Many brands use humor in advertising effectively to establish their equity, gain trial, or build loyalty. Successful brands like Geico, Progressive, and Sonic have loyal followings sparked by a consistent approach to their humor. Humor can make creative more enjoyable, engaging, and memorable than other creative strategies. To make the most of this powerful tool, humor should act as a brand message delivery vehicle that expresses a target audience’s most relevant consumer truths. While there are many strong reasons for using humor in advertising, keep in mind it requires a careful approach in order to deliver it successfully.
1. Humor Promotes Engagement
It’s common knowledge that funnier ads capture attention. With so many consumers skipping ads online or opting for commercial free options, capturing attention is crucial. Laughter creates a chemical “feel good” chain reaction in the brain through endorphins, such that target audiences can connect and actively engage in the creative. As a result of this relationship, humorous ads also increase the chance that viewers will remember the content.
Kantar Millward Brown, our partner in copy testing, explains that ads with creative impact driven by strong branded emotional engagement have a stronger relationship with in-market sales than those with strong explicit messages. Laughter can have a real impact, sometimes more so than simply communicating the message directly. In some cases, the lifetime of the engagement won’t last forever. Sometimes a commercial that made a viewer laugh one time, if overused, can eventually lose its appeal. So while the same approach to humor can be used, be sure to update the execution or develop pool outs leveraging the creative strategy.
2. Brand and Key Message Integration Drives Impact
Humor is best when it relates to the brand and key message in a way that reflects positively on the brand. But messages don’t have to be communicated explicitly since instinctive reactions control how people perceive brands. But when assessing a creative idea’s comedic attention-getting ability, look through the lens of the brand to ensure that brand equities are still clearly exhibited.
For example, an apparel brand wanted to break custom with a satirical ad featuring vignettes of people in uncomfortable situations in order to communicate the brand message that their apparel is more comfortable. Through creative testing, the team learned that the story effectively exposed real consumer truths in a way that made them laugh and emotionally connect. Since the depicted pain points were specific to the apparel and reflected a known brand equity, the ad was positively perceived and delivery proved successful in-market.
3. Humor Is Subjective and Audience Specific
Sometimes humor doesn’t work because it doesn’t connect well with the brand. Unrelated humor can distract from the key message and the ad’s impact. Testing messaging and creative thoroughly is important to help ensure the humor is interpreted in the way it’s intended. The right humor can aid communication by engaging at an emotional level. The wrong humor can just as easily provoke irritation, thereby impeding message reception. Explore ideas across a broader audience to mitigate polarization and unintended negative reactions.
We’ve witnessed this problem in action when testing a brand’s creative strategy among male and female adult audiences. Feedback from men was clear in that they found the social setting presented in one execution as relevant and funny, while females found the interaction insulting. Luckily, another execution the brand tested reflected a more humorous universal truth that allowed women to be included in the joke and stimulated the emotional connection the brand sought.
4. Focused Humor Increases Resonance
Last, but not least, maintain relevance to the product and message and not just humor. Pinpointing a specific and real consumer truth establishes relevance. A strong truth or insight into a specific target audience has more impact than a watered down insight for a larger population. Humor is great at engaging consumers but ultimately still needs to build a connection with the brand or product being depicted. If a brand can do that, not only will it delight viewers, but it will also get consumers to recognize the brand for it too.
Our Pre-LinkNow framework, developed with Millward Brown, helps brands understand how a target audience perceives the creative strategy, and how well the brand shines through, before investing scarce resources in production and media. The qualitative insight from such a method can direct creative teams to find the right balance to drive brand difference. To see an example of a Pre-LinkNow study in action check out the case study below. You’ll learn how a personal care brand used Pre-LinkNow to deliver crucial consumer input to build an emotional connection with the brand.