The degree to which humor is used in high profile advertising is impressive. My colleague Alexander Mafael of the Freie University of Berlin reports that over the past ten years, more than half (about 51%) of Super Bowl ads have used this technique. Given that not everyone always finds the same things to be funny, I talked to two leading experts about what makes humor in advertising effective: Sean McBride, EVP of Arnold Worldwide and Executive Creative Director of Progressive’s ads for the past five years, and Marc Weinberger, Professor Emeritus of Marketing at University of Massachusetts (and Visiting Professor of Advertising at University of Georgia). After these conversations I came away with four lessons pertaining to the use of humor in advertising:
1) Both Concept and Execution Are Important, But Execution Can Trump Concept
A big part of Flo’s the Progressive Girl’s success was not built around the original concept of making shopping for insurance fun and showing light, upbeat experiences while, but rather the effectiveness of the execution. Flo herself, with her heavy make-up, upbeat personality and pleasant manner became a cultural icon who has appeared in what is now well over 100 ads. While Arnold's award-winning creative director McBride thinks there is no magical formula for creating a successful ad, he states: “I do think there are two fundamental factors that decide whether spots get laughs. Put simply, there are funny concepts, and there are funny executions. And, for me, execution almost always wins. That’s not to say that great concepts don’t make for amazing ads. But the airwaves are riddled with funny ideas rendered lame because of bad execution.
McBride cites Budweiser’s now classic “Wassup” campaign (see compilation above) as a case where the execution really made the ad.
Progressive’s current “Guys Night Out” spot represents another example of effective execution. The spot is part of the “Parentamorphosis” campaign, in which regular people start becoming like their parents once they buy their first home. The premise is that while Progressive can’t help you from turning into your parents, they can insure that home purchase, and your car too.