The subjective terror of humour in advertising

Humour is a tricky business when you work in marketing, not only is it very subjective but it is often easier to offend than it is to raise a smile. The challenge is that humour sells, but whether your particular preference is innuendo or something a little more subtle, you have to strike the right balance for your preferred target audience.

A recent example of a brand that I think have got it spot on is Maltesers with their ‘Look on the light side’ campaign. Not the obvious brand to push boundaries but what they have done is two-fold; use humour to encourage word of mouth and also champion disability, to celebrate inclusiveness and challenge perception.

Not something that you expect, but the way in which this series of TV adverts – and most recently the first ever braille only billboard – is nothing but superb. The subject of disability is handled sensitively and without the usual patronising undertones.

The TV adverts feature a series of people with a range of disabilities who share their unfortunate stories with friends. Everything from spasms to driving a wheelchair over the foot of a bride! What is really impressive is that rather than leaving you cringing, as you may have expected, they somehow bridge a gap and have you laughing out loud (I just can’t bring myself to write LOL).

What surprised me was that when the adverts were first launched – brilliantly timed to coincide with the Paralympics – people wanted to laugh but were unsure if it was ‘correct to do so’. The first advert shows a young woman explaining her most recent sexual experience with her new boyfriend and the fact that he benefits from her unfortunately timed spasm. Brilliant!

The way that the advert brings together human interest and humour makes for fantastic storytelling.

Hats off to Maltesers. I think the Paralympics this year really did showcase some exceptional talent and the Games were just as exciting as the Olympics. I also think The Last Leg is one of the most hilarious shows on TV and what these small steps continue to do is allow us all think differently and to celebrate each other for what we can do, as opposed to what we can’t.

My final thoughts, #Isitok to use humour and disability as the foundations to a marketing campaign – yes, when it’s done well.