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Humor Is Good Medicine

By Gil Sennett · October 18th, 2001 · Ad Nauseam
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I find myself laughing more.

The commercials aren't funnier, I don't think. We just need them to be funnier. After hour upon hour of near continuous news coverage of events surrounding Sept. 11, its horrific aftermath, the subsequent rescue stories, the eventual retaliation and the somehow impossible return to normalcy for America, we need something light. Like featherweight light.

They call them commercial breaks for a reason. They pause the numbing news for just a few seconds, long enough to swallow the hard truths news media are feeding us. If not for those breaks, we might easily choke on the information.

So here to save us from utter depression are -- drum roll, please -- commercials. Strange but true. Good thing we have some of the most creative minds in the country working in the ad business.

What they've produced are short, little interruptions that somehow manage to sell a widget, an idea, a brand. Their greatest tool in this endeavor is humor.

It shouldn't be much of a surprise. In just over a month since American life changed forever, as they say, the marketing gurus intelligently realized that what we need most is a good chuckle. Props to them. In a time when so many other industries are running away from the lighter fare, advertising is running toward it.

Not that they ever strayed too far away from it. At some point in the '90s, the ad biz took a decidedly funny turn toward the silly. It wasn't enough to merely elicit a big grin. Ads were truly going for all-out laughter. And as with all things subjective, some hit and some missed. But they were trying.

So right now, it's darn nice to see those funny ads back on the airwaves. It was only a few days after the networks began airing ads that I first realized how much I needed a little irreverent humor. In between Tom Brokaw and Jane Pauley, a Geico Insurance commercial came on. If you haven't seen it, it featured a guy being attacked by a deer. Clearly, during the wrestling match that ensues, we know it's a fake deer. The humor stems from the producers using such a bad fake. It's laugh-out-loud funny.

Or was it funny because I wanted it to be? I don't know. But having watched the commercial again recently, I still find it amusing.

Interestingly, only TV can or has tried to get away with humor. Radio tries some, but it's a challenge. It relies on good writing and good writing alone. As smart as ad folks have become, they recognize the up-hill battle involved in audible humor. Humor in print is essentially non-existent.

Of course, it isn't just funny ads we're seeing lately. There's been a bit more red, white and blue shown.

According to a new study released by Initiative Media North America, 80 percent of respondents believed that advertisers should continue their regular commercials unless another major event occurs, and 50 percent said they liked advertisements with patriotic themes.

At the end of the day, I certainly prefer humor to the "Doing Our Part for America," emotionally manipulative ads that are floating around these days. It's too easy to bank on that. Put a couple of cute kids playing in the yard, lay down a patriotic tune underneath and mention the words "God," "Bless" and "America" somewhere in the voiceover and, voila, you have a post-tragedy ad to show off to your board of directors.

The companies who deserve some respect are those who pulled their former ads in the days immediately following the attacks and quickly made a stripped-down tribute. Subway comes quickly to mind. I think it was the first ad I saw on network television after the tragedy.

Black screen. White letters. A tribute to the fallen victims and their families. Then, the Subway logo.

Anything else at the time would have been inappropriate.

 
 
 
 

 

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