Ads have been trying to make funny since the earliest days of advertising. Contentville.com and Budweiser, with its "Whassup" TV commercials, are just two of many companies running humorous campaigns today. But sometimes the funniest ads don't ever bring in the business. Just ask Pets.com, whose wacky sock puppet couldn't save the company from bankruptcy. How do you make people laugh and sell your product, too?
After its darkly humorous 1999 "When I Grow Up" ad campaign-featuring children spouting future goals such as "I want to be forced into early retirement"-Maynard, Massachusetts-based online recruiter Monster.com knew it had to get more specific about the company's purpose. "We wanted to focus on the power of Monster, what it does," says Zhennaa Gallagher, the company's advertising director. After working on at least 15 concepts, Gallagher and her team focused on Ted, an employee who posts his resume on Monster and suddenly becomes fascinating to everyone in town. Employers fall all over themselves to hire him; newspaper headlines trumpet his name and ponder his future. People want Ted.
But does being funny make money? Gallagher thinks so. "We've learned that people just want to laugh," she says. The ad attempts to go a crucial step further, however, and connect viewers with the brand. "People can relate to Ted's situation," Gallagher says. "This ad says you can be loved. It's a call to action." And it's worked, she says. While the "Ted" spot ran, the number of resumes posted per day increased from 15,000 to 23,000. Monster's 2000 revenue soared to $349.2 million.
How it rates: The experts unanimously like Monster's approach. "The use of humor and its delivery does a very good job of driving home the main point of the ad," says Mary Ann Stutts, a professor of marketing at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos.
"The 'Ted' ad shows that if you post [your resume on Monster, it'll] make you desirable and people will want you," agrees Richard Zien, co-founder and president of Mendelsohn Zien Advertising in Los Angeles.
How to use humor: The experts agree that wackiness for the sake of wackiness isn't enough. "Offbeat humor is fine, but unless there's a strategic link to how the product relates to the consumer, it won't be effective," Zien says. He points to Charmin as a classic example of a product that conveys a main selling point-softness-by telling consumers in an amusing way not to squeeze it.
Also, keep in mind your demographics. Humor is generational, and consumers of certain products, like food and health care, may not appreciate your attempts at humor. "In those cases, customers need reassurance, not zaniness," says Sarah Patterson, a managing partner at ad agency Ogilvy Mather in Chicago.
Monster plans on more wackiness in 2001. Says Gallagher, "Humor will definetely play a major role in our next campaign."
Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.