Humor, as an emotional appeal, is commonly used in both digital and print advertising. Indeed, it is tempting to use a bit of humor in campaign ads from time to time. After all, who wouldn’t want a few good laughs now and again, right?
While some ads like the Budweiser Frogs or dancing M&M’s are legit funny commercials, many others have elicited mixed reactions and have caused quite a controversy. The reason for a varied reception of these commercials is that appeals to humor just don’t work out for everyone.
Whether on TV or in print, advertising campaigns should exercise caution even when they’re just trying to be funny. Here are reasons why humor isn’t always the key to a successful campaign:
It is relative
Not everyone laughs at the same things. One person may think your print ad is smart and witty while another may find it flat or downright offensive. Ultimately humor is significantly context-based, and it varies among peoples. Ads that utilize humor through banters, slapstick comedy, sarcasm, or satire are dependent on the context of advertisers and their target audience.
It is inevitable that the ads are received differently by various groups. So if people do not understand the humor in your ad, then your campaign is unlikely successful. Now, unless you have a particular group of people to market to, humor in ads might not be as effective as it should be.
It might be counterproductive
Humor in advertising characteristically diverts people’s attention. Humor has a distracting effect, which might just be what a brand needs when it aims to achieve positive brand association. As discussed in a study on humor in advertising done at Radbound University in 2013, distraction posed by humor helps prevent negative brand associations.
However, as much as humor can contribute to making your brand stand out with as little negative impressions as possible, there is still that possibility for humorous campaigns to steer your reader away from the message of your brand. Going back to reason number one, if people do not find your ad funny at all, then there’s just no preventing damaging product associations from happening.
The goal of any ad is to convince people to choose your brand. But if instead, humor produces negative distraction then the ad only becomes counterproductive.
It can work contrary to your brand
Aside from generating sales, advertising is more importantly about creating the right impression of your brand’s personality and taking care of this image held by consumers. So in connection to reason number two, a positive association is necessary unless your brand thrives in having a negative reputation.
If the image you are cultivating is a respectable and professional brand, then it is unlikely for, say, slapstick comedy to create that kind of impression on your clients. But if your brand has a quirky or offbeat personality, then humor might just work out for you.
There is no step-by-step guide to figuring out what people find funny. Like in almost all other decisions people make, you just have to weigh the pros and cons in using humor in ads.