The winning formula of humour in Australian advertising

By Irene Joshy and Brian Turner | 18 May 2022
Credit: Dan Cook via Unsplash

Irene Joshy is head of creative, Kantar Australia. Brian Turner is creative development director – Kantar New Zealand

As David Droga said, “Great advertising triggers an emotion in you. It has purpose. It touches a nerve and that provokes a reaction”.

Advertising is now a powerful tool triggering social change through purpose, driving new behaviours and even making people evaluate age-old social practices – and it is humour that has been an essential ingredient in ads for decades.

Globally, there’s a reduction in humour across TV and digital, but Aussie ads continue to use it to spice up the narrative. Our database shows that one-third of all ads in Australia contain some form of humour – unsurprising, given that it is a top creative enhancer of advertising messaging receptivity across generations.

Funny moments and light-hearted humour lead to higher expressiveness scores (emotional engagement measured using neuroscience) resulting in a higher ranking on involvement and distinctiveness measures too – an essential for digital cut-through and viewability.      

Aussies do hang on to their sense of humour in almost half of TV and one-third of digital ads

Marketers tickle consumer funny bones to their advantage; but when used, light-hearted humour tends to gain favour more often than overtly funny ads.Those making Aussie viewers actually ‘laugh out loud’ are not only distinctive; they have strong viral potential. And if the content can make people laugh out loud, the enjoyment levels rise for the ad creating brand memorability too.

Branding does not have a direct relationship with humour but can be very strong when the humour relates to the brand itself.While humour will ensure that Aussies are watching and listening, your brand must own the moment and make its indelible mark to create a distinct memory arc in their minds. Busch Beer owns the humour in theirCannes winning ‘What Beer is That?’. The creative makes a clever connection between humour and the brand. Smiles (measured through Kantar LINK facial coding) peaked at the joke centred around the brand, resulting in top 10% branding scores.

Humour knows no gender or age biaseswe all appreciate humour in advertising

In Australia, however, there are some clear standouts that advertisers should remember:

  • Aussie men love the art of the sarcastic 'putdown’ – usually fairly blunt
  • Women appreciate laughing 'with', and not 'at' someone –surprise, clever and quick-witted
  • People need to feel 'in' on the joke, gag, punchline or storyline.

So, use humour cleverly in the creative for maximum impact. The creative must strike the balance between being funny and landing the desired message. If not, it distracts from communication, which can impede persuasion and dilute the desire orcall-to-action as the product or service drowns in laughter. This risk is higher in Australia, especially for CPD and Services categories.

Humour can also be polarisingand that is alright if the brand owns the message. When it is clear what a brand stands for, and against, the humour gets its right context. It must be purposeful and work towards building the brand in the long run. Even as a short-term tactic, polarising serves its purpose if you can drive memorability in a meaningful manner.

Use social media for shareability but ensure the humour is suited to the platform

  • TikTok humour is fast moving and often satirical with short videos using condensed humour that can be as much about brand development as about making people laugh.
  • Facebook and Instagram can help create emotional connections so ads must adhere to the principles of enjoyment and delivering news.
  • YouTube humour can range from a full comedy to a ‘you’ve been framed clip’ but tend to be more story-based and longer. Brands even re-purpose humorous clips that went viral.
  • Snapchat often incorporates a pun with slightly more risqué photos and videos due to their disposable nature.

Remember, humour can help you connect with views, drive engagement or viral potential, help retain memories or get noticed, and humanise your brand with emotion or personality.

Finally, don’t forget that humour pays

Funny and yet not funny, Heineken’s ‘Cheers to all’Kantar’s most creative and effective global ad of 2021 as judged by consumers – addressed gender-related drinks stereotypes in a light-hearted and humorous rather than in a self-righteous way – and that’s why it was loved. It is a purpose ad that is not preachy and uses situational humour to drive home the point of ‘unconscious’ biases.

But we have many winning examples from down under too, such as from eBay. They developed the ‘Postie’ characters who deliver humour in a relevant and engaging way for the brand. eBay is one of our most visited online shopping sites; yet to most, the delivery process is hidden. So, they decided to shine light on the delivery room and the people that have more insight into online shopping habits than anyone else – posties – in this top-ranked ad.

And we can learn a lot from our neighbours across the Tasman too

While all shades and hues of humour are used in New Zealand advertising, it is dry, laconic humour behind many of the most long-lived and much-loved campaigns. Some are off-beat, some self-deprecating, and others just simply dead-pan. But they all tap into something that is essentially Kiwi when it comes to humour.

Narrative-driven ads find success in a ‘less is more approach – tell the story and the humour will emerge naturally from the characters and the storyline. The New Zealand Post Festive Fibsadds just enough humour to sentimentality to hit its mark. It doesn’t overreach. It doesn’t overplay its hand. The deftest application of humour is all that is required. Knowing smiles over belly laughs is sometimes all it takes.

Mateship matters in Mitre 10’s ‘With You All the Way’ using subtle character interplay to generate humour. It’s laconic not LOL, with precisely the right measure of mirth to resonate with Kiwis. Its memorable not just for the humour but because it helps the brand and messaging come quickly to mind. Indeed, so well does it do this that it was crowned the winner of the 2022 global Kantar Creative Effectiveness Awards. For whom those ‘in the know’ about Kiwi advertising and humour might be permitted a wry smile! And if you want to know the ones that Aussies judge as best from down under, we’re revealing all on 1 June.      

But the golden rule is that getting humour right is critical – especially with Aussies

In David Ogilvy’s words, “You must make the product interesting, not just make the ad different”. This requires sharp creative insights at the speed of decision-making to match creativity and humour. Get the idea right and hone in on the right expression, humour or not.  

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