Humor in Advertising: Is live action funnier than cartoons?

When it comes to web videos, humor can be a powerful selling tool. Funny videos are among the most watched on the web—and the most effective. But who decides what’s funny and what isn’t?

Humor in advertising? These web videos for Ernest Packaging are an interesting case study. A few years ago, I was hired to develop a series of web videos. The scripts were written with slapstick humor in mind. But then the agency creative director, for some reason, changed his mind and produced the scripts in a completely different way, using still photos and animation. Which begs the question: does the humor still work?

Funny or Not?

The client, Ernest Packaging Solutions, makes custom shipping containers that can withstand anything—cold, heat, extreme weather, even inept delivery guys. They were looking for a funny way to show what they could do. In the resulting video campaign, called “The Ernest Challenge,” the CEO of the company is given a series of outlandish challenges.

Humor in advertising: Ernest Packaging vs a bull elephant—who will win?Examples included packaging that could:
• stop snow cones from melting in the heat of the Mohave Desert.
• protect a fragile hurricane lamp from an actual hurricane.
• cushion a Ming vase from a rogue elephant attack. (To make it more challenging, we filled the vase with peanuts).

Humor in Advertising

While writing the scripts, I imagined the videos would be funny in a slapstick, Super Dave Osborne kind of way. Using cheesy effects and editing, we would see the CEO get squashed by an elephant, flooded by fire hoses, swept away by hurricane winds and blown up by explosives—but the Ernest packages would always remain unscathed.

Humor in Advertising: Ernest Packaging vs. a hurricaneBut then everything changed.

The agency decided to produce the videos using still photography and animation techniques. So, for example, instead of actually seeing the elephant grab the CEO and slam him to the ground, or stomp him so he’s totally flat except for his head and feet, we see the same action created in Photoshop and After Effects.

Is it still funny? Is the idea still effective? Are the product demonstrations still believable?  The only thing I’m sure about—humor in advertising only works if the final product is actually funny.



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