Ads that make us laugh are as important as ever during the pandemic

Lynne Deason, head of creative excellence at Kantar UK, explains why brands should avoid sadvertising despite nervousness around inappropriate communication.

a cat on a sofa

Not a week goes by where a brand somewhere in the world is not being criticised for an inappropriate ad, tweet or comment.

Getting communications right has never been more important. Marketers are understandably nervous about inappropriate communication and want to be sensitive to the crisis we find ourselves living in.

The good news is that there is very little difference in the way that people are responding to advertising right now. Comparing responses to 11 ads across different media formats pre and during the Covid 19 outbreak, it seems that seeing advertising helps life feel a bit normal and is also a welcome reminder of more normal times.

Lockdown advertising falls into three broad camps: pure emotional support; business as usual and tangible help.

Many brands are offering some kind of emotional support and empathy, encouraging people to stay at home and trying to create a feeling of support, togetherness and pride, while looking to the future with optimism. Many of these ads look, sound and feel the same. They fail to anchor this emotional support in anything that makes the brand special and different from others which means they fail to be distinctive and memorable. While they aren’t overtly disliked, our research clearly shows that people don’t want to be continually reminded about the crisis.

The lack of anything genuinely different to say – an approach adopted by British Airways, Birds Eye and Emirates – is not the best tactic. Ads are seen by consumers as a clear attempt to boost sales and many say they seem pointless.

Further, the average branding score across these ‘we’re here with you’ ads researched by Kantar is in the bottom 25% of all ads in the UK. A lack of distinctiveness not only means that your ad will struggle to grab attention, it also means that the brand isn’t remembered either – except for where extremely powerful branding cues are integrated in to the ad.

We also looked at ads that had adopted a business as usual approach. On the whole people respond to these ads in a very similar way to how they did prior to the pandemic; making these ads a welcome and entertaining reminder of more normal times.

We have been asked repeatedly whether humour is appropriate at this time. Our answer is yes, when it fits with your brand. Humour is in fact a key ‘attention earning’ mechanism and can be a really effective way for brands to build long lasting associations. People don’t want ad breaks filled with reminders that life is tough. They need a little escapism and a reason to smile or laugh. Only 1 in 4 people think that ads should avoid humour.

Sadly, you are twice as likely today to see ads without humour compared to 20 years ago.

Malteser’s is one brand that took a ‘lighter approach’ to referencing the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of its target audience. The ads featured a series of Zoom chats with a close-knit group of girlfriends.

Airing these ads around comedy programmes on Channel 4 should have helped reach an audience that was more likely to appreciate the jokes, helping the ads to earn attention in a more positive way.

The response to the humour in these ads was polarised, though. Women were more likely to appreciate the jokes and be able to relate to the scenario, but others (including some women) found it inappropriate. Clever media buying is key to targeting this at people who will enjoy it. The biggest downfall with these ads, though, is that the role of the brand isn’t clear at all.

Ads that bring to life what the brand is doing to help also stood out, but they were not bereft of humour. The inclusion of ‘Kevin’ in Aldi’s Safer Shopping ad shows that whilst the message may be serious, there is no reason for ads to be bereft of humour. Consumers liked the serious subject of how to shop at the moment but liked the laugh at the end.

The findings serve as a really powerful reminder of the importance of committing to a meaningful and distrinctive strategy for your brand advertising. Be proud and don’t be shy about bringing your brand to life, integrating those brand assets that you’re already famous for in a distinctive and original way. And most of all don’t be afraid to make people smile and laugh. You want to remain relevant part of people’s lives but sadvertising will not help you strengthen relationships and loyalty.

1 Comment on Ads that make us laugh are as important as ever during the pandemic

  1. Collins Ogombo // June 28, 2020 at 1:56 pm // Reply

    I love ads that sprinkle bits of humor in their message.

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