Advertising is about attracting, holding, and focusing attention, and nothing gets our attention like a funny TV spot. But funny is a double-edged sword.
Why do so many advertisers use humor in their advertising? Here's the easy answer: The first trick of advertising is to make people pay attention. Funny ads attract attention.
Think of the last few commercial that you have discussed with friends or shared on Facebook. How many of them weren't funny to you? Among my friends, I've been keen to share everything from the slapstick comedy of The Papermate Profile, to the wry humor of the Mac versus PC ads, to the gentle whimsy of Coca-Cola's Vending Machine, and the pun from this Berlitz ad. Even if you have seen them before you would probably be happy to watch most of those ads again. That alone is a pretty powerful incentive for advertisers to enlist the power of humor.
For an advertiser, the most important question is: How do I get more attention to my message? How do I get what I have to say to stick in people's heads?
Neuroscience suggests that our attention is instinctively directed to anything that previous experience indicates is potentially good or bad. Loud noises and images of gore attract our attention because we're taught to fear them. But negative associations don't lend themselves well to advertising other than PSA announcements. If the intention is to make people feel good about a brand then enlisting negative emotions to get them to get attention may well backfire even if it is only because the content is out of keeping with the context. In some cases the response may be so negative that people respond negatively to both the ad and the brand. According to the posting on YouTube this "dog breath" ad was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority in the U.K and Republic of Ireland due to 700 complaints that the ad made some viewers physically sick. Now that you've been warned:
The second challenge for advertisers -- and the most important challenge -- isn't merely to attract attention but to hold attention and focus it. If an ad is going to evoke a response that will last longer than a few seconds, it must cause a feeling related to the brand to be planted in people's memories. The ad must create a virtual magnifying glass that highlights something specific in relation to the brand--some fact, idea, or impression--and give it enough emotional charge to become established in memory. In my opinion, this ad for Coca-Cola captures the essence of what the brand stands for without saying a word.
THE DOWNSIDE OF TRYING TO BE FUNNY