Why fun needs to come back into fashion in the advertising industry
People working in advertising need to have more fun.
For their own sakes.
For the industry’s sake.
And for the sake of our poor, perishing planet.
That was the main takeaway message to come out of this year’s Marketing Society event ‘Amplify’ held in Edinburgh on Thursday, attended by the great and good of Scotland’s advertising scene.
Cannes Review kicked off
First speaker Julian Boulding, Founder & President of thenetworkone, kicked off by saying that there was “less humorous advertising at the Cannes Festival of Creativity this year than in the 70 years it’s been going”.
As a result, he struggled to find humourous campaigns showcased at Cannes to review for his opening presentation, which he used partly as a call to arms to delegates to bring back some levity to their work.
Julian highlighted that the only funny ad which won a Cannes gold award was Apple’s; then swiftly quoted the tech brand’s Chief Marketing Officer Tor Myhren saying that “to be creative, you have to have fun”.
Is Advertising too serious now?
“We’re a bit too serious,” Julian said. “We need to have fun. There was an undercurrent of that [view] at Cannes that couldn’t always be spoken about in every corporate context.”
Asked post-presentation whether this humourlessness was a problem for the industry Julian said:
“Yes. We do need to bring fun back. Fun produces funny. And fun makes people want to work in the industry. People in the past didn’t mind working late or at weekends because the industry was fun. Now we’re struggling to attract talent. That is a problem that needs corrective action.”
Double calls to arms from speakers
Fiona Gordon, CEO of Ogilvy, who introduced the keynote ‘Ogilvy Lecture’ reinforced Julian’s call to arms, by first quoting the late advertising trailblazer and agency Founder David Ogilvy:
“I have noticed that agencies which are full of fun and ferment seem to create the best advertising.”
Then added her own version to inspire the audience to action:
“This is my rallying cry to us to bring a little bit more fun into our environment, into our day”.
Why has advertising lost its fun factor?
Many speakers throughout the event, not just Julian and Fiona, speculated on why advertising had lost its fun factor. The rise of purpose-driven, more worthy ads? Artificial intelligence taking over human creativity? The pressure of stakeholders? The economy? Existential threats looming large? The fear of cancel culture? Globalisation? Media fragmentation? More work, less time, less staff?
Whatever the reason, it’s worrying - not just because it makes the industry a less attractive place to work for talent, but also because research, quoted throughout the day, shows that audiences want brands to make them laugh, and funny (often) sells.
Connecting delegates with their inner-comedians
The buzzing event did a valiant job trying to reconnect the delegates with their inner-comedians and was brimming with amusing ads, from the mildly “entertaining” to the belly-laugh “humorous” (there is a significant difference, we learnt: entertainment raises a smile, whereas humour should provoke a laugh).
And provoke a belly-laugh some of the ads definitely did. Remember the John West ‘Man Fighting Bear’ ad? And Budweiser’s ‘Wazzup’? Marmite’s ‘Gene Project’? Old Spice’s ‘I’m on horse’? Condom Relate’s ‘Hornicultural Society’?
Brilliant examples like these reminded the audience what joy advertisers - sometimes denigrated for their choice of profession - have the power to create.
Is funny old fashioned?
One marketer who clearly hadn’t forgotten this universal truth was Barrington Reeves, Creative Director & Founder of Too Gallus, who was part of the ‘Celebrating Craft’ panel. In answer to the event’s guiding question - ‘is funny old fashioned?’ - he said that while humour might be “fading out on TV” it’s “not fading out on other channels”. But advertisers have to find “different ways to be funny” and be “far braver, bolder and funnier”, he said.
Out of everyone at the event, he seemed to be having the most fun. At one point, with perfect comic timing, he sarcastically “cried a river” for those marketers who feel aggrieved they can’t “make fun out of brown people anymore”.
At another time, he poked harmless fun out of a luxury whisky marketer who asked his panel a question, giving his honest thoughts disagreeing, then adding, “those brands never take us on, anyway!”
Humour takes risk and courage
By doing this he cleverly illustrated the point - also made throughout the day - that humour takes risk and courage. (Perhaps he should have joined the After Party’s line up of three comedians in the charming ‘Assembly Treehouse’ after the event? This was another endearing touch, rounding off an entertaining and thought-provoking day.)
But arguably the most touching part of the day happened when Storyteller and Screenwriter Frank Cottrell-Boyce took to the stage in charmingly self-deprecating and witty fashion.
He provoked many laughs, but then also managed to move the audience to ‘ahhhs’ when he talked about how his loved ones were the ones who most made him laugh, while looking directly at his wife in the front row.
Pondering purpose on the planet
Frank urged the audience to profoundly ponder their purpose on this planet, but not at all in a worthy or egoic way. His genuinely-felt words implored the delegates to use their talents to shine a light on the darker aspects of existence in order to effect behaviour change.
He repeatedly came back to a quote by G.K. Chesterton, which he tries to live by and sees as his creative motto: “The world is not perishing for lack of wonders, the world is perishing for lack of wonder”, quoted by advertising personality Rory Sutherland in his Ted Talk.
But what’s the link to humour?
Laughter reawakens wonder
He made the argument that laughter is a way to reawaken wonder and that attention is the “beginning” of, and the “magic of”, wonder. Therefore advertisers, being experts in the art of getting attention, could have a vital role to play here in changing behaviour where rational argument hasn’t worked.
He finished up with a chilling challenge and another rallying cry for the delegates sat in front of him:
“When Chesterton wrote those words, and when Sutherland quoted them, the word ‘perishing’ was a rhetorical flourish. But, this summer, I don’t think any of us can deny that it’s highly possible that our world, in terms of our ability to live in it, is actually perishing. Precisely because we have forgotten to wonder at the fact we’re alive at all. You can be part of this very urgent idea to reawaken of wonder.”
Review by Suzy Bashford, Big Juicy Creative.
Enjoy this? Get more.
Our monthly newsletter, The Edit, curates the very best of our latest content including articles, podcasts, video.
Become a member
Not a member yet?
Now it's time for you and your team to get involved. Get access to world-class events, exclusive publications, professional development, partner discounts and the chance to grow your network.