Absurdity in Marketing

After a weekend of watching ghastly amounts of television, I was struck by the high percentage of ridiculous commercials I endured. We’ve all seen ridiculous commercials- there’s the kind that has you laughing so hard, you get side stitches, the kind that leaves you bewildered and asking “What was that commercial for, anyway?,” and everything in between. The most absurd commercials seem to come out around the holidays, and of course, the Super Bowl.

I remember when the first Geico gecko commercials came out (the “Stop Calling Me!” phase), and they’re still going strong with hilarious ads. Then there’s the E-Commerce baby, although we haven’t seen him in awhile, and many food related commercials including Snickers and Jack Links beef jerky (the ones with Sasquatch).

Why do companies use humor in advertising? According to this article from The Atlantic, our attention is more likely to be held when we perceive something as either a positive (or negative) experience. Most marketers lean towards the positive experience rather than negative, because they’d rather their audience have a positive association with the brand. Humor not only grabs attention, but holds onto it. That being said, there’s a fine line between hilarious and absurd. It’s a risky marketing strategy, and yet companies still use it.

This is one of my favorite Super Bowl commercials, because it combines my favorite candy with my love for this great song (and quite possibly Meatloaf himself).

Pros

When we think something is funny, we’re also more likely to share it with others. Sharing includes word of mouth, social media shares, e-mails to friends and/or co-workers- anything that gets the word out. Ridiculous content gets shared more organically (meaning people find the content worthy of sharing with others with no incentive or push from the company that put out the ad).

Doing something absurd helps your brand stand out. By sticking your neck out and doing something different, besides the “same old,” safe, guaranteed to work advertising routine, in many ways you’re demonstrating not only innovation but passion. By doing something risky, you send the message “I believe in my product, and am willing to take this chance on it.”

This is my favorite Geico commercial to date. They’re still using the “15 minutes” bit, and adding the ridiculousness of Pinocchio being a motivational speaker. Full disclosure, I find this commercial way funnier than is probably appropriate. Even just writing a brief blurb about is enough to send me into a delirious fit of giggling. That being said, I am not insured by Geico.



Cons

Risk is a larger factor when it comes to absurdity, or humor in general. First, there’s the risk that your ad isolates certain demographics. Some people may not be as receptive to your attempt at humor, so it’s important to consider your target audience, if no one else. Second, there’s always the chance that, hey, you aren’t as funny as you thought, and people don’t respond well (especially if you go the off-color or risque route). Third, if the attempt at humor seems too forced, it isn’t going to be funny.

Another risk is that people who see your funny/absurd/ridiculous ad will be so distracted by the humor, that they pay very little attention to your product. Humor can distract people from the intended purpose of the ad, and then you’re left with a net-zero situation.

If nothing else, avoid creating an ad that is so over-the-top that people don’t understand what you’re marketing. To emphasize this point, I was going to insert a video of an advertisement that was completely strange, and I can’t even tell you the name of the product. There was an aggressive magician wow-ing an inexplicably enthusiastic crowd, and he had some sort of product that (to me) resembled Airborne. I can’t tell you the name of the product. I can’t even tell you if the ad was for the magician guy or for the Airborne-like tablets he was waving around. I even tried Googling this commercial, but clearly was unsuccessful. Moral of the story: this ad was so absurd that it achieved nothing.

Instead, I decided to insert this delightful Starburst commercial. It a) clearly explains what their product is and why it is of value, and b) has a jaunty and ridiculous tune. Success!

This article from Time magazine explains that while funny ads get a lot of laughs and general appreciation, marketers “should use humor as a supplement — not a replacement” for content in any advertisement.

Kassandra Strout
Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

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