"Basically, everything we do has to entertain and sell"
...Talking Ads and Humour with Ian Barnard, Creative Business Company
Talk to any advertising creative about making funny ads and here are your betting odds:
…2 to 1 they’ll react like this guy.
…7 to 2 they’ll say how much they admire ads like this little gem, for Nextel.
…And 10 to 1 they’ll say they’ve always loved The Economist ads.
In short, asking creatives if they like making funny ads is a bit like asking a chocoholic if they like Easter.
But what of strategists? They’re more up-stream, the guys thinking through brand and business problems. They do a lot of head-scratching, and chew the ends of a lot of pencils, writing the best briefs so the creatives can work their magic. What do they make of using humour in marketing communications?
A good person to speak to, I reckoned, was Ian Barnard (above). Based in Toronto, he’s Strategy Director of the Creative Business Company. He came across my radar because, over the past year or two, he’s shared some enviably good decks on How to Build a Big Brand on a Small Budget and, most recently, How to Increase Profits in a Recession. So I suggested a gentle Q&A and he was kind enough to agree.
As Strategy Director at the Creative Business Company, what kind of work do you do?
I’m the guy that makes sure the fun, creative ideas we have for clients are grounded in ruthless business logic. Basically, everything we do has to entertain and sell.
What clients do you work/have you worked for?
We’ve worked with big and small clients from around the world. From Al Jazeera, Formula E and Shell, to smaller start-ups and SME challenger brands.
Why is your tagline ‘What do you want to be famous for?’?
We believe the best way to grow is by getting famous. Getting famous means reaching as many potential buyers as possible, as frequently as possible, with a unique and memorable message.
In a recent post you talked about the dangers of bland, irrelevant messages. Does this mean a humorous response, or strategy, is something you frequently consider?
We do. The simple truth is that most campaigns are guilty of evoking a single type of emotion — tugging on the audience’s heartstrings — which is often inappropriate or ineffective. Alternatively, many campaigns are overly rational and evoke no emotion at all. So you need to tap into the right emotion for the category, which can often be humour.
How do you sell this in to your clients?
It’s usually included as a creative direction or option when presenting brand positioning or campaigns. We use a mixture of research and data to explain the business benefits, with mock-ups of the creative executions to show the concept with copy, visuals and even storyboards. The more you can flesh out the idea and make it real, the better.
What is their number one fear when you're selling it in?
I think most people are afraid of humour being misinterpreted or misrepresented. What’s funny in one language or context might not translate into others. Most humour is at someone’s (or something’s) expense, and it can be hard to strike the right tone without being offensive.
What evidence do you use to soften/resolve their fears?
We lean pretty heavily on the data and research that proves humour is a great way to stand out, and get noticed and remembered more often. There are also many ways to test messages with audiences before you go live: creative pre-testing, focus groups, and marketing specialists like yourself! It takes a lot of the risk out of the equation.
You have several pictures of Rocky on your company site. Are you, too, a heavyweight champion of the world?
The only heavyweight titles I’d win are identifying obscure 80s bands, staring blankly at the wall for long periods of time, and eating very, very slowly.
What’s your funniest ad of all time — and why?
The Rowan Atkinson Barclaycard ads (such as the one below), because they were not only hilarious but also hugely effective. I love the idea of an arrogant but useless secret agent humiliating himself over and over again. The campaign ran for nearly a decade, drove incredible revenue and sales, and proves you can be funny and sell a boat-load of product1.
…You can find the Creative Business Company here. A big thanks to Ian for his thoughts about humour and marketing. What’s more, if you want an expert on obscure 80s bands for your next pub quiz, you’ve just found him.
Many thanks for reading,