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Picture: 123RF/rogistok
Picture: 123RF/rogistok

Humour has long played a prominent role in SA advertising, but it’s been drying up of late.

A new study by research company Kantar says there has been a steady decline in the use of humour worldwide over the past 20 years, accelerated by the pandemic.

In previous years, local consumers have chuckled at the antics of Boet, Swaer and Moegae in campaigns for Castrol motor oil; laughed at the awkwardness of a black person and a white person confusing the meaning of the word "eish" in a Klipdrift brandy commercial; and guffawed at satirical observations courtesy of fast-food brand Nando’s.

On many occasions clients created their own ads, sometimes funnier and more astute than those of their agencies.

It’s not to say humour has been completely wiped off adland’s agenda; there’s just not as much of it, and brands seem to be wary of causing offence and risking being "cancelled".

Fran Luckin, chief creative officer at Grey Africa, says: "It’s tragic that brands are afraid of using humour because they fear they may offend someone."

Kantar calls humour the most powerful "creative enhancer of receptivity" and says it is more expressive than other narrative approaches. While there is more sensitivity to inappropriate humour, people still wanted to see it in advertising during the pandemic to help bring back normality to their lives.

"In a world of mass media overload, we want to watch things that entertain us and, better still, make us laugh, even if they happen to be ads," says Kantar.

The research company says that in an evolving world in which sensitivities are constantly changing, it is wise to be mindful of the type of humour that is used.

"It is essential that it is not only relevant to your target audience, but also appropriate to the media context. Humour offers a great opportunity to humanise your brand and build affinity. In the same way that the friends who make you laugh are often those you are closely bonded with, brands that connect with their consumers through humour also bond with them."

Dana Cullinan, founder and creative partner at the Cullinan agency, tells the FM: "In such uncertain and serious times, it does seem strange that humour is not used more in communication. It humanises the brand and creates a connection. Everyone is worried about leaving someone out or getting it wrong, instead of trying to stand out."

She says brands need to be brave and marketers should take "an outside look at the sea of sameness".

Charné Munien, strategy director VMLY&R, says tongue-in-cheek humour has been critical to the success of the Nando’s brand online.

"We’ve found that the key is to find a point of cultural relevance and meet that with a sense of empathy, be that through language, behaviour or shared struggles. And the results for the brand go far beyond high engagement levels and positive sentiment; we’ve been able to identify a correlation between trending content and spikes in revenue."

Kantar says the explosion of social media has been accompanied by the blossoming of new types of humour, with niche groups developing distinctive styles across different platforms. Brands, Kantar says, need to know their target audience well, beyond just socioeconomic status, age and gender.

"Humour styles can vary wildly across platforms. TikTok’s humour is fast-moving and often satirical. Facebook/Instagram humour is often more personal, and YouTube humour tends to be more story-based and longer than other platforms."

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