Mark Twain once said, “Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.”
From stepping on a banana peel to a stand-up routine, comedy enables a viewer to connect with material on a more personal level. A fact advertisers use to their advantage.
But what makes humor so appealing to brands and their marketing campaigns?
In this post, we’re going to examine how humor functions in advertising, and look at some of the funniest commercials of 2017.
Gosh, I just flew in from Studiobinder and boy are my arms tired! Uh…is thing on?
Anyways, let’s get started!
Watch: The Funniest Commercials of 2017
Expect the unexpected in the funniest commercials
Philosopher Daniel Dennett says there are 4 psychological triggers people are attracted to: Cute, sexy, sweet and funny.
Humor is prevalent in our everyday lives, and far more than just a form of entertainment.
According to neuroscientist Robert Provine, the act of laughing is an evolved social function. In essence, it’s a tool used to strengthen communities.
The inherent ability of comedy to bond people together is what makes it such a persuasive advertising tool.
In fact, a Sage Journals report found that humor in advertising was more likely to get audience attention and enhance persuasiveness.
One of the most influential comedic devices is the unexpected. Humor has a long history of subverting our expectations, and it’s a tactic that brands embraced in 2017.
Take this Skittles Super Bowl commercial entitled, “Romance.”
In the 30-second spot, a teenage boy attempts to get the attention of his sweetheart Katie by tossing skittles through her open window.
However, Katie is more interested in the Skittles than the boy. As the candy hurls into the bedroom, her family, a burglar, police officer and finally a beaver join together in consuming the sweets.
The escalation in the diversity of characters is what creates the humor. Why is there suddenly a beaver in her room? It seems completely absurd.
Absurdist humor is predicated on deliberate violations of logic. The amusement and engagement of the piece is successful because of its unpredictability.
“EXTREME MEASURES” (SPRINT)
Brands would continue to push this idea throughout the best Super Bowl commercials. Take Sprint’s “Extreme Measures,” for instance.
This 30-second spot features a father fed up with his Verizon contract. In an act of desperation, he fakes his death in order to escape the financial burden.
Yes, we’ve all had our frustrations regarding phone bills. But to dress a mannequin up as yourself and shove them off a cliff seems extreme.
The over-the-top solution is classic absurdist humor. For many advertisers, it’s not only about being unpredictable, but how unpredictable an ad can be.
This was certainly the case with Haribo’s 30-second spot entitled, “Boardroom.”
Here, a team of business professionals literally unleash their inner child. While staring at the brand’s gummy candies, each board member expresses their affection in a high-pitched voice.
We’re used to seeing a cut-throat, aggressive manner in the boardroom. But to our surprise, the individuals seem more at home on a playground than a corporate office.
Again, the subversion of our expectations is what both entertains and attracts.
As we can see from these funny commercials, the illogical can be just as successful as the logical.
The funniest commercials have detached slapstick
What makes an audience sometimes laugh at pain?
The relationship between danger and laughter has been a significant topic since the beginning of the moving image.
As in the classic Buster Keaton film Steamboat Bill Jr., comedy has a rich tradition of performers who take physical risks.
Yet, many contemporary critics argue that the impact of physical comedy has subsided. In fact Richard Brody, writing in The New Yorker, says, “Physical comedy has been moralized out of existence.”
These sentiments, though, had little effect on funny advertisements in 2017. If anything, the funniest commercials embraced slapstick wholeheartedly.
The best slapstick plays on the duality of performance. In it, the viewer simultaneously recognizes that the action is both real and not real.
But just as there is perceived risk to the performer, physical comedy itself can be a risk to advertisers.
Humor has the ability to attract consumers, but failed comedy can turn them away. This can occur if the branded content pokes fun at a subset of the population, rather than human nature in general.
It’s a complex balancing act, but one that the funniest commercials of 2017 were quite successful at.
“HERO'S JOURNEY” (KIA)
Speaking of balancing, let’s take a look at Kia’s Super Bowl commercial entitled, “Hero’s journey.”
In this 60 second spot, Melissa McCarthy attempts to be an environmental hero by protecting whales, ice caps and rhinos. Her eco crusade however is thwarted at every turn. And each effort causes the actress to suffer a string of painful humiliations.
Ultimately the brand says you may not be an eco-warrior, but at least you can drive like one in a Kia Niro.
Yes, slapstick is based around physical punishment. But the pain is only for comic purposes, and never life-threatening.
Here, absurdity again diminishes any cause for concern. We know that Melissa McCarthy is not and will not be riding a rhino anytime soon.
