By: Dave Hanneken
Read time: 5 minutes
This year’s Super Bowl will be the first of its kind. The stands won’t be packed with screaming fans, and for viewers at home, communal chip bowls and parties are likely off the table. Literally and figuratively. Advertisers will still show up. In a time when the world is tense (politically and pandemically), Americans are excited for the game, but potentially, they are even more excited for the ads.
The Super Bowl is one of the only times people shout, “Be quiet everybody, the ads are on!” They tend to be exciting. They tend to be shared. And more often than not, the ads tend to be funny.
Should humorous and shareable spots be created beyond the Big Game? We believe so. Some studies show that brands experience ‘ad envy’ after seeing humorous Super Bowl commercials. Will you be one of them? Here are 4 reasons why brands should consider using humor in their 2021 advertising and marketing strategies.
1. Consumers need a laugh now more than ever.
Humorous ads seemed to come to a screeching halt in March, when so much was unknown and it felt insensitive to be fun and light-hearted in our ad messaging. But after nearly a year in isolation, consumers need a good laugh. Studies show laughter relieves physical tension, boosts the immune system and decreases stress hormones. And today's stressed-out consumer is looking for content that makes them laugh.
Creators find & create humor on TikTok
Spend even five minutes on TikTok and you’ll find this app has become a pandemic staple for Gen Z, and then quickly expanded across generations. While the content varies, humor is king. But in this isolated time, creators must be creative. Some examples of virality on TikTok have included simple clips of users playing songs using their washer/dryer button tones, people removing their sweatshirts with their feet and a dog with a unique bark (or owa owa) that garnered millions of views. How bizarre is right.
TikTok creators find humor in the mundane and share it with the world. These trends catch fire, they get shared and others join in the fun.
Humor wins in previous years
But Dave, Super Bowl spots and TikTok are not the same.
Sure, but sharing humor is. Super Bowl spots are some of the most shared forms of advertising each year. People share them online with their friends and family, they talk about them days after they air. Last year, four of the top five ads used humor according to the USA Today Ad Meter. During the Big Game, more people will be sharing the funniest commercials with their friends in real-time since they may not be together. The desire for light-hearted, entertaining ads may be at an all-time high, with 75% of consumers welcoming ads with humor during COVID-19.
2. Common ground leaves room for laughter.
While the pandemic is no laughing matter, some components of 2020 were. Many people experienced a lot of the same quirky, funny moments for the first time – like learning how to use Zoom, working from home with pets and/or kids, baking bread, binge-watching Tiger King and more. With so many experiences in common, this opens the door for humor in the common ground (also known as in-jokes) which leads to social cohesion. In a time when creativity is key, finding ways to make these in-jokes may not be as hard as you think.
Match.com portrays 2020 as literal Hell
Match.com’s ‘Match Made in Hell’ campaign took a humorous approach to closed gyms, toilet paper shortages and more. The spots were shared all over social media and the launch ad has 1.5 million views on YouTube. While the target audience for Match.com is obviously singles, everyone can understand and enjoy this entertaining and humorous spot.
Nostalgic remakes by Budweiser
While Match’s ad was a home run, its production cost was likely at Super Bowl levels. But it doesn’t always require millions of dollars to create a memorable commercial. Consider Budweiser, who created a nostalgic remake of an old 1999 favorite, ‘Wassup.’ Only this time, it is happening through a video call. And video calls are something we all learned to accept in 2020 and beyond.
Common ground humor with Wisconsin Lottery
Pre-COVID, HY used common ground and relatable jokes in a holiday television spot for our client of nearly 30 years, The Wisconsin Lottery. The spot depicts the struggles of holiday shopping, crowded malls and finding parking—something we can all relate to. While one character struggles, the other relaxes as she already completed her holiday shopping by purchasing holiday scratch games in one quick stop at a convenience store. This struggle is something we’re all familiar with and the contrast between the two shoppers adds a layer of humor. View the spot here.
3. Serious or political ads can divide. Humor can help unify.
Some of the biggest, repeat Big Game advertisers like Coca-Cola and Avocados from Mexico are staying on the bench this year. Some brands cite budget constraints while others indicate being unsure of what is politically correct during these confusing times. Getting political and taking a stand has always been a risk that can either pay off or backfire for brands. Taking a look back on Budweiser’s ‘Typical Americans’ triumph and Pepsi’s ‘Live for Now Moments Anthem’ failure, it can go either way. But whether red or blue, the country is more divided than ever right now and consumers want politics and brandstanding out of the commercials. While 60% of consumers agree that they are alright with social justice ads during the Big Game, the favorability varies greatly. For instance, helping veterans ranking highest (+77) and abortion right ranking lowest (+4). Rather than alienating a percentage of the Big Game audience, unify with humor instead.
Bernie Sanders memes take over the Internet
A recent example was the viral Bernie Sanders meme that took over every social channel in mere hours. The divided country may disagree on Bernie’s policy suggestions, but they sure agreed that Bernie and his mittens were prime meme material. A simple photograph turned into something more and brands and consumers alike turned Bernie into a non-holiday Elf on the Shelf. Sharing their favorites with friends, Bernie memes provided laughs and smiles for everyone, political affiliation aside.
4. “We’re all in this together” is overused.
A phrase that once made us think ‘High School Musical’ now makes us think ‘ugh, not another duplicate pandemic TV spot.’ Arguably the most overused phrase in 2020 had great intentions to make consumers feel unified in the fight against COVID-19. But once every grocery store, shoe brand, software company and shampoo manufacturer jumped on the bandwagon, consumers started to get irritated with this repetitive, similar-sounding script. In fact, 41% of consumers were ready for brand messaging to stay away from the phrase ‘unprecedented times’ and move their messaging away from the pandemic. We are all in this together, but after 10+ months of pandemic living, consumers don’t need another reminder. Instead, they need escapism through humor.
Just days before the Big Game, most TV spots have already been produced. They’re in a 3-point stance waiting to hear the words, “Hike!” Those companies who elected to use humor will likely rate the highest in USA Today’s Ad Meter but of course, they ultimately want to raise awareness of their product or service and get a good ROI on their $5 million media spend. Not to mention the millions of dollars in talk-value that is inherent in funny TV spots. If that’s not enough, these humorous commercials have the opportunity to make one billion viewers laugh, which in turn can help lower stress and improve their immune systems. What brand would not want to be associated with that?
At Hoffman York, we’ll continue to do our part to ensure a strong creative idea is a cornerstone in all we do. Even in the pandemic, we’re seeing examples of how our Return On Ideas! is generating great returns for our clients. See what we mean by checking out our work here.
About the Author:
Before becoming Hoffman York’s Executive Creative Director four years ago, Dave worked as a writer and creative director on many national and international accounts for companies like Ogilvy & Mather and Cramer-Krasselt, and for brands like Miller Lite, Kleenex, SCJohnson Wax, United Parcel Service, Dove, American Express, and more. A natural-born storyteller, Dave’s career has taken him halfway around the globe as a copywriter in Hawaii and into the entrepreneur world as a partner in his own agency. Shiny trophies include Gold One Show pencils, Clio statues, Cannes Lions, Effies and a profile in Communication Arts magazine. Dave has also given keynote presentations at numerous ad conferences in the US and Canada, and has even found time to teach advertising at Marquette University.