Super Bowl LI: Marketing with Good Humor

Anyone else underwhelmed by this year’s Super Bowl ads? Perhaps our perspective has been marred by defeat, but the commercials (according to office chatter on Monday) left lackluster impressions. Some were downright obscure. I think most people dig the idea of gender equality, but it’s a hard subject to tackle in 60 seconds.

There has been a significant decline in funny Super Bowl ads, and there’s plenty of speculation as to why. But humor still works when it’s done well. 

Finding the Sweet Spot

Humor is a dynamic balancing act.  A joke that is completely benign (without victim or criticism) isn’t funny. A joke that is completely offensive isn’t funny either. But if you can transform a perceived negative into something silly…. Eureka! That’s humor.

A writer for The Atlantic, Olga Khazan, describes humor as a “juxtaposition of injury and cheer” that helps us “deal with life’s injustices.” I highly recommend reading Olga’s article (The Dark Psychology of Being a Good Comedian)… It’s from 2014 but still a great read for marketers and comedy buffs alike. 

Marketing with Humor

Humor isn’t right for every brand, and just because it can work, doesn’t mean that it will. Let’s take a look at two examples from Sunday’s game…

“Romance the Rainbow; Taste the Rainbow” is silly, but it is it truly funny? Will you remember it? Will you discuss it with friends, coworkers or family members? Probably not, because the ad lacks depth. Skittles isn’t speaking to a specific audience, and they certainly aren’t transforming a perceived negative into a positive. 

The Mr. Clean ad strikes an equally silly tone, but it is far more likely to make a lasting impression. Anecdotally speaking, I was tempted to put down my beer and throw my husband a mop after watching this one, and my Facebook and Twitter feeds immediately erupted with positive commentary. Articles have dubbed this spot as Super Bowl LI’s most memorable commercial. But why? The ad was a well-executed commentary on household responsibilities and relationship dynamics. At risk of being sexist, Mr. Clean appeals to women who could use a little help around the house. It transforms a specific pain point into something we can all laugh about. 

The ad alone is marketing genius, but it turns out Mr.Clean’s social media game is equally strong. Visit @RealMrClean to read a series of hilarious live tweets from Super Bowl LI. Don’t you just love it when offline and online marketing methods work together for maximum exposure!

If you’re eager to develop clever or funny messaging for your brand, here are a few simple guidelines…

  • Understand your target audience.
  • Identify perceived negatives. 
  • Craft a concise message that addresses specific pain points and transforms perceived negatives into positives.  
  • When in doubt, keep it simple. Never sacrifice message clarity for cleverness. 

Effective marketing starts with a clear understanding of your target customers and a concise definition of your brand identity. That’s why we’ve developed a process (PLANT. FEED. GROW.) that puts crucial branding exercises (PLANT) ahead of all creative work and marketing strategy. Need help defining your brand identity? Schedule a complimentary call to learn more about PLANT.