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What women want... to laugh about

27-December-2005
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What women want... to laugh about

Just what makes women laugh? For advertisers and marketers trying to reach women audiences, a JWT report on `Finding the H - spot' — where H stands for humour — is all about addressing women through `humorous' communication.

Based on interviews with over 60 pairs of female friends and their male partners, in eight countries — US, Brazil, Argentina, UK, France, India, China and Thailand — along with discussions with anthropologists, sociologists and professional comedians, the research delved into many aspects.

What are the differences between men's humour and women's humour? Do women feel they laugh enough? Are younger women laughing any differently? What influences a woman's humour quotient? Is it possible for women in seven different countries to laugh at the same things? Are Indian women different?

In general, it was clear that women's humour in different cultures reflect their position in society, their relationship with men, the degree of equality or inequality, and what's considered womanly and unwomanly.

Tinged with some seriousness and even occasional sadness, the Indian woman's relationship with laughter too reflects her journey and status in her search for equality, respect and independence.

Drawing from consumer interviews, media interviews, women's writing, movie analysis, magazine content and even folk music, the segment compiled by JWT India touches a range of themes.

There's "revenge humour" — cheeky, charming, all about "the gumption to give it back"; a driving desire to use humour for social comment — candid confrontations; "message humour" that challenges norms and renegotiates relationships; "us women together" that elevates everyday problems into smart, ironical observations and helps lighten up and cope; a clear demand for "logical humour"; and even a yearning for intimacy with men through humour.

In India, the Internet, SMS, and growing numbers of mixed group friendships in colleges is changing the language and quality of laughter — and young, urban, English-speaking working women are indeed moving towards humour that's gender neutral — doesn't give away that it is a woman enjoying/cracking the joke, and tries to "laugh like a man".

But despite increasing equality and convergence, women all over the world still prefer humour that facilitates bonding and friendship. There are many kinds of laughter but the kind that women specially cherish comes from shared experience and shared vulnerability.

The opportunity for brands therefore, the study concludes, is not so much to create a "funny brand", but "a brand with a sense of humour". Brand communication needs to use "logical humour" — make a sharp point that demonstrates product superiority. Layer it with "message humour" — a larger life comment that her generation wants to make so that the brand is elevated and speaks on her behalf. Do it in a tone of "complicity and community" — shared naughtiness and shared experiences. The lighthearted manner lets her "get away with" what she really wants to say. Do it with cheek and charm. The humour must enhance her femininity, not compromise it.

There's no need to try and get a big laugh, say JWT planners. Women don't laugh with their bellies. They laugh with their heart. A wry smile, a mental chuckle could be more potent.

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