As people watch TV shows for different characters, brands shouldn’t be afraid to introduce characters in their advertising, argues creative at creative tech agency DT, Lee Spencer-Michaelsen.
As a creative at DT, part of my gig is creating memorable content. Depending on the brief, I try to provide a layer of humour to help communicate the idea in an entertaining way. Producing an involuntary snort is a sure fire way to get punters to interact, comprehend and share a message organically.
Because of this, brands shouldn’t be afraid to use character-driven humour. People choose to watch TV shows, movies, and good ads for pant-splitting characters. It follows that it’s smart practice to bring their construct to advertising to get the same attention, empathy and shareability.
And it works. The Old Spice guy has had almost 50 million views, and Kenny Power’s MFCEO is rumoured to have increased sales of K-Swiss Tubes by 250% in the first 30 days.
So if laughs can effectively increase sales and save media money, how do you milk them?
The answer lies in our favourite TV and film comedies. They script stories with unforgettable characters. In advertising, a comic character can provide products and services with a communication platform to string multiple jokes and messages together. Brands nailing it are K-Swiss by appointing Kenny Power’s as the MFCEO for K-Swiss, and more recently, Snickers, starring Mr Bean as a not quite right samurai.
This piece will help you develop one type of character who can be manipulated in millions of different ways to rack up millions of views. With the upcoming Australian release of Dumb and Dumber To, let’s take a look at the construction of the ultimate comic character from 1994’s Dumb and Dumber and how we can bring elements of his personality into advertising.
Step 1: Give your character a comic perspective
It all begins with my old mate Aristotle; the beginning, middle and end dude. In his seminal writings on storytelling, Poetics, he described how comedies are centred on the inferior, stating, “Comedy is an imitation of characters of a lower type.” The protagonist’s immoral mindset gives the audience permission to squeeze out a juicy laugh. So, to begin building a comic character for your brief, an ugly or diminished viewpoint must be established.
Here’s one I prepared earlier. Enter Lloyd Christmas, the epitome of a lower type.
He’s a hard luck loser, who works a crappy job, lives in a dodgy flat, with his pathetic friend Harry. The lesson: start at by scraping the bottom of the barrel. Disguising branded messages through a similar type of comedic guise approaches an audience with their guard down; making them more likely to pay attention, not thinking it’s a blatant request to sell a Nutribullet.
Step 2: Exaggerate your character’s greatest flaw
Now that a faulty foundation has been laid, give your character a flaw and blow it out of proportion. John Vorhaus, author of The Comic Toolbox, writes, “Flaws in a comic character work to open emotional distance between viewers so that they can comfortably laugh at say, someone slipping over a banana.”
Lloyd’s greatest flaw is his unrivalled stupidity. He thinks swapping a child’s motorised scooter for a car is a good deal. For a brand, the character’s flaw may be enhanced by the product or service, highlighting its benefits, and why people need to buy it. In the case of Terry Quattro (Jeff Goldblum), famous person, for the GE Link connected LED light bulb, it’s his amplified arrogance, made possible by the bulbs superior lighting.
Step 3: Add an ironic characteristic
A counteractive force that creates a struggle within the character displaces how others see their actions. To distort our character’s flaw and ensure hilarity ensues, adding an ironic characteristic to their personality overtly displays the difference between their intention and the outcome. Conflict is the mother of intrigue.
In the curious case of Lloyd, his ironic characteristic is his confidence. He thinks he’s smart, and his actions educated. This overconfidence sets him up for disaster. His false sense of intelligence and the reality of his stupidity are constantly at odds. Your character will need this internal battle to attract and keep your audience’s attention. Zach Galifianakis’s Between Two Ferns healthcare.gov branded content video with Barack Obama is a classic example, of a dumb character, trying to act smart.
Step 4: Humanise your character
Returning to the words of John Vorhaus, “Humanity is needed to build a bridge between the character and the audience so that the audience can care.” To top off a comic character, they need to be humanised. The ridiculous is used to entertain, but without realism, viewers can be dismissive.
In Dumb and Dumber, Lloyd’s humanity is discovered through his desire to love. He’s sick and tired of being a nobody, and having nobody. It’s easy to sympathise with Lloyd, as he feels alone, scared and humiliated, like most of us have at some point in our lives – or is that just me? Newcastle Brown Ale nails it with the Anna Kendrick and Stephen Merchant spots, showing them in their dressing rooms and trailer, speaking in a down to earth tone to the camera.
A classic comic character is born. Mazel tov!
One day we could see Lloyd star in an ad for Big Gulp. It could be you creating it. Until then, use this article as ammunition to convince clients that a funny man or woman may be the way to go about selling their brand. While you’re at it, if you can make sense of Tim and Eric’s comedy, and their Totino’s pizza rolls ad, please let me know.