Did it get a laugh? 5 ways humour can work for you

Every successful ad does one thing right.

No matter what it’s trying to say or sell, a great ad has the perfect tone to meet its audience in the moment.

When it comes to public issue advertising, most campaigns take a serious tone. But there are times when the moment or the issue creates an opportunity for something different.

A lighter touch–with a little levity—could be the best tone to help get your message heard.

Here are 5 ways that humour can help reach your audience—and make a big impact.

1. Grab attention and get noticed

It’s what every ad campaign aspires to achieve. You want to break through the noise and get noticed by your audience.

Clever, entertaining, and funny ads are great at cutting through. They have the power to stop viewers in their tracks—with the promise of a humorous payoff.

It’s why every corporation tries to put a smile on their audience’s faces. But non-profit organizations, public advocacy groups, and governments often err on the side of being earnest. We’re campaigning on serious issues. But that doesn’t always mean we have to take a serious tone.

A genuinely funny campaign on an important public issue can really stand out amongst the competition. It’s not easy to do, but if you do it right, it has the potential to cut through—and be remembered—in ways that a more predictable concept might not.

Dumb Ways to Die has been viewed over 245 million times on YouTube, since it was launched by Metro Trains in Melbourne in 2012.

2. Open people up to your message

Prepare yourself because here’s a hard truth to hear. There’s lots of people who don’t want to hear your message.

After all, people live busy lives. And we’ve all become experts at tuning out anything that feels like noise.

So how do you reach people who don’t think they want to be reached? How do you talk to an audience that is happy not to hear from you?

Here’s the secret. We’ve got to find creative ways to open our audience up to a message they otherwise wouldn’t want to hear. And humour is a great way to approach a new audience.

Getting a laugh can be the first step to making a new friend—and a new supporter.

Humour can also be a great way to deliver a hard-hitting contrast message about the problem that you’re trying to solve. Because landing a tough punch with a light touch can be a more artful and compelling way of making your case.

Being earnest can be a little too intense for people who aren’t yet on your side. By taking a humorous approach to delivering your critique, you can help more people connect with what you’re saying.

3. Show that you’re relatable

You don’t have to be LOL funny!

Fun ads succeed at being relatable, friendly, and down-to-earth. Our creative team dedicates time to refining every script to make it as natural and conversational as possible.

Because a good ad should sound like your audience, with dialogue that captures how people really talk.

Think of your favourite sketch comedy shows. From This Hour Has 22 Minutes to Baroness Von Sketch, the funniest scenes are often simple scenarios that are relatable to our own lives—but give us a fresh take on everyday experience.

If your audience can see and hear themselves—and their own lives—in your ad, you’re well on your way to making an impact.

4. Bring people in and give them a gift

Good comedy is a big tent. It should bring people together. And create room for more.

An ad that takes a humorous approach can do more than just connect with your audience. It actually gives people a little gift.

A smile. A chuckle. A grin. Or a full-throated laugh. Never underestimate the value of giving people a tiny moment of levity in the midst of everyday life. That’s especially true these days because people are exhausted from a barrage of bad news over the past few years. We’re all grateful for a little lift.

Remember: Getting an emotional reaction to your ad is worth more than you might think. It’s the kind of reaction that makes you and your message memorable.

5. Show that you don’t take yourself too seriously

It’s easier to get to know someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously. And the same is true for getting an audience to know your message.

You don’t want your brand to feel distant, stuffy, or detached from your audience. You want to show that your organization has a real—and likeable—personality. If you can demonstrate that your brand has a genuine sense of humour, your audience will be more interested to hear from you.

With some great creative thinking, it might even be possible to turn your least favourite brand trait… into an asset!

The Greyest Day of the Year is a great example of advertising that turns a weakness into a strength.

How do you know if humour is right… for right now?

There are lots of issues that don’t work with a humorous approach. But sometimes, the moment is right to give humour a try.

Advertising is like comedy: Timing is everything.

If you’re wondering if the timing is right, doing research will give you the answer. As always, if you listen carefully to your audience through quantitative and qualitative testing, they will tell you exactly what you need to know, including what tone you need to take to resonate with people you need to reach.

One big caveat: Comedic concepts are not easy to test! The creative often relies on a great performance with spot on timing and physicality. So if you’re testing a concept that’s designed to get a laugh, be sure to listen to the overall conversation and refine the concept from there.