20 Reasons Why People Love Funny Commercials
Why Comedy Is the Most Effective Way to Advertise
Below are 20 time-tested techniques guaranteed to make people laugh. Or your money back.
1. Stalling……………………… stalling is funny. If it’s a 30- or 60-second commercial, you need to get to the point. But some of the funniest moments can be hanging in the dead air while someone is stalling. Or, as in this example from Nationwide Insurance, stalling is the entire point.
2. Assumptions can make a situation funnier. A person making the correct assumption every time can be funny, but a person making the wrong assumption every time can be equally as funny. Why? Because neither one is true. They’re hyperbole. Assumptions create delicious moments. In this example from Adobe, the criminals assume their identity is safe because they’re wearing ski masks.
3. Engage the fear. Who are the truth-tellers in the situation, taking everyone out of their comfort zone or ratcheting up the stakes? For example, an inmate is told that he’s gonna be sharing a prison cell with his mother. Or, in this example from CareerBuilder.com, an employee points out the chart is upside down.
4. Be prepared to go to extremes. Exaggerate the situation, the location, the props or the stakes. For example, make the hat too big, too small or resistant to staying on a person’s head. If the reality in your script is perfectly balanced, then mix things up like in this example from Audi. The concept combines big and small for an all-new hybrid dog in the commercial “Dober-huahua.”
5. Make the absurd serious, or vice versa. Picture a courtroom being run by dogs, or Barney the dinosaur racing in the Olympics. Similarly, imagine members of the Spanish Inquisition arbitrating trivial, contemporary arguments – a running Monty Python skit. The serious becomes seriously absurd during an ultrasound screening in this example from Doritos.
6. Take advantage of colliding contexts. Put the protagonist or the situation in the place with the most conflict. There are many ways to do this; for example, a hot dog vendor at a wedding, or the fish-out-of-water character Crocodile Dundee traveling to Manhattan. Another example is a medical team using humor to treat a patient in this commercial for the No Refunds Comedy Festival.
7. An inappropriate response usually gets a big laugh, too. Have someone deny the obvious, like in the Snickers campaign, “You’re Not Yourself.” A football player (played by Betty White) is playing poorly but lashes out with an inappropriate response. Another example would be the Budweiser spot “Swear Jar.” Rather than holding their tongues, the office staff doubles down on cursing.
8. Look for scenarios that play contrary to expectations. For example, a little kid defeats burglars in the movie “Home Alone.” In this example from Levi’s, a woman undresses, thinking the man in the room is blind. Her expectation is that he can’t see her. The reality is… different.
9. Create a runner or a callback. A runner is a line, situation or visual element that occurs repeatedly in a storyline or campaign. A callback is a line at the end of a commercial that refers to an earlier line. The trick is to put a new twist on a callback or runner each time it re-appears, like in this example from Energizer.
10. Telling the truth or stating the obvious is hilarious under the right circumstances. It’s best to give these lines to an innocent or foolish character, as in this example for The Young Director Awards.
11. In scenarios where everyone knows the truth, telling a lie is a guaranteed belly laugh. For example, having a character drop their phone in the toilet and then explain they did it on purpose. In this classic example from Isuzu, a spokesperson stretches the truth way beyond the breaking point.
12. By definition, introducing a non sequitur will take audiences off guard. I won’t spoil it – just watch until the end.
13. Redefine the stakes. Raise the price of failure. Similarly, raise the reward for success. For example, make the couple on their first date older, so it implies this might be their last chance at love. Or, as in this example from Pepsi, every sip pulls Justin Timberlake closer.
14. Wordplay might take a lot of explaining when you pitch the client, but when well executed, it steals the show. For example, the T-Mobile commercial “Daughter’s Itchy Head” or the controversial Kmart classic, “Ship My Pants.”
15. Make the logo the punch line, like in this commercial from Axe.
16. Writing comedy is seeing reality through another person’s prism. Different perspectives on the same situation are funny. Change the context and the same copy becomes even funnier, like in this example from State Farm, “Jacked Up.”
17. Oblivious characters always get big laughs, like in this wonderful example from Fruit of the Loom.
18. Everyone struggles with technology at first – especially the moms in this campaign from Samsung, “#TextsFromMom.”
19. Family relationships are chock-full of comedic possibilities. In this example from Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, Junior’s life turns upside down when his father returns to make some changes to the business.
20. Find a situation filled with rules and then break as many as possible. Holidays are always filled with a lot of rules, like in this eBay holiday commercial, “Pony.”
Whichever approach you take, remember to leave some extra time in your commercial or video. Some of the funniest stuff usually takes way more time on the screen than you realize. But trust me, the results will be hilarious.
Mike Johnston is a production executive and advertising creative in Seattle. He is available for freelance consulting, writing and directing. Contact Mike
Want to know more? Read one of our most popular posts: Why Traditional Production Companies Will Not Survive. Read all about it.