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In-depth: Does stand-up comedy work for brands?

One can’t deny the increasing popularity of stand-up comedy and stand-up comedians in the country and neither can one overlook their presence in the ad space. tries to trace back its genesis and understand the appeal it holds for brands

Making someone laugh is no mean feat, especially when you have to do it in 60 seconds flat and at the same time keep brand integration and ideology in mind.

The first piece of ‘funny’ communication by a brand that made an impression on my mind as a little girl was an ad from Candyman, more so because it made my mother laugh. She continued to regale us with the story of the little boy who pulled a fast one on a rather brash car owner, even when the ad was on right in front of us.

That really is the power of a good joke, like any good messaging – shareability. One simply cannot listen to a good joke and not share it. It is no surprise then that brands wanted a piece of the ‘funny pie’ too.

One can’t deny the increasing popularity of stand-up comedy and stand-up comedians in the country and neither can one overlook their presence in the ad space. tried to dig deep into this phenomenon and trace back its genesis and understand the appeal it holds for brands.

A new phenomenon?

M G Parameswaran

While it is true that more and more brands are latching on to the format of stand-up comedy when it comes to their ad communication, it is by no means a ‘new phenomenon’. Recalling an incident from his agency days, M G Parameswaran, Founder,, said, “I remember introducing Chax (KS Chakravarthy) my then NCD to Seinfeld around eight years ago. Chax loved the series and binge watched them over the next 10 days. He wanted to see how to use the ‘Stand Up Comic’ format for a brand. And wanted to do it in the most impactful way possible.”

“In 2011, when Tata Docomo signed on Ranbir Kapoor and decided to take a strong position on IPL, Chax had his big moment. With his team in Delhi he created the character of Ranbir Kapoor as the stand-up comic. If my memory serves me right, that was the first time a big brand decided to use the stand-up route to sell its benefits with the overall promise of ‘Keep It Simple Silly’,” he added.

Saurabh Uboweja

Saurabh Uboweja, CEO, Brands of Desire, too, agrees that stand-up comedy in its modern avatar is about a decade old in India. But the concept of going to open mic nights and attending stand-up comedy shows by their favourite artists is finding more purchase among the youth. Add to that the massive following stand-up comedians can boast of today and it was only a matter of time before brands latched on to the format too.

“A few factors have contributed to the popularity of stand-up comedy and stand-up comedians. The ubiquity of internet videos and social sharing for one. The rise and acceptance of the stand-up comedy industry in India in the last decade, first with TV shows and then the frequent gigs in key metro cities. Stand-up comedians today are at par with the rock stars of the music industry. They get invited to all the key events to add a dash of humour and emotion to otherwise mundane settings,” said Uboweja.

While brands have traditionally used celebrities and sports stars to pass on their message, stand-up comedians also provided a change of scene. Here was a host of potential brand ambassadors hitherto unexplored and who came with the added advantage of being social media ‘influencers’.

Shivaji Dasgupta

Shivaji Dasgupta, Founder, INEXGRO Brand Advisory, also feels that the popularity of the format can be attributed to Indians and their increasing ability to take a joke (however fantastic that notion seems) and its role as a bridge between people, age no bar.

“Unlike the past, Indians today are more self-assured and comfortable laughing at themselves. Also, the second reason is the popularity of this format as corporate and family entertainment, uniting everyone from teens to middle-aged people to the older generation,” said Dasgupta.

Amit Akali

Amit Akali, Chief Creative Officer, Medulla Communications and What’s Your Problem, whose agency (Medulla Communications) made the widely acclaimed #LaughAtDeath campaign for The Indian Association of Palliative Care (IAPC), also feels that associating with stand-up comedians helps in the creation process of the communication.

“These stand-up comedians are obviously, very creative people. They helped a lot in the actual creation process of the communication. The script, the way the idea was presented was all a part of the package and they took the creativity to a fantastic level. I also think it was an easy way out for a lot of brands. Give a stand-up comedian a product and tell them to do something fun around the product,” said Akali.

Santosh Padhi

Santosh Padhi, Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder, Taproot Denstu, is also of the view that humour is an easy way out for brands that don’t have anything unique to tell.

“Many products that don’t have any USP hide behind humour. Take the whole category of hard-boiled candy, all of them take the humour route. When you don’t have a USP to sell your product on, then the goal is to be remembered and humour can do that,” said Padhi.

Also, the evolving consumers of today don’t want to be preached to and therefore it was important for brands to change with changing times.

Pallav Jain

“I believe the digital audience likes to watch a campaign which is funny yet engaging. Now brands just can't get away by educating the TG. It has to be packaged well. That's where the stand-up comedy comes into the picture. As for us, the LazyPay feature is aimed at providing convenience and premium check out experience to customers who transact digitally repeatedly in small value transactions on online portals. Hence our brand films were going to be content-driven and the comedians will be given a free reign to create their own content and talk about it for the major part of the film. If it is a 30-second spot, we had the comedian deliver a completely non-branded joke for the first 25 seconds and use the last five seconds to bind that joke to the product itself. Our first film had a complete view rate on YouTube almost 2X more than the industry average – which clearly demonstrates the power of that content-driven advertising,” said Pallav Jain, Head, Consumer Business, PayU India.

A tight-rope walk:

While humour is a great way to break the ice and start a conversation, if done wrong, it can also fall flat on its face. There is no room to hide behind when doing stand-up comedy, if you can’t capture the laughs from the get go, then it will invariably end in a disaster.

“The pitfall for using stand-up comedians is that the humour is black and white so it can either be a hit or turn out to be a miss. Typically, digital campaigns are short format so humour has to be spot on and hit the right note. There should be an immediate connection with the audience,” said Jain.

But stand-up comedy offers brands a unique platform to interact with their consumers. While it is immensely popular, it is still largely under-explored and uncluttered.

George Koovor

George Koovor, Group Creative Director, OgilvyOne Worldwide, Mumbai believes the benefits of using stand-up comedy in ad communication is very straight-forward.

“The benefits are obvious, brands increase their reach by piggybacking on a popular genre on the internet,” said Koovor.

But according to him, the pitfalls of using stand-up comedy can be equally crucial.

“The pitfall of using stand-up comedy or stand-up comedians is that comedy or the comic dominates the idea and people don't make the brand connect. And yes, it is a very thin tightrope that you are treading on – brands have to make up their minds if they want the medium to be remembered or the message,” added Koovor.

According to Uboweja, it also humanises the brand.

“Stand-up comedy offers a creative outlet for brands, beyond the usual ‘I am the best’ rhetoric which brands end up spurting out during typical commercials. It allows brands to be more human allowing a deeper connect with their audience. In that sense, yes, it’s a useful and credible medium for brands to embrace and leverage,” said Uboweja.

So, is it a trend?

“I don’t think the concept has enough meat to be identified as a trend. A trend gets set when the idea cuts ice with a certain segment of people and a brand stands to gain something from it. For example, is gender equality a trend? Yes. When brands come out in support of gender equality then they are giving out the message that they are progressive and forward thinking. There is an incentive for a brand to latch on it. There is no such incentive for a brand to get behind stand-up comedy as a format,” explained Padhi.

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