Thoughts 11.08.14

The role of comedy in advertising

Comedy remains the largest genre at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, accounting for 34% of all performances this year. Our Head of Planning, David Howard, and Creatives Dan Fryer and Gate Lambert consider the use of comedy in advertising.

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‘Comedy is a serious business’

The question of the role of comedy in advertising is an interesting one. What makes it particularly interesting, amusing even, is that it is often discussed as if ‘humour’ and the use of comedy was one of the infernal weapons that advertisers and their agencies can choose to unleash on a vulnerable public. As if the use of humour was a pre-meditated act, decided upon and then ruthlessly executed to maximise sales of goods people don’t want as an ingenious marketing director ‘laughs all the way to the bank’. The reality is a little different however. There is no doubt that humour in advertising works and that some of the most memorable advertising of modern times has mined the nation’s funny bone very effectively but this only reflects a much broader and more accepted truth about the nature of comedy itself. In reality advertisers don’t choose comedy, effectively it chooses them.

Any advertiser expecting to target modern families for example, with anything but the most serious of products or services, is already going to find themselves in comedic territory immediately, precisely because the very idea of the modern family (certainly mine anyway) is essentially comedic, or, at the very least, sails regularly through some deeply comedic waters. To avoid this essential truth is not to speak truly to the idea of ‘family life’ in the first place. That comedy may come in many shades, from the slapstick to the tragic, but comedy nevertheless. If modern family life IS actually ‘more Simpsons than Waltons’ the only way to connect to members of that family is to be true to that and so true to its essential comedy…

Download a PDF of the full article by David Howard at

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Is the way to a man’s wallet through his funny bone?

Is using humour the safe approach? It’s certainly not an unusual one: from Old Spice to Aldi, brands use humour in advertising to make them feel more human and less ‘salesy’. It’s like an exchange. A brand makes an audience laugh, so in return, the audience subconsciously agrees to hear about the product they’re selling or reconsider the brand.

Another way to look at it, is to acknowledge that laughter has the power to open you up to new ideas like very little else. It’s something which comedians have known for years. At the beginning of her Advertising Week session on comedy in advertising, Susie Essman (star of Curb Your Enthusiasm) said she reckons something happens when you make people laugh. It opens their minds and lets you get into their heads. And perhaps this is why humour is so useful to brands: making people laugh lets their guard down just long enough to make a connection with them. The tricky part is that we often only have 30 seconds to do so, or even less: the time it takes to watch an ad, drive past a billboard or read a tweet. That’s 30 seconds or less to break the ice and make a good impression that could lead to a relationship…

Download a PDF of the full article by Dan Fryer and Gate Lambert at 

Fancy yourself as a bit of a comedian? Why not get involved in our 2014 Edinburgh Comedy Poster Awards and get some cash for your creative. Find out how to enter here. Entries close at 6pm on 13th August 2014.