This allows the brand to not only place the actress in the realm of the surreal, but enhance the comedy by forcing her to endure its skewed logic.
“RECOVERY ROOM” (SNICKERS)
The illogical is again front in center in this Snickers Super Bowl commercial entitled, “Recovery Room.”
In this 30-second spot, an absent-minded surgeon comforts a patient after leaving a smartphone in his abdomen. Much to the patient’s dismay, the surgeon even takes a call while explaining the next steps of the procedure.
The brand wants the viewer to think hunger breeds irresponsibility, so better eat a Snickers instead.
Although the action is subdued, the physical risk is just as threatening. Yes, it’s quite absurd to think a surgeon would leave his phone inside a patient. But with the public’s obsession over mobile devices, maybe it’s not so far-fetched?
The ad is an effective example of subtlety within slapstick, and something brands have latched onto.
But let’s face, the best slapstick uses strong, in-your-face physicality.
“NOT SO PEE WEE FOOTBALL” (BUICK)
That’s exactly what Buick’s “Not So Pee Wee Football,” ad accomplished.
This 60 second Super Bowl commercial features several dads watching a pee wee football game. When a brand new Buick Cascada pulls into the parking lot, one of the dads exclaims, “If that’s a Buick, then my son’s Cam Newton.”
Well, it doesn’t take long for the man’s son to transform into the NFL All-star. As Newton winds up to throw, the power of his pass literally propels his young receiver into the end zone.
Again, the supernatural element eliminates any cause for concern. Of course we don’t want to see Newton pummel these young athletes. But the fact that this reality allows wishes to come true, is what makes an otherwise painful situation into a comedic one.
Tension relief in the funniest commercials
Sigmund Freud promoted a notion known as relief theory.
With it, the founder of psychoanalysis suggested that laughter relieves psychological tension. The action brings pleasure, and reduces the expenditure of harmful feelings.
In many ways laughter is a way of cleansing and protecting the mental and physical systems of the body.
Comedians have long understood the intensity of stress. Many have manipulated this emotion through a process known as tension and release.
This practice controls an audience by making them as uncomfortable as possible. Once tension is at peak level, a joke relieves the pressure at just the right time.
Advertisements in 2017 found many examples built around tension relief.
“NUMBER ONE FANTASY” (SNICKERS)
Consider this Snickers Super Bowl commercial entitled “Number One Fantasy.”
In this 15 second spot, a man mistakes the question, “What’s your number one fantasy pick,” for, “What’s your number one fantasy?”
Things grow intense as the man reveals his desire to walk away from his family and job. As the suspense reaches its climax, the man realizes the mistake and returns to the game.
Again, hunger is the culprit in this Snickers Super Bowl commercial. Just when things reach their cringe-worthy worst, a perfectly-timed joke relieves the pressure.
However, the tension and relief model can take various forms.
“WHO IS JOHNMALKOVICH.COM” (SQUARESPACE)
Consider this Squarespace Super Bowl ad entitled, “Who Is JohnMalkovich.com?”
In this 60 second spot, an irate John Malkovich can’t believe that his eponymous domain name has been snatched up. Malkovich then decides to send a threatening, profanity-filled email to the owner of the site. He then discovers it promotes fishing.
Unlike the Snickers Super Bowl commercial, the action doesn’t unfold in one long stretch of tension followed by a burst of relief. Instead, bursts of tension alternate between moments of relief. This adds to the unexpected nature of the spot, and keeps the audience on their toes.
“SECRET SOCIETY” (AVOCADOS FROM MEXICO)
Curiosity also tends to influence funny advertisements. A brand that did quite well at this in 2017 was Avocados From Mexico. Take a look at their 30-second Super Bowl Commercial entitled, “Secret Society.”
In the depths of a darkened cellar, a secret society debates how to remain secret in the face of internal leaks. From the moon landing to there only being 49 shades of gray, the members stress about their future.
Finally their greatest secret, subliminal advertising, promotes the delicious and healthy nature of Avocados from Mexico.
Again, the interplay between tension and relief allows the audience to become fully immersed in the absurd situation.
Wrapping up the funniest commercials of 2017
Charlie Chaplin said, “A day without laughter, is a day wasted.”
From slapstick to the unexpected, funny commercials in 2017 used both classic and progressive forms of humor. Although some brand tactics come and go, comedy is one element guaranteed to remain.
And if you want to learn more about creating audience engagement, check out our Top Video Trends series!
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