So wrong it’s right

Lenny Bruce once said that “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” For me, at the core of this observation is the key to what makes humour so potent. While on the surface, it often appears lightweight, flippant and fun, look closely at the mechanics of any good joke and you’ll find a powerful human truth. Which is why it’s the perfect tool for advertising. Comedy takes truth and wraps it in the unexpected; it disarms its audience of their preconceptions and forces them to look at the world in a different way…which is exactly what brands are trying to do.

When it’s a generic joke with a packshot and logo on the end, the gag might be remembered but the brand probably won’t. But when used effectively in advertising – with intelligence, insight and relevance – humour can brilliantly capture the imagination and sway people to your message. And when it’s unexpected for the product or subject matter, when ‘funny’ feels weird, wrong or unusual, it’s often at the height of its potency.

I’ve written before about ‘the power of total wrongness’ and I’ve tried to use humour myself with a serious purpose. It’s not easy to get right but I think the ad above, by McCann Erickson New York, is a brilliant example of laughter in service of changing people’s minds. It’s a simple observational piece that’s cleverly set in everyday middle American advertising land, with a rug-pull that delivers seven shades of wrongness and ten tonnes of toe-curling comedy. And out of that rare combination comes, ultimately, a terrifyingly indisputable point.


About antmelder
Executive Creative Director at Host/Havas Sydney; passionate vegetarian; lover of books, boxing and Bruce Springsteen.

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