S. Ramesh Kumar
Humour/fun in advertising should be relevant to the offering and can either have a humorous theme or just histrionic overtones that lighten the spirit of the consumer but get the brand’s message across.
Humour and fun in advertising is an interesting proposition for marketers if used in an appropriate manner. Whether it is an impulse buy such as Mentos (showing a student who cleverly deals with a professor) or a proposition for a product such as Itchguard (which showed a prospective bridegroom itching and scratching during the traditional bride-choosing event) that conveyed a functional benefit, humour can be used in a variety of situations depending on the product or service category.
Normally, the humour/fun needs to be oriented towards the market’s culture to ensure that interpretation serves the purpose and also to make sure it is not perceived in an offensive manner.
Culture has a bearing on what kind of humour/fun consumers will and will not accept in a particular market. Humour that hurts the religious sentiments of consumers will not be well received. It need not necessarily mean, either, slapstick comedy of the class of P. G. Wodehouse.
Humour/fun in advertising should be relevant to the offering and can either have a humorous theme or just histrionic overtones that lighten the mood of the consumer but get the brand’s message across.
A good example is Airtel’s TV spots involving topical celebrities. One shows a “mock” quarrel between them but effectively conveys the brand’s proposition of ease of paying bills. Of late, using film celebrities to convey the humorous proposition is gaining ground.
A brand of fabric softener (a new category that needs consumers try its product) used a voice in its audio that is similar to that of a film celebrity who is a rage, especially in the South.
Cinema is a part of a market’s culture. The brand with its new offering needs to capture the attention of the viewers in a cluttered advertising context of TV commercials.
A few brands, such as Fanta and Preeti appliances, have also used film comedians to effectively convey either the fun proposition or the functional proposition.
Shah Rukh Khan’s comical mannerisms have been used in a range of categories that includes the Santro brand of car.
Ericcson’s (mobile phones) “One black coffee please” advertisement will evoke smiles among consumers familiar with this advertisement of a few years ago. The brand’s proposition of “smallness” was woven around a man in a restaurant believing that he was being propositioned by an attractive young woman sitting next to his table, only to discover she was speaking into her mobile phone which was so small it couldn’t be seen and worse, had mistaken him for the waiter! It is also equally important that the humour in the ad should ensure that it does not distract consumers from the brand’s proposition.
The Indian context and humor
There are broadly four ways in which humour and fun have been applied in the Indian context. One approach is to introduce them in family relationships, another through relationships at an individual level, the third to associate fun/humour with group associations and the fourth through the usage of celebrities. These applications range from consumer durables to impulse products such as chewing gum.
The recent advertisement for Center Fresh shows the episode between father and son in the context of the father reviewing the marks scored by the son and the brand’s proposition of good taste conveyed humorously through the proposition “Mouth is busy”.
Hamam’s TV commercial shows the “skin glow” proposition being conveyed by the young girl’s statement, “In which direction does the sun rise?” Water purifier brand Pureit introduces the conversation between the mother and son and the brand’s proposition of prevention from diseases conveyed during this conversation in a light-hearted manner with the son’s expression adding to the appeal.
The advertisement of Vicks for Rs 5 too makes use of the mother-son relationship. The Eno antacid advertisement shows a family leaving out the male member from picnic because of an upset stomach only to make him well in a few seconds to join the party.
At the level of individual relationships, humour and fun can be used in different situations to convey the brand’s proposition. 3 Roses’ proposition of “Good time to talk” between a young couple or the Quaker Oats ad announcing the product variants with the husband proclaiming that for the first time he would frame the rules at home (with the brand’s offering for breakfast) are examples of such an approach.
Group associations with humour are widely used when the target segment is youth. Axe Temptation’s TVC, which has a robot made out of chocolate, is a good example of fun with a group association. Sachin Tendulkar in the Aviva insurance advertisement playing cricket with children and breaking the window pane before the proposition of the brand is conveyed is an interesting example in the services category. MotoYuva’s (Motorola) advertisement showing a college professor being fooled into posing for a caricature made on the phone and distributed is in tune with the “youth-mobile” trends.
Close-up’s proposition of a ‘Close-up smile’ was humorously conveyed between a youngster who is suppressing his laughter and another who is able to freely laugh out among a group of friends.
Celebrity use may be incorporated with any of the approaches depending on the type of product/brand.
Samsung uses a celebrity to convey its karaoke feature using a lighthearted execution.
There may also be other variants in which humour can be used to convey a brand’s proposition other than the four approaches using a creativity that blends with the proposition. Fevicol’s advertisement shows an unbreakable egg that is laid by a hen that feeds from a container on which “Fevicol” is inscribed.
The brand’s proposition, the extent of relevance to the target segment and the scope offered by a category for humour (chocolates vs washing machines, for example) are some of the important criteria that should be taken into consideration before humour or fun is used in the brand’s advertising.
(S. Ramesh Kumar is Professor of Marketing, IIM, Bangalore)