Humour In Communication & Why It Always Sells

Humour is one of the most misunderstood emotions, and not necessarily easy to tackle

India is the second-largest ad-blocking nation in the world, second only to Indonesia. Its ad-blocker usage is over 50%. Top that with depleting attention spans (said to be worse than that of a goldfish) and increasing choices (to skip an, use an ad-blocker etc.), and you have a large Marketing problem staring at you.

The point at which you fail as a storyteller is a point at which your consumer loses interest in your brand. And one of the most effective ingredients of storytelling is humour. Because it has a universal appeal and acts as a strong adhesive that keeps you glued to the content, convincing you to go beyond the first 10 seconds.

And now more than ever before, having navigated two years of pandemic existence, we, as a race, are in desperate need of humour.

So, in December 2021, when I came across Wakefit’s content piece “Abhey Omicron,” which was, for all practical purposes, their new sofa ad, I was thoroughly entertained. Actor Sumeet Vyas’s excellent monologue peppered with pandemic frustrations was relatable, funny and something that keeps you entertained throughout the 4 minutes 24 seconds. You don’t feel the urge to ever skip it, although the film relevels the sofa plug as early as 35 seconds.

At a time when three seconds of your attention gets counted as one view by platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, the ambitious task of keeping a user engaged for over four minutes is easily achieved with humour.

Because humour is a superpower. And the recent Man Matters ad featuring stand-up comedian and actor Kumar Varun, proves that yet again. There are several similarities between the Wakefit ad and the Man Matters ad. They are both over four minutes long. They are both monologues. They both centre around COVID. They both deftly capture the pent-up frustrations of an office goer. And they both pack in a generous dose of humour. Observational humour, to be specific.

Humour is one of the most misunderstood emotions, and not necessarily easy to tackle. There are 11 different kinds of humour, ranging from slapstick and dry to satirical, situational, dark and observational. And advertising has, from time to time, harnessed various types of humour to deliver a message that enjoys significantly higher recall value.

Take the CRED ad featuring Rahul Dravid for instance. The “Indiranagar ka Gunda” ad was the most viral ad of the IPL season. Not only did it break through the clutter, but people are still talking about it.

In its 90+ years of existence, the Indian advertising industry has served us some incredible humour-laden gems. In fact, some of Indian advertising’s most iconic works have banked heavily on humour. Be it the Ericsson “One black coffee please” ad back in 1996 done by

Rediffusion that won India its first Cannes Lion, the iconic Hari Sadu ad a decade later by created by FCB Ulka, or the entire Fevicol series by the peerless Piyush Pandey.

Mr Pandey has confessed that of the nine human emotions that exist, humour is his favourite when it comes to creating ads because he likes to make the world happier.

The big advantage with humour is that it lends a certain personality to a brand, helping it gain an extra edge over its competitors who may take a more conservative, measured approach to message. The audience sentiment around a brand that creates humorous ads stays positive for a very long time.

In certain cases, humour brings alive product features in a way that few other emotions can. A great example of this is the Cheetos “Can’t Touch This” ad, released during Superbowl in 2020, which highlighted how eating Cheetos makes you a social repellent, making you escape a lot of mundane, thankless tasks.

However, humour, much like every other emotion, is subjective. And what seems funny to someone may not be so to another. Also, our sense of humour evolves and matures with time. And what seemed hilarious back in 2000 may not actually seem that funny anymore, because the social and cultural context within which the “funny” ad was set may not be relevant anymore. Try watching the “Wassup” ad from Budweiser, that was released in circa 2000 today. It may not actually evoke laughter today.

That apart, humour truly is an underrated narrative tool. It is like that spoonful of sugar from Mary Poppins. It does help the medicine (in this case the brand’s messaging) go down.

*The author is Piali Dasgupta, Senior Vice President – Marketing, Columbia Pacific Communities

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