A Global Comparison of Humor in Advertising: Final Findings
A still from Mariachi Doritos, an ad only ran in the U.K.
It has taken four months, roughly one hundred emails and too many horrible puns, but I’m proud to say that I have made my global comparison of humor in advertising between the U.S. and U.K. What I’ve found has been somewhat surprising and the insights that I have gathered will be very helpful in my professional career.
In summing up my final key findings, I must start by saying that there certainly seem to be more similarities than differences when it comes to the process of creating advertisements with humorous content. Initially, I assumed there would be more differences. Why else would we run different ads for equivalent brands and products?
I’ve found by talking to both U.S. and U.K. advertising practitioners that it is not so much the process or even the humor itself, but the culture and the audience that each individual brand is dealing with. Most comedic campaigns that are successful reflect a specific culture in some way. Advertisers run with current events, trends and attitudes that are rarely universal across different regions of the world. According to Fold Creative Director Richard Doory, humor in advertising seems to work best when the topic is niche and the audience finds it relatable to their personal and “unique” senses of humor. As an audience, we do not want to laugh at the same things. We like the demographic and geographic boundaries that make us and our senses of humor different.
Advertisers understand that consumers identify as individuals, but when it comes to using humor in advertising, there are elements of humor that will almost always overlap no matter where and who your audience is. Senior Copywriter of TDH, Jared El-Mofty explained one of those consistent elements of humor is the unexpected. While Jared, and other writers agreethat there is no formula for coming up with successful humorous campaigns, a sense of surprise along with culture specific content generally works well wherever your audience is.
On top of these methods of actually creating ads, similar concerns exist between the the U.S. and U.K. when making sure content is acceptable to the public. About a month back, I summed up significant findings from my U.S. studies and discussed how ranging sensitivities, fragmented audiences and risks with mega-spending clients play a large role when developing advertising content. After several interviews here in London, I realized that those are major concerns for U.K. practitioners as well.
Based on all of these similarities in developing campaigns for two geographically separate sets of consumers, it seems the only difference is the content. Content is different not only because of global differences in culture and language, but because consumers want the content to be relatable in more than just a general sense.
A City Full of Surprises
My personal and professional experiences so far in London have already shed loads of light on my study of humor used in advertising. What my initial research lead me to believe about British humor seems to be very different from my actual experiences with people here in London. I expected people to be explicitly crude in telling jokes and that their personalities would reflect a dark sense of humor. Instead, I’ve found people to be very polite and sincere, not to mention very funny.
Apart from my encounters with British locals, I’ve kept an eye out for advertisements throughout the city that clearly use humor to market products. As expected, very few ads are the same here as they were back in the States. I wondered why that was, as I understood and enjoyed them all. I realized pretty quickly that there seem to be more similarities than differences when it comes to advertising.
My first interview at Grey London seemed to confirm my theory that not as many differences exist as most people tend to assume. Copywriter, Daniel Woodward gave me plenty of insight into the process of developing and executing humorous campaigns. The process is similar to that in the States in that ranging audience demographics and cultural sensitivities are huge obstacles when trying to develop messages that will be best received by the public. There is no perfect formula. It is always hit or miss.
My research and experiences so far have proven that this topic is not something that could be properly analyzed through secondary research, alone. I’m proud to admit that my personal perceptions of British humor were not entirely accurate. I’m surprised how similar processes and results tend be when using humor in ads in both the U.S. and here in England. When I speak with other London agency creatives later this week, I’m interested in finding out their perceptions of American humor and why they feel such a great divide exists.
United States Humor: Audience Perspective
So far, my research has made me laugh a lot and learn even more. The topic of humor in advertising makes for great conversation whether both parties have comparable or dissimilar definitions of humor.
The one concept that has been stressed to me in my interviews and in all of my secondary research is that cultural differences influence comedy tremendously. Even seemingly minor variations in environmental and social surroundings effect what we find funny. It is not merely a matter of the region where one lives that influences a person’s sense of humor. Next-door neighbors and even fraternal twins can differ when defining what is humorous to them. Yet often there is common ground.
As part of my research, I talked to many people of different demographics that I assumed could be current or potential consumers of Doritos® products. I showed them advertisements from both Doritos® U.S. and U.K. campaigns after asking them to try to explain their personal senses of humor. I was interested to find that, given the wide variety of answers provided to my initial question, everyone at least cracked a smile while watching the U.S. ads.
While these people are no experts in advertising, their opinions are critical in understanding what makes for a successful campaign. Interviewing the Doritos® audience has made me realize that, though we give humor different meanings, our definitions overlap in areas.
In preparing for interviews with industry professionals in the near future, I look forward to finding out how they effectively satisfy such a diverse audience. While there is certainly no pleasing everyone, there must be some sort of formula for crafting jokes that are not so niche. It will be interested to hear how they define an “American” sense of humor in a general sense.
Photo from: http://www.vivainstitute.com/2011/09/the-reason-life-works-at-all/laughing-people-2/