Can We Still Be Funny? Asks Rob Fletcher, Founder and Creative Partner at isobel

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Frequently I ask the question: “Can we be funny?”. “Well, erm, not ‘funny funny,’” comes the response. “Witty, yes, a little sense of humor, maybe”. It gets me thinking that humor often is the most engaging element of the work we do. I grew up around funny ads. Not just beer ads. Most advertisements back then used comedy to draw you in. I guess it was the lack of SFX and CGI; back then agencies relied on writers. In advertising, in the work we produce, it seems to be an avenue we’re not encouraged to take anymore. And that’s not very funny.

Good creative agencies build cultures around being human, creating real voices for brands and businesses. I think the best human trait is the ability to laugh, to make each other laugh. If you look at the beer brands that we’ve worked with recently, from Greene King to Old Speckled Hen, you can see how we’ve used comedy to communicate. Comedy and beer have always gone hand in hand because it’s at the core of the conversations that we have while we drink pints in the pub. It’s lighthearted, jovial and ultimately, funny.

When we started thinking about Old Speckled Hen we wanted to make sure that what we produced was in line with the identity of the product. It’s a beer that sits outside the norms, we wanted to make that something that stood out. Making their iconic fox a stand-up comedian gave him a character. We wanted him to feel like a man in the pub that you want to stand next to for a chat. We knew that to get the comedy right we had to consult a comedian and that’s how we started working with Mike Shepherd. Mike is a professional stand-up comedian who hosts our regular isobelly Laughs comedy events and is someone who is thinking about comedy 24/7. We wanted to work with him to nail the tone of the jokes in the ads.

Our work for Greene King has a very different tone, it’s a more subtle and insightful style of comedy. It’s universal and uniting, much like the beer – people don’t agree on everything but they agree that they like Greene King. It’s based on the banter of nights in the pub and feels a bit more straightforward. At their core though, both are intensely observational. With MAOAM the brief was about making it as ‘full-on’ as possible so we looked to the comedy of Jim Carey who totally encapsulates that attitude. Anyone being extreme physically like that is fun and it’s engaging to watch when something goes overboard.

Comedy breaks down barriers we might not have previously seen. It’s a powerful tool of communication within ads because used well, it can be irreverent and have a lifespan long after the campaign is finished. Comedy and advertising are so closely linked because they’re all about truths and reflections on society. We want our ads to be entertaining, not just something you’d change the channel to avoid. Sharing a laugh with someone is about more than just a joke being funny — it’s a sign of shared values and viewpoints. Humour is used in almost half of all ads today and we believe that it is still one of the most effective ways to build bridges between brands and people. Even political parties are employing ‘meme creators’ and investing in using new forms of humor to try and engage with different demographics.

We started a comedy night at isobel, not just because they are brilliant fun and a good chance to socialize with all our friends and their friends, but also to remind us that this is a human industry. There’s something incredibly bonding when a person stands up and recounts a personal moment that they’ve experienced. You laugh and nod because you have shared that very same moment and it’s a shock that you’re not the only one. Then you realize the whole room is laughing, that we’ve all experienced that same thing. It’s insightful, it’s a truth and it’s exactly what is at the heart of what we try to do in our agency. We need to find what makes us laugh so we can find more things that connect us than divide us.

Our memories are stuffed full of catchphrases, jingles, and jokes from the ads we watched growing up. We can all remember the first ad that we found funny but these days, with fewer ads using humor, and more of our time taken up by inherently unfunny things: 24/7 news cycles, Netflix documentaries, twitter feeds — is there still time to laugh? We think so. And we think it’s time to put humor back in the spotlight.

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