a general rule, though, audiences seem to like funny ads about cars, food, entertainment, and alcohol. Here are five more general rules for humor in advertising:

1.  Make it relevant to your objective and your audience. Know them both.

2.  Engage your audience’s imagination and let them “get it.”

3.  Don’t lie or be offensive.

4.  Do entertain.

5.  Do work with professionals. A team like SJ Marketing can do the heavy lifting with a light approach.

As iconic adman David Ogilvy once explained it, “The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.”

-Lynn Finnigan, Copywriter Extraordinaire

Sign up for SJ updates