You know the moment at Thanksgiving dinner when your uncle goes into that, "I was THIS close to making it big" speech and everyone just rolls their eyes as he goes off about the time Robin Williams stole one of his jokes? The one about the priest and the Jewish deli? The one that's really not funny or politically correct, but no one wants to be that guy and point it out to him because it would just give him fuel to talk more? No? Only me?
Well regardless, my point is that not everyone is good at comedy. In fact, most people aren't very good at it. Otherwise, why would the really funny people be famous? Why would they be the names we remember? Why have I started this article off with seven rhetorical questions? Because comedy is a broad technique that can reach large groups of people in a way that few other things can, and rhetorical questions are kind of an easy way out. Can we please just focus on the comedy for now? Thank you. God, you're just like my uncle.
Comedy is especially useful when it comes to recalling value. And brand marketers know this. Do you remember the early freecreditreport.com commercials?
Comedy was the perfect way to get the message across because getting free credit reports isn't the easiest topic to drum up excitement for. But, once you put a young band in silly pirate costumes and have them sing a sublimely goofy song, suddenly everyone pays attention and everyone remembers. The "Got Milk" ad campaign is another great example of comedy in advertising. It's been working for twenty years and it's turned a drink that's associated with blandness into something that's cute and fun.
And whenever somebody sees a gecko, I assure you, nobody is thinking about the adhesive skin on the bottom of their feet that makes climbing easy (thanks for the useless knowledge, wikipedia!).
Credit reports, milk, and car insurance. It seems that comedy had to be used for these three campaigns to appeal to a large audience. It's really the one thing you can always count on, provided it's done correctly. Emphasis on the word "correctly".
But, we should always remember comedy may not be perfect for every brand. I doubt that Smokey the Near-Sighted Walrus would help prevent many forest fires. Comedy, by definition, is edgy. It's the act of taking your expectations and destroying them. If not executed perfectly, it can become uncomfortable. During last year's Super Bowl, a Groupon commercial ran that featured actor Timothy Hutton narrating over a scenic view of mountains and talking about the socioeconomic issues plaguing Tibet. A few seconds in, right after he says, "their very culture [is] in jeopardy", he's revealed to be at an upscale restaurant and proclaims, "but they still whip up an amazing fish curry!" (watch video) Ha ha? Did we miss something? The ad incited immediate backlash and though few lasting effects remain from it, the blemish will always exist.
Comedy is definitely a risk, but it's a risk well worth taking. Really, any great idea is a huge risk. But instead of shying away from the slightly goofier, more irreverent side of the spectrum, companies should feel more comfortable in embracing it. After all, that's what large groups of people connect to the most. Everyone in the world has a different set of core values and ethics, but Glee will always be overrated, and slipping on a banana peel will always be funny. Don't feel like you're taking the easy way out. If it were easy, your uncle would be doing it right now.
See what I did there? Callback. Boo-ya!
Article written by Josh DiCristo
Josh is a Junior at Drexel University, majoring in Computer Science and working at 20nine over his co-op. He's been doing stand-up at the Philly Late Night Series open mic and Raven Lounge, among other locations, for the past year and a half. You can find him taking classes at Philly Improv starting in the summer.
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