Bring humour back to advertising!

While humorous ads once captivated audiences with their novelty, identifying truly memorable ones has become a challenge in today's market. Advertising leaders share why we are seeing fewer ads that tickle the funny bones

Archana Raj
Updated On
New Update
Listen to this article
0.75x 1x 1.5x
00:00 / 00:00

Delhi: "Unfortunately, humour in ads seems forced these days." "Humour has disappeared from advertising," "Humour is stifled by excessive analysis," and "I miss the genuine humour that was prevalent 8–10 years ago."

These sentiments were shared by Indian advertising leaders reminiscing about the humorous ads from a decade ago when approached by for a story on World Laughter Day, celebrated on the first Sunday of May each year.

In today's world, where life has become increasingly tough and people turn to content for entertainment, humour is one of the strongest tools that can help brands become part of consumers' entertainment experiences when they seek a break from life's challenges.

Rajesh Ramaswamy, Founder of The Script Room, said, “Humour will always be a favourite among the creators and the viewers. In today’s age, when everyone is so stressed out and busy, humour always cuts through and sometimes makes for better communication, as it usually delivers on the product messaging pretty sharply.” 

In contrast, ads are losing their sense of humour, opined the advertising leaders. 

Ajay Gahlaut, Independent Creative, said, “I notice that humour has all but vanished from advertising communication. The messages are veering towards becoming emotional and preachy rather than funny. What little attempts at ‘ humour’ one sees in advertising are distinctly unfunny.”

According to the Oracle Happiness Report, 83% of brands and ad makers are hesitant to use humor in consumer interactions. The report emphasised that there is a need for advertisers and marketers to adopt humor and revamp their audience engagement strategies across different touchpoints

Similarly, Azazul Haque, the former Chief Content Officer, Media Monks, opined that earlier ads used to have different styles and approaches to humour. However, in today’s advertising landscape, he observed a similarity in comedic tones. "I think every joke now sounds the same, looks the same, and everything comes across as a deadpan. 

When attempting to recall ads created today that rely heavily on humour, Haque stated, “I often find myself remembering the plot but struggle to recall the associated brands.” Therefore he said, this shows humor is not standing out and there's no unique identity.

Akashneel Dasgupta, former CCO at Network Advertising, too thinks that lately, most ads miss the mark. “The desperation in trying to be funny shows, and nothing is worse than a joke that's not landed. Somehow, I miss the idea of humour that existed 8–10 years ago.”

Hemant Shringy, the newly appointed CCO at FCB Ulka, stated, “I don’t know why I feel ads were funnier earlier. Maybe it’s nostalgia at play. Or maybe, as a child, I was easily tickled.”

Ashish Chakravarty, Executive Director and India Head of Creative at McCann Worldgroup, commented that while brands occasionally incorporate humour into their ads, many of them don't quite land well and leave room for improvement.

Furthermore, he added, 'Increasingly, brands want to participate in social conversations, and it has become fashionable to create content and ads around such topics. Therefore, there are fewer instances of humour in ads.”

Ashish Khazanchi, Managing Partner at Enormous, said, “A lot has to do with trends. Ten years ago, humour was dominating the advertising landscape. Many brands were built on humorous ads, so everyone attempted humour, but not all were successful. Then the trend of socially driven, cause-driven advertising came to the forefront." 

Dasgupta added his take on the rise of emotional and serious ads, saying, “It is much easier to make someone cry. Everyone laughs at different things, and that's why there is a concept of 'sense of humour'. Everyone, though, feels sad about probably the same things. There is no 'sense of tragedy'.” 

Having said everything above, Gahlaut asserted that the principles of humour remain the same. Human nature remains the same. “It is just as difficult, or easy, to make people smile now as it was a hundred years ago. It took talent, then. It takes talent now,” he said. 

There are numerous reports stating that humour in ads is effective at capturing the audience's attention. For example, a happiness report from Oracle two years ago found that 90% of people are more likely to remember ads that are funny, and 72% of people would choose a humorous brand over the competition.

In fact, to encourage the usage of humour in ads, in November 2023, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity announced that it would add a new humour category to its 2024 awards. “Work entered into this category should use wit and satire to provide amusement and create memorable, laughter-inducing connections with audiences,” it wrote on its website.

According to Shivil Gupta, Creative and Strategy Consultant, if one talks about the world's most liked advertisements, then undoubtedly humorous ads will definitely find a place in that list. Just as everyone likes people with a good sense of humour, similarly, the chances of acceptance of a humorous advertisement are very high. "Unfortunately, forced humour is seen more in today's advertisements. To create a brilliantly funny ad, you have to relate the chaos of life to the need for the product in a humorous way, which is not an easy task at all,” he added.

Humour can be subjective, and something funny to one person may be perceived as insensitive by another. Given that some brands have faced criticism for their attempts at humour when their intentions were to appear witty and funny, many brands now choose to avoid this approach.

Gahlaut added, “Offlate people have developed extremely thin skin and tend to take offence at the slightest provocation. This has led to the erosion of humour. So brands and agencies deem it more prudent to make safe, quasi-emotional, cause-related communication.”

Having a different point of view, Shringy shared an incident: “The other day I was listening to a podcast with four comedians talking about some really sensitive topics, and I was constantly worried that one of them may end up crossing the line. They were spontaneously building on what the other was saying, and they were really pushing the envelope with humour. And yet, they didn’t cross the line. I think it’s about being aware. I don’t think it’s subjective. And neither can you ‘attempt’ to be funny or ‘try’ not be offensive. You either are or you’re not. You can be sensitively humorous.”

KV Sridhar, aka Pops, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Hypercollective, emphasised that good humour transcends age barriers; it's universally appreciated. However, truly effective humour operates on a deeper level, relying on great insights. 

“When humour playfully challenges my intelligence, it's engaging, but when it feels forced, it can fall flat,” he added. 

This is part one of the story. will continue to celebrate World Laughter Day on Monday, May 6, 2024.