It’s no secret – if you can make someone laugh they’ll like you more. But is humour a good way to convert your customers in the world of advertising?

“People don’t buy from clowns” – Claude Hopkins. 

The above is a paraphrased quote from one of the founders of modern advertising – Claude C. Hopkins. Mr. Hopkins knew his stuff – but he also worked in advertising approximately 100 years ago, and times have changed. Being genuinely funny is a marketer’s way to engage with an audience whilst getting them comfortable and making them think your brand is clever. It’s a bit like dating – if they think you’re funny and clever, you’re halfway there! Just got to comb your hair now…

In this article, we’ll be looking at how to make a funny ad work. It’s not rocket science – it’s comedy. We think advertising needs it’s sense of humour back.  The strange phenomenon that is overly sentimental ads goes against everything we know as advertisers – the associated feeling with your brand customers have is sadness?! How is that a good thing? Obviously, sad ads work up to a point, but at Arch we want to laugh again!

For an agency, it can sometimes be a bit tough to get the more near-the-knuckle funny stuff past your client’s sensitive sensibilities. Here at Arch, we manage to get the occasional witticism onto the “Accepted” list. Our client Ikano Bank   has a mercifully similar mindset when it comes to comedy, and has been particularly accommodating when we’ve suggested slightly more humourous bits of copy. If your client has a sense of humour, that’s half the battle already won:

We’ve had a dig at ourselves with the below newspaper ad. Everyone hates creative agencies, right? Yeah, horrible people… It was part of our “Reluctant Marketeer” angle – “If this ad doesn’t make you want to get a loan with us… then the ad agency lied to us,”

Ikano Bank Humour

Footy chants and Christmas over-eating? Find us a billboard that’s better at convincing you to run a marathon and we’ll run one ourselves (maybe).

Ikano-billboard-humour mince pies

We pitched a lonely hearts style ad to Ikano too – initially conceived as a newspaper piece, the campaign eventually ran on a billboard. Still funny, though.

Ikano Lonely Hearts advert blog

The reasons the above ads work is down to simplicity – an innate characteristic of the Ikano brand and one that lends itself particularly well to more comic tones. Jokes should be simple and easy to understand – once there’s a need to explain a punchline, it ceases to become funny. There’s also something to be said for softer humour. The above copy lines are never going to offend anyone. Riskier comedy will mean narrowing your target audience –  more on that later…

This article’s not all about us! Humour is best when it’s projected over varying media channels and becomes part of a brand’s tone of voice. We wrote an article on hilarious Twitter brands to follow, all of which gained massive popularity thanks to their online antics. This presents a strong argument against an oft repeated mantra – that emotional “sadvertising” is more effective than humour – these accounts would suggest that, in the long run, being consistently funny gets your brand noticed. 

The argument is usually to do with sharing – emotional content is more likely to be shared than humourous content. Now, obviously humour is subjective, but we’d say that four or five of the Top Ten Most Popular Videos on Youtube in 2016 are humourous ones. Conclusion: Video is one of the best ways to portray just how funny you think you are.

Being fans of good advertising, here’s a quick look at some of our favourite funny ads and why they work:

The classic Levi’s ad from Michel Gondry is not only funny, but it’s cool as a cucumber in a penguin’s fridge. In January. If you think this ad makes Levi’s the clown in this scenario, you weren’t watching closely enough.

Dollar Shave Club jumped straight in to compete with the big boys – Gillette, Wilkinson Sword… well that’s it – there’s pretty much a monopoly (duopoly, more accurately) on razors. Anyway, they shook up the industry by using a bit of wit and achieved success in an apparently stagnant field.

It wouldn’t be an Arch article without a bit of shameless self promotion. At the risk of inducing some seasonal confusion, here’s our 2016 Christmas video.

Self deprecating humour can be a winner for brands. It shows the humility behind the corporate image. If you can laugh at yourself, you show that you’re capable of vulnerability and mistakes and by extension more relatable and trustworthy. 

But let’s not give video all the limelight. Static imagery is very much alive – whether you’re seeing it as a printed ad or online. Sometimes, the best way of utilising humour is just letting your imagery do the talking.

This Chilean set of ads from Y&R Santiago is so good it transcended the international market to be one of the funniest printed ads of the last decade:


The key thing to remember for humourous ads is your target. At the 2016 Superbowl, the highest performing  was a semi-funny Doritos ad. You can see from the casting that the ad was targeted towards a certain type of male. The same Superbowl was the subject of an Unruly white paper (the company is called Unruly, that’s not an adjective)  and found that the slightly insane Mountain Dew ad “Puppy Monkey Baby” had a negative effect on the general viewing population (22% said they felt negatively about the brand) but a positive reaction came from the brand’s target audience – “millennial” males – of whom 58% felt really positive about the ad.

Of course, if you head back through our blog posts, most of them are pretty funny too (if we say so ourselves). Some of them are serious business blogs, but the majority are self-deprecating, sarcastic and jovial. 

So what have we learnt? For us, the most important part of humourous advertising is targeting. You will not capture everyone with a genuinely funny ad. You will, however, be able to very effectively convert set demographics. It’s crucial to think about your situation rationally – in marketing, you’ll never reach everyone. Target your comedy and make it as risqué as your demographic will allow and you’ll have success.

Other than that – use your channels, stay consistent in your sense of humour and make a funny ad. Even better – get us to make you a funny ad. Now, go forth and multiply your sales with some good old fashioned funny business.

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