The Artful Side of Humorous Advertising
Posted on 2016 Jan,02

ArabAd talked to Epica's Editorial Director Mark Tungate about the principal role humour plays in the creation of ads, which has become so central to communication that the annual award show introduced in 2015 Humour as part of a new category to the list.


What role does humour play when it comes to communication?

The most effective forms of advertising are often based on basic human truths. In other words, emotions that we all feel and identify with. Humour is perhaps the most common of these. As an advertising competition we launched a ‘Humour’ category for the first time last year. Since our jury come from all over the world, I was worried that they might laugh at different things. Some ads containing rather sophisticated English dialogue did get a bit lost, but in general there was a consensus. The winner, 'St Pauli Peeback campaign' by Publicis Pixelpark, was actually a very funny case study film involving body fluids. Coarse humour sometimes works best!



Does using humour in advertising and marketing help sell more?

As you know, a memorable ad is often an effective one. So, if people love the punchline of a humorous spot and share it with their friends, this can have an impact on brand awareness, and eventually on sales. On the other hand, one joke can't build a brand. The most successful brands have consistent values and ways of behaving. Maybe humour isn’t right for your brand. It’s also important to remember that there are varying degrees of humour, from gentle wit to slapstick. As a brand, what kind of funny do you want to be? Irony often works well, particularly in the United States. The fragrance Old Spice was considered a totally outmoded brand until its agency Wieden + Kennedy deployed irony and self-deprecation in its brilliant 'The Man Your Man Could Smell Like' commercial from 2010. This resurrected the brand.

Can you pinpoint one of the major keys to a successful humourous campaign?

Well, having a brilliant copywriter is presumably the first step. After that, there are various options. In a recent article on the Epica website I analysed various funny campaigns to find out what they had in common. A few of the things I found included: everyday people getting involved in improbable events; irreverent portrayals of important figures from history or religion; a serious beginning with a completely unexpected ending.

What kinds of examples can you offer, which illustrate the point? 

Apart from the above, a couple spring to mind. The agency Adam and Eve DDB in London is skilled at creating humorous campaigns for luxury brands - particularly at Christmas!

A couple of years ago it won prizes everywhere for its hilarious spots for the upmarket retailer Harvey Nichols: 'I’m sorry, I spent it on myself.' A perfect example of getting laughs out of an insight into human nature.

The following year it was the turn of luxury accessories brand Mulberry, with 'Win Christmas.'

And the agency struck again this year, with Harvey Nichols, 'Avoid gift face.'


On a personal note, I love a campaign that began in 2006 for Dos Equis beer. The agency EuroRSCG New York created a character called 'The Most Interesting Man in the World' to appeal to guys who didn’t necessarily drink beer. The ads are brilliantly written and they still make me laugh. But then again, I’m in the target market.