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Good advertising is no laughing matter

Smiley, face, emojiHumour, it seems, does not endear itself to the ‘culture police’ and the enforcers of political correctness of Australia. That genre of advertising is foremost in complaints received by the Australian Advertising Standards Bureau. Really!

The Holden placement which featured a young son echoing the words of his father, with the statement, “bloody caravanners”, recorded the highest number of submissions, (166), during 2015. Those were dismissed by the regulatory authority. Nonetheless, General Motors Holden felt obliged to reshoot the piece and remove the offending word, “bloody”. Sad.

The intrusions on creativity and originality extend to retail with shopfront signs. A Sydney photography business elicited countless responses for this creatively worded offer:

“We can shoot your wife, frame your mother-in-law and hang them both”.


What is it about double entendre that some people don’t recognise, understand and enjoy? The clever, humorous shopfront sign was removed, under direction from the advertising bureau.

A national study of some 1800 adult Australians conducted in late 2015 found that 79 per cent of respondents nominated humour to be the style of advertising that they most appreciated. Moreover, 95 per cent of those same people contended that “good” advertising can influence their buying behaviour. The typical piece features light-hearted and good-natured humour. It is sad that the voices of so few can drown out the expressions and preferences of so many.

Stop being boring

Sadly, an overwhelming majority of contemporary advertising is considered to be dull, boring and repetitive. An over-emphasis on price minimises the power and relevance of emotions, creativity, innovation and originality. Look no further than the average catalogue. These are largely read by, and responded to by, those who have already decided to buy.

Effective humour-based advertising typically pushes the boundaries, is irreverent and arresting. Use is often made of nostalgia to stimulate greater emotional responses.

It generates comments and responses. Above all, it can and does create the setting for enquires, sales, repeat business and referrals.

The Australian Lamb Marketing Board advertising, which features former AFL football character, Sam Kekovich, is a case in point. Each year, just prior to Australia Day, the ‘Lamb Bassador’ emerges with a new multimedia advertising campaign that holds little appeal to vegetarians. Indeed, they are often the butt of his edgy comments. Hard to swallow for some, it seems.

What is the true measure of the ongoing advertising campaign? Be assured, these campaigns are the topics of many conversations at barbeques on Australia Day. Look closely at the fare on offer, and one will conclude it really is “un-Australian not to enjoy lamb” on the nation’s own day.

Marketers and advertising need to recognise and respect the fact that their brands, products, services, applications and advertising will not appeal, or be relevant, to all. Some may well be offended. So what? That is the nature of societal interactions. Unintended offense and disconnection are often a natural by-product of mass media advertising.

Advertising objectives

In creating effective advertising, marketing, merchandising and promotional campaigns, it is important to outline, detail and document the set objectives, regardless of the style and genre, or the channels to be employed. These objectives can and do vary, but can include:

  • Stimulate interest
  • Create awareness
  • Generate attention
  • Entertain
  • Cause pause (and contemplation)
  • Establish relevance
  • Cause traffic
  • Conclude a sale

The process of advertising counts for little if the outcomes aren’t attained and, hopefully, sustained. If all that a humorous advertisement achieves is to elicit a laugh, or to offend, then what is the point?

The success of the Yellow Pages advertising campaigns centred on “Not Happy Jan”, and “The Gog-go-mobile” speaks volumes about targeted messages, with a touch of irreverence.

So too the Meerkats’ “Compare the Market” placements about health insurance policies, premiums and the use of the term “son of a mongoose” in commenting on competitive entities. Very edgy.

Eliciting a limited number of complaints from non-targeted individuals – who would typically be labelled as “killjoys” – should not be of itself a reason to “kill” an advertisement.

The marketplace has spoken. Humour does resonate, with impact – it influences and stimulates positive buying actions from people.

When it comes to commerce, sales and revenue, humour is no laughing matter.

Make a statement

Within 48 hours of the tragic recent terrorist attacks on Brussels airport and subway system, a global fast food network reintroduced an advertisement whose genesis was a statutory protest campaign in New Zealand. It simply featured a bucket of frites (french fries, a national Belgian dish, served with mayonnaise) projecting a distinct image of a human hand with an unmistakable raised middle finger.

This was a statement of defiance, solidarity and national pride. The terrorists, Belgians and the world, got the message.

Little credence, or time, would be accorded to any submissions or complaints to the relevant Advertising Standards Bureau. Certainly not politically correct. But, telling, expressive and effective.

Barry Urquhart from Marketing Focus is a marketing strategist and analyst based in Perth and can be contacted at

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