Remember the good ol’ days of advertising when you could crack an off-colour joke or show a woman’s buttocks without fear of running foul of the Advertising Standards Bureau?
Perhaps the latter example isn’t such a great one, but you have to wonder if we’ve lost the ability to laugh at ourselves in ads.
Darren Spiller, executive creative director at DDB Melbourne says we’re turning into the “nanny state”.
“Big brands have always used humour to make a connection with people. And it makes perfect sense because ads that use emotion are more effective,” he says.
“However, ads today are more conservative than ever before because marketers are often nervous about doing something that could offend – and I think a lot of brands are shying away from using humour in their advertising as a result.”
Most humour in ads, Spiller says, comes from someone else’s misfortune.
“Think about it,” he says. “Think about the last thing that made you roll on the floor laughing and chances are it was at someone else expense – I’m talking about light-hearted harmless funny here by the way – and even that is seen as politically incorrect nowadays.
“The Australian culture is losing its ‘larrikin’ stereotype as a consequence and becoming a nanny state.”
Creative partner Mike O’Rourke at ad agency Bloke says it depends on the type of brand as to whether humour is appropriate but agrees with Spiller’s suggestion. “Absolutely we’re getting too politically correct,” he says. “There doesn’t seem to be anyone other than the beer brands that are able to laugh at themselves anymore. It’s a shame.”
However executive creative director at agency McCann Melbourne, Pat Baron, disagrees.
“We haven’t lost the ability to laugh at ourselves,” he says. “McCann’s own brand campaigns for Metro Trains ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ and V-Line’s ‘Guilt Trips’ are great examples.”
Creative director at Huckleberry Agency, Carmela Soares, says it’s not just an Aussie issue.
She says: “The whole world is becoming more politically correct, and brands in general are using less humour. I think the fact that brands are using less humour in their campaigns has probably more to do with a combination of elements. Lower budgets, time pressure, excessive focus on best, existing practices and fragmentation in strategy are just a few of the issues that might affect the decision to pursue riskier ideas.”
Al Crawford, executive planning director from Clemenger BBDO believes it could be an issue of a company putting all the hard yakka into a brand and having an agency say they’re going to represent that brand with a series of funny skits.
“I can understand that quite a few people would sit there and go ‘that sounds like something that isn’t necessary a brilliant representation of my business’. We have to realise a lot of the time in advertising we always think that by saying ‘this is the best thing for the consumer, it’s going to win the day’, but in reality communications often have a much larger array of stakeholders than just consumers.”
DDB’s Spiller says the ad industry needs to quit being so straight laced. He says: “We need to see more of this larrikin attitude in our advertising and stop taking ourselves so seriously.”