you think THAT’S funny?
Who doesn’t like a good laugh? In product promotion, funny presenters, humorous commercials, novelty items and even clowns are among the most reliable and memorable devices. Solemn speakers, teachers and preachers often open presentations with a joke. But apparently, the climate change that accompanies global warming has left us with thinner skins.
People are not so easily amused by marketers’ jocular antics these days—many answering back with angry blogs, anti-advertiser Web sites, press releases dripping with indignant outrage and a spokesperson for every occasion camped in at CNN. You don’t think that ad is funny? Tell the advertiser what you think and, while you’re at it, tell the world.
Humor is often topical. War, economics, healthcare, terrorism, pollution, hunger and disease are some topical areas that occupy consumers’ minds these days, but none exactly fall into the “feel good” category or would be considered funny by most people. And people don’t laugh at the same things.
Remember “Mr. Whipple,” the fictional supermarket manager featured in store displays and television commercials from 1965 to 1989 for Charmin bathroom tissue? In unvarying repetition, Whipple would scold women who “squeeze the Charmin,” while entertaining himself by doing just that when no one was watching. But he always got caught. And blushed as his customers cackled.
The very first “Mr. Whipple” commercial set the tone. He is watching a female customer, commenting that first she’s squeezing the grapefruits, then she’s squeezing the melons, but when she gets to the Charmin, that’s the last straw. Whipple walks over to her and utters his famous plea for the first time. Hilarious. High art. You had to be there.
According to a 1978 survey, “Mr. Whipple” was the third best-known American, behind only the recently-ousted President Nixon and evangelist Billy Graham. Another survey put “Mr. Whipple” at No. 2.
Times have changed and squeezing rolls of toilet paper does not rise to the same level of hilarity it did in 1965. Consider what some marketers more recently concluded would leave customers laughing and, presumably, in the mood to buy: a Bud Light commercial where a horse loudly breaks wind into the face of a woman who is about to make out with her boyfriend on a sleigh ride; an announcer tells the audience that Outpost.com will fire gerbils from a cannon to help people remember its name; singer Robert Goulet has an apparent nervous breakdown due to a craving for Emerald Nuts; a robot fired by General Motors commits suicide by jumping from a bridge; two garage mechanics eating the same Snickers bar come together in a kiss, then decide to rip out their chest hair to compensate by doing something manly; a caveman takes offense when his IQ is attacked by a Geico insurance spokesman. Funny stuff, right?
Not to everyone. Within hours after most of these spots ran, the protests were launched and TV news anchors bumped stories about war and corruption to discuss whether the good taste of Snickers had been presented in good taste. Union workers were angry at GM for firing the robot.
At least two fairly recent best-selling books have included references to the death of advertising in their titles. While many of us have regarded advertising as bad, misleading, insulting, intrusive, obnoxious and no longer worthy of wrapping a decent sandwich, actually pronouncing it dead seems a little harsh. Death is so final, and raises the question of what to do with my advertisng budget after deducting the cost of a nice funeral wreath.
Too much of marketing today is aimed at appealing to (or working around) special interest groups at the expense of the sales message. Quality, value and a good reputation are compromised as Generation X creative directors and copywriters go for the darker, edgier joke that plays well in the portfolio or on their reels. Hey, marketers! Make ’em smile and leave ’em laughing… but remember what we came to do is tell people in the target audience what we’ve got and why they should buy it. And while we’re on the subject, did you hear the one about the duck who goes into a bar…?