Make ‘Em Laugh

A much quoted Advertising Association number from long ago was that 51% of consumers preferred TV ads to the programmes in which they appeared. I don’t have up-to-date data but you can bet your life the equivalent number is now lower. A lot lower.

In his excellent book ‘Why Does The Pedlar Sing?’ Paul Feldwick quotes Martin Boase, Founder of BMP, a wonderful agency that metamorphosed into today’s Adam and Eve DDB.

Paul has Boase saying: “We believe that if you’re going to invite yourself into someone’s living room for 30-seconds you have a duty not to bore them or insult them by shouting at them. On the other hand, if you can make them smile, or show them something interesting or enjoyable – if you’re a charming guest – then they may like you a bit better, and then they may be a little more likely to buy your product.”

This is such a good quote. Within it are multiple principles: be likeable, entertain, don’t shout, all of which lead to more sales. We seem to forget much of this these days.

Mediatel News this week contained a piece from that well-respected brand marketer Jan Gooding entitled ‘Ads aren’t welcome any more’ in which she uses similar language – ‘be an interesting guest’, ‘I despair at the unwelcome intrusion, and ’go away, you’re not welcome here..’.

Feldwick joined Martin Boase at BMP in 1974; Gooding is writing 48 years later.

Why are we so poor at learning lessons?

I’ve written before about the lowering of creative standards in advertising. There are no doubt many reasons for this but if you look at the wider world you would be quite wrong to assume that we are living in an age of zero creativity.

Take music, art, film, theatre, literature. Are we going through some sort of barren age? I don’t think so.

The talent is and has always been there. Whether it’s attracted to advertising is another question which, if the answer is ‘no’ may have something to do with what follows.

I think one reason why so much advertising these days is so dreadful, so shouty, so unwelcome is we’ve become unbalanced.

We used to be unbalanced, but the other way. ‘Media’ and everything connected to it was ignored, the numbers seen as justification as opposed to offering any insight or direction. Creativity was all; the five-minutes-for-the-media-presentation-before-lunch story was real, and not funny.

Some of us may not have liked it, it may well have lead eventually to the break up of the full-service agency model but at the end of the day there were more good ads out there.

Now it’s the other way around. Decisions are made on media numbers that sometimes aren’t real, and on the occasions they are real are (often wilfully) misused.

Those selling throw around data like confetti. Like confetti they float away on the breeze or are swept up, only to be replaced by the next lot.

The arguments, like the data are transitory. If you don’t like this one, wait around – another one will be along in a minute.

We have no collective memory, no interest in learning from the past and so we just keep making the same mistakes.

We would rather talk of new technology per se than of what we might do with it, how we might use it to benefit our clients and the customers they rely on.

We want everything done fast, and cheap. We want to use data, and indeed we should, but we then stretch and bend it into all sorts of weird shapes for which it was never intended.

We place algorithms and systems ahead of people’s judgement because they’re faster and cheaper, forgetting that these are tools, hugely valuable in the right hands but equally dangerous if they’re misunderstood.

Martin Boase, and Jeremy Bullmore, Leo Burnett, Bill Bernbach, David Ogilvy, and many more from that time were craftsmen. They built things that lasted.

We should ask ourselves not only will this campaign or this ad be seen, for how long and how many times but will it be remembered, will it last.

If we can make ‘em laugh, entertain them, be welcomed we have more chance of being remembered.

1 Comment
  1. Good piece. I’ve written a ot about this in More About Advertising. I feel there has been a return to direct response advertising. But to get a positive response. there needs to be an understanding that the stimulus has to be human, and involving -maybe humorous.. No doubt computer algorithms can write jokes and by chance some might be funny (though a test would be whether another computer would find them so.) Lexus produced a TVC by computer and although it generated some PR, it was pretty much unintelligible. An ad that simply makes a good offer will surely work better if there has been some investment in the brand making that offer. Creativity still thrives, and there are still examples in advertising, though I feel it may get harder – at least along the lines and advice in ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’

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