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May 16, 2024

Why so serious? Why many ads just aren’t that funny, and how humor can be a marketer’s greatest asset

Dayna Lang
Author Dayna Lang

Humor makes the advertising world go round, or at least it used to. A good laugh is known to drive sales and boost viewership. Many successful ads and commercials rely on comedy to build engagement and humor plays a central role in reducing ad fatigue. That being said, funny ads are less common than they used to be. 

Research conducted by Kantar shows that humor has declined in advertising since the early 2000s. Advertisers are making fewer ads that are funny, or even lighthearted, in favor of heart-tugging dramas.

One theory the study proposes for this is a generational shift and the prominence of “cancel culture” online. They suggest that millennials and Gen Z are increasingly willing to “cancel” brands on social media for perceived offensive humor. This seems like a stretch, given the prevalence of silly memes and jokes shared by those same generations.  

Whether perception or reality, brands are shying away from finding laughs and it’s to their detriment. 

A recent Oracle study discovered that 95% of business leaders were afraid to use humor in customer interactions. Another 85% responded saying they didn’t have the right tools or insights to create effective, funny ads. This makes sense, given the dismal 20% percent of them that said their brands currently use humor in their offline ads (TV, billboards) and the 18% that use humor in their online ads. 

Even in a room full of jokesters, anxiety makes it impossible to make meaningful, humorous ads. After all, if a leader isn’t brave enough to take a chance on a joke, then punchlines aren’t getting thrown. And that’s too bad. 

The same study from Oracle found that 90% of audiences are more likely to remember funny ads and 75% of audiences would follow a brand they found funny on social media. Amazingly, only 15% of brand leaders said they used humor in their social posts. 

Almost half of Oracle’s respondents said they don’t feel they have a relationship with a brand without humor and yet, it seems business leaders are too afraid to act on this. There is clearly a huge discrepancy between how brands approach their advertising and how audiences want them to. Audiences want many things from a good ad, but humor is at the top of the list. 

Ideal TV ad experience includes humor

Humor builds popularity and name value

A funny ad is infinitely shareable and creates the opportunity for viral success. It also creates name value for a brand and builds its popularity with audiences. Ad campaigns that generate fame or viral success generate superior business results, but they also start conversations and have a wider social impact. This gives brands a name value beyond their product offering. 

Audiences want to laugh

Audiences are craving humor more than ever. A Global Web Index survey from 2020 found that 41% of Gen Zs’ and 34% of millennials’ primary use of social media is to find “funny or entertaining content.” These audiences want to laugh and the brands that engage with them on this level are more successful and can easily boost their content organically. 

Sales are driven by humor

Humor directly translates into sales. It has been shown that humor increases purchase intent. One study by Martin Eisend at Viadrina University concluded that 45% of ads that used humor were also strong performers in driving sales.

Ads that make their audiences laugh draw them in, not only to consume funny content but to explore the product offerings of the brand that gave them joy. There is a direct path from punchline to conversion. 

Humor is uniting – when done well it brings people together without polarizing and creates a shareable, human experience. Unless leaders ease their anxiety and ignore the fear of making a misstep, they risk losing half of their target audience. Humor, while not without risk, is a crucial tool in a marketer’s arsenal and they need to put it to good use.

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