Richard Parker
Richard Parker
March 1, 2021 . 2min read

Whilst perusing Twitter recently (yes, we still do that) I came across an interesting chart – hat tip to @v_praveen – that originated in a report produced by UK agency BMB. It purported to show that humorous advertising is declining – at the expense of purpose-driven work.


Chart courtesy of BMB London 

This stuck a bit of a chord with us for two reasons: firstly, whilst yes this is Cannes Lions data, and therefore should be caveated left right and centre, we’ve noticed fewer and fewer funny ads on telly recently. And secondly, when we asked people around the office to recall – on the spur of the moment –their favourite ad, they almost always recalled something funny. Try it. Without thinking too hard, recall your favourite ad – it’s probably funny.

There’s a reason for this. When we’re amused, we’re in an altered, elevated emotional state – and these tend to stick in the mind. But there’s more to humour than just sticking in the mind.

Laughter reduces the level of stress hormones and increases the level of health-enhancing hormones, like endorphins.

Firstly, it grabs attention. In an intensely cluttered media environment, where we’re bombarded by messages every few minutes, humour’s memorability – if done right – is a way of standing out from the crowd.

Secondly, humour – as a shared experience – has been shown to build bonds between people – and (perhaps as a result) increase positive attitude toward both the brand and the ad itself. And if you buy into cultural imprinting, putting something genuinely funny out there provides a focal point for people to align their own sense of humour to, helping weave brands into culture.

Then there’s a wealth of research that points to humour being an effective way to communicate difficult things. Laughter reduces the level of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), dopamine, and growth hormone. It also increases the level of health-enhancing hormones, like endorphins. Which puts us in a better frame of mind to engage with difficult subjects that otherwise might trigger negative emotions such as fear, distress, anxiety, anger or depression. Basically, humour – if treated sensitively – can be great cover for tricky conversations.

Finally, humour helps free our mind from conventional thought, meaning we’re more open to new thinking and creativity. Which means that not only are we more open to (and less sceptical of) the messaging that humorous ads convey, but we feel freer when viewing them: a form of escapism that can be incredibly powerful. Especially in times of stress. Like a global pandemic.

So there’s clearly a big case for using humour in advertising. In our opinion there is less of a business case for using purpose. (For clarity, we’re not saying that purpose-driven businesses don’t succeed (they do and can), we’re saying that purpose in advertising isn’t always successful. Think Pepsi).

But perhaps the real dynamite will happen when brands start to communicate purpose in a less po-faced way. Perhaps with a bit of… humour! Wouldn’t that be funny.

Image credit: @von_co

Richard Parker

Richard Parker

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