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Why humour works?

29-June-2012
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Why humour works?

Ask people to pinpoint some striking examples of humour in Indian advertising and you will discover that it’s a difficult proposition. We did just that. After much brain storming, the few ads that came to mind were ads of Happydent, Fevicol, Mentos, Greenply, Centre Shock, Seagram Blue (Men will be men), Bingo, Sprite, and Tanishq diamond jewellery (the one where two husbands dread their wives’ diamond shopping spree).

Considering the number of ads the Indian advertising industry churns out, such few rib-tickling ads do not make an impressive testimonial.

Does it mean that there isn’t enough genuine humour in our Indian ads? Or that they are not efficient at tickling the funny bone? exchange4media takes a hard look at what works (and does not work) for humour in advertising in India.

What is the humour that works today?
Historically, there has been humour in ads. David Ogilvy had said that 30 per cent of advertising was based on humour. But Claude Hopkins, the father of modern advertising, had a different view on this. He said, “People don't buy from clowns.”

In reality, humour sells, if used creatively with a strong idea and great execution. Some of the best brands in India have leveraged humour to such an extent that the viewers look forward to ‘newness’ in humour each time they see a new commercial from that brand. For example, Fevicol has used humour so intelligently and subtly that people remember it and the recall is high.

Looking at what exactly humour does, there are three main advantages – it captures the viewer’s attention, cuts through the ad clutter, and enhances recall.

Why does humour work better than anything else?
According to Prathap Suthan, Managing Partner and CCO, Bang In The Middle, humour works primarily because it makes companies and brands human. It works because people sitting in front of the television have enough and more of gore on demand from daily news, because for people advertisement is entertainment, because humourous ads needn’t be dependent on production budgets. “And mostly because civilised, refined, Wodehousian kind of humour can work very well for even the most staid corporate brand. Who wants to relate to a company that doesn’t have a sense of humour?” he asked.

Anindya Banerjee, Branch Head and Executive Creative Director, Scarecrow Communications was of the opinion that by and large in India most brands like to use ‘slapstick humour’. Even Bollywood films thrive on it. The mistaken belief is only slapstick sells in India. But, if that were the case, none of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s films would have been hits. “The fact is there is no set formula for what works better. But humour makes the brand more approachable and friendlier. It’s easier for the brand to walk up to a stranger and shake hands,” he noted.

It depends on the context and category, felt Sambit Mohanty, Executive Creative Director, Bates. “Its memorability depends on how you play it,” he said.

In a sweeping statement Gullu Sen, Managing Partner, From Here On said, “Humour has gone out of advertising. There’s no law of average here. There are many factors that come up here such as cross-cultural currents, sensitivity, education, ethnicity, regional bias and so on.

Why is it difficult to get the right blend of humour?
Humour does help in breaking through the clutter. But getting the right blend of humour in an ad is important, so that the appeal can be ensured. Banerjee felt that humour depends on many things: the time, place and context. Get one of the mixes wrong, and you end with a disaster. (Ask any stand-up comedian.) That’s exactly the case with brands, he pointed out.

Strange that in a country that has fabulous humour in regional and in Bollywood movies, humour in advertising is rather shallow, is what Suthan noted. We have very few writers in agencies who can truly write a funny script. We don’t get our timing right in many. We don’t have too many directors who can deliver funnies. We have very few characters within the rather narrow commercial casting spectrum actually who understand humor and can act.
Pushpendra Mishra is probably my best bet as a humorous director. Prasoon Pandey of course, has been around, Suthan observed.

It’s difficult for different elements to be spot on. “The music, the director, the casting, the punchline…everything has to be bang on,” said Mohanty.

Is there a product category that is best suited for humour?
Not really, humour works well with any category, felt Suthan. And there are different kinds of humour to choose from depending on the tone and texture and audience of the brand. There’s the harmless variety, the seriously humourous type, the light hearted, the funny romantic type, the slapstick type, the sexually loaded ribald sort of humour, the intelligent variety of wit, the ethically skewed variety, the classic sophisticated variety, the gutter variety, the loud obnoxious crass variety, etc. Any product can pick and choose from this palette and employ humour.

Currently, there is no hard and fast rule about humour, was what Banerjee held forth. Categories from insurance to chewing gums have used it with telling effect. But typically, FMCGs such as colas, chocolates, savouries are the biggest proponents of humour. “One needs to study the product and the category before applying humour to sell your product,” he said.

Humour is most expected from the confectionary product category – Perfitti, Bingo, Kurkure, Mohanty pointed out.

Are there any regional differences in appeal of humourous ads?
With the diversity that is found in the country, the question was whether there are subtle regional differences in the appeal of humour. Answering in the affirmative was Suthan.

Cutting across subtle regional bias at the same time, humour can have a ‘universal appeal’, as Srijib Malik, Branch Head, Bates pointed out. In agreement was Banerjee as he said, “An intelligent joke, well-told will find favour anywhere in the world. So unless the humour is of the toilet variety, regional biases really don’t come into play.”

The crux of the matter is that humour is appreciated by all and is a very strong tool to establish brand connect. More brands in India need to exploit it.

We hope, going forward, we will get to see some true-blue humour in Indian advertising. But right now, it seems, there is not much to laugh about…

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