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Humour Connects Us and Reveals Truth Like Nothing Else

Trends and Insight 255 Add to collection

We must not forget the power of laughter, warns Chaka Sobhani, chief creative officer at Leo Burnett London

Humour Connects Us and Reveals Truth Like Nothing Else

In a fast-changing - and often perilous - world, brands must not lose sight of the power of humour to create connections, to reveal uncomfortable truths or simply to make us happy. A shared sense of fun is one route to creating lasting friendship, and when it comes to business, brands which don’t take themselves too seriously are also more popular.

But as a brand you can’t just claim a ‘GSOH’ (good sense of humour). Humour is in fact one of the hardest things to get right in the world of communications. Attempts can fall dreadfully flat, or they can truly delight and surprise.

A panel this week at Cannes discussed this very topic. We are taking ourselves too seriously, the audience was told: People, brands, companies – we’ve forgotten our place in the big scheme of things.

My ad industry colleague Sonal Dabral, group chief creative officer and vice chairman of Ogilvy India, pointed to the very many different types of humour in recent ads he has admired - observational, regional, or simply over the top - and he warned that 'when political correctness becomes as intolerant as the justice it’s trying to correct', it brings with it ‘the death of humour’. Marketers must beware this ‘cagey’ and ‘stifling’ atmosphere, which is also one in which news travels at the speed of light, he said. 

Certainly, as brand custodians, while it’s wise to be politically correct, it’s certainly not a great idea to be purposeful or ‘lofty’ for the sake of it, or when it’s not appropriate for your brand. If there isn’t a natural fit, then the disingenuousness and lack of authenticity gets sniffed out in a heartbeat. 

“Sometimes you can change the world just by tickling it a bit,” joked Dabral, as we discussed the recent slew of purpose-related advertising. “A little joke, a little laugh takes humanity forward. That’s what we keep forgetting.”

Those who know me know that I’m not averse to a good joke either. And I’m not averse to purpose-driven advertising - far from it - but this purpose can be communicated via fantasy, via imagination or via humour rather than through seriousness or what was termed at the panel debate ‘sadvertising’. Advertisers are in a tremendous position of power in terms of being able to make a difference. The fashion for purpose driven marketing is a reflection of the times because we as a group of people are feeling more of a need to make a difference, to help in some way to make the world a little better. Brands are rightly stepping up a bit to take on a bigger role in society and culture. But Lord Reith, the founder of the BBC, who summarised the broadcaster’s purpose as ‘to inform, educate and entertain’ was right and, in the ad industry, we seem to have walked away a little bit on the entertain part. It’s a lot harder to be funny than it is to be serious. When Meryl Streep is interviewed about all the roles she has played as an actor, she often comments on how hard it is to do comedy. But powerful relationships are built through humour. And although it may be easier to evoke tears, and humour presents arguably a greater risk of failing, the rewards if you get it right, the relationships and the love that you build for the brand cannot be overstated.That said, don’t do a ‘dad dance’ or make us cringe. Now, perhaps more than any time in the life of advertising or storytelling or communication, a funny ad has to be genuinely funny. Otherwise forget it. 

At this week’s panel debate in Cannes, John Mescall, McCann Worldgroup’s global executive creative director also pointed out that there is not a single subject matter that we cannot tackle with humour. And there is a skill to seeing the humour in everything. “It’s the way we get people to like us, if not love us. It’s the way we process grief and deal with change; the way we connect with each other and the things that happen in our lives. It’s the way we tell uncomfortable truths,” he said, pointing to the fact that at comedy shows, the audience is often found not only laughing, but also nodding. 

So while the bar for successful humour in advertising is rightly quite high, it’s riskier not to try at all, and to take ourselves too seriously. And if being funny is like dancing, and you just can’t learn it, then bring funny people in. Entertaining people is the most incredible thing to be able to do. Life is tough, but truth, told via humour connects us like nothing else.  

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Genres: Comedy

Leo Burnett London, Tue, 26 Jun 2018 12:20:23 GMT