Humour in creative campaigns

Mar 15, 2024

The Super Bowl recently wrapped up, and to the delight of marketers and creatives, humour returned to these ads. This year's ad highlights include Ben Affleck's “The DunKings” and “Mullets” from Kawasaki.

Back in my youth, memes had not become a thing yet, so quoting "Wassssuupp?" was a surefire way to get a laugh. Timing a well-placed reference was the ultimate comedy gold. We would watch TV to keep up with the times and use marketing taglines as punchlines.

In the past few years, marketing trends have drifted into two camps: Celebrity-endorsed and heartwarmingly purpose-driven. Both are great in their own right—but, what happened to the good old days of comedy in advertising?

Apprehension with using humour

Why is it we’ve seen a decline in good comedic commercials? According to a study from Oracle, 95 per cent of business leaders fear humour in consumer interactions. The thought is that brands and leaders are fearful of cancel culture, and when all is said and done, it’s safe to be safe. The problem with playing safe, though, is that it is often seen as boring. In addition, Peter Field and Adam Morgan have stated that being bland has a cost; it's potentially hurting customer recall of your brand. 

A key takeaway from a recent discussion with the CMA Creativity Council was that while there is inherent risk with using humour, there is also the potential for a high payoff in terms of disruption and engagement. To take it a step further, the cost of doing nothing is massive.

The notion that jokes sell is no longer just the opinion of witty creative teams; it’s supported by data. According to Vividata's Study of the Canadian Consumer Fall 2023, 57 per cent, or over 19 million Canadians over the age of 14, say funny ads capture their attention by a long shot. It's the top type of advertisement that captures attention, ahead of ads that feature sales (37 per cent), pets (36 per cent), and good music (34 per cent). 

When it comes to being humorous, it doesn't mean there’s a need to be offensive. Take Jerry Seinfeld, for example. He thrived in an era when it was cool to be mean – but, he kept his jokes clean. What’s important to remember is that you don't need to be mean or edgy to get a laugh—you just need an insight. 

Attracting younger demographics

Humour can be an essential aspect of a brand's identity, especially when trying to connect with younger Canadians. To resonate with audiences, brands should avoid taking themselves too seriously and aim for authenticity. According to TikTok, “97 per cent of Gen Z users take some action following the content they see.” Moreover, 79 per cent of users appreciate when brands understand TikTok's unique style of content creation. TikTok is a source of joy and entertainment for viewers, and what's more entertaining and joyful than jokes?

TikTok encourages brands to partner with creators, since humour moves fast on the platform, and creators are at the forefront of keeping up with specific trends, memes and challenges that are organically occurring on the platform. When a creator uses their typical storytelling techniques or trademarks in branded content, the resulting videos are more likely to have the entertainment value that users are used to. Additionally, 30 per cent of TikTok users said humour in creator content was a top motivation for purchase intent—and what brand doesn’t want to drive more sales?

The best humour is often that which resonates fully with the intended audience. For example, Skittles commercials are hilarious for teenagers and confusing for anyone over 35. But don't worry! This means the ad is perfectly tailored to the teenage demographic.

Building trust with new audiences

Humour holds particular importance for newcomers to Canada, as it builds connections, reinforcing that those who share laughter form enduring bonds. In social situations, which can be particularly challenging for newcomers, shared laughter becomes a valuable means of overcoming barriers. Through meaningful interactions, storytelling, and shared jokes, we create avenues for building stronger connections within the community.

Equipped with the knowledge that audiences are craving authenticity and connection, brands should aim to tap into cultural nuances and learn insights to connect messages through humour. Finding a shared sense of humour can foster a feeling of familiarity and relatability, making people feel connected to others as if they've known them for a while, contributing to a sense of comfort and ease.

Final thoughts

As marketers, we strive to create an impact and make a difference through our brands. While heartwarming stories are significant, we often find ourselves drawn to brands that make us laugh and entertain us. This is because, just like with our friends, we tend to bond with brands that bring joy and humour into our lives.

Ultimately, it’s just like my old creative director used to say: Why do marketers love stand-up comedy so much? The impressions, of course! Ba-dum-tss!

Ryan Taylor, Senior Art Director, AIR MILES

Florencia Wells, Canada Lead, B2B Marketing & Communications, TikTok

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Ryan Taylor

Senior Art Director, Air Miles




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