Copywriting Best Practices: Using Humor to Conceal a Product Message
by Graeme Newell
-Repetition is one of the most powerful ways to build awareness of a slogan or product feature.
-Repetition that annoys customers can effectively drive an immediate action, but is a less effective strategy for building a brand relationship.
-Strong creative approaches can conceal the repetition, making the ad more interesting, even downright fun.
-Humor and repetition are a highly effective combo.
This is part two on best practices for using repetition in advertising. Read part one on musical repetition.
So there I am, doing an emotional marketing workshop for 30 people and trying to remember everyone’s name. Each of us has our own little tricks for remembering names, but for me the most effective technique is a two-step process. I start with repetition. I go around the room, look each person in the eye and say their name, out loud or under my breath, three times. But the second part of this process is what really makes the names stick. I assign each person an imaginary action or role. There is Doug (or “dug” as I think of him) digging a hole. There is Kim singing her heart out on stage just like Lil’ Kim. By entertaining myself with a little story, I make each person more memorable.
The same is true in advertising. Repeating a slogan or product attribute goes a long way towards making that product memorable, but if you really want to achieve brain stickiness, weave that repetition into a story. This is a critical final step that many advertisers miss; their ads simply annoy by doggedly repeating a phrase, when they could be building brand identification with a more fun and entertaining creative approach.
Now don’t get me wrong, any repetition, even annoying repetition, can be very effective. This infamous Head On ad teaches you exactly how to apply it. The late Billy Mays became a superstar creating repetition informercials for products like OxiClean. However, the best ads will carefully conceal the repeated phrase within great creative and remove the annoyance factor.
This local news ad makes the point that the station is “everywhere” by simply repeating the phrase over and over again, while unremarkable pictures of news gathering flash by. It repeatedly whacks you with the word until you remember it and cry uncle. Sure, this phrase will be remembered, but it achieved its goal by beating the viewer into submission.
This ad for Snapple repeats the “better stuff” point 15 times, yet I leave with a smile on my face and a good feeling about the quirky Snapple Brand. Repetition stuck the product feature to my brain, but the great creative also built the customer relationship. Snapple doesn’t need to regress to annoyance. They masterfully concealed their repetition tactics in a fun, approachable ad.
CarMax has built a powerful brand by changing the car buying experience from a painful, long, and drawn-out negotiation to a simpler, less-stressful transaction. Their ads have a single goal – to show that car buying is more enjoyable at CarMax. The great creative in this ad made it a SuperBowl favorite, but when you break it down to its elements, it is nothing more than a standard repetition ad. They make the same point seven times here, yet customers don’t realize it because they are so entranced by the fun creative.
Repetition + Humor
What we see is that humor and repetition are a natural combo. Customers will tolerate, even enjoy, the monotony of a repeated point if it is wrapped in a giggle. Nothing takes the edge off of tedium quite like a good laugh. If you want customers to remember a single point about your product, begin the creative process with comedy.
FedEx wanted customers to remember that they are the leader in international shipping. They made that point seven times in this quirky ad, yet they still created an entertaining little story. While the audio consistently repeats the product attribute, the quirky characters and visuals move the story forward.
Now, take a look at this Career Builder ad that is the real overachiever in the repetition category. They make the point, “If you hate your job” no less than 27 times in this one ad. This kind of amazing repetition leaves a clearly unmistakable product message, yet the viewer is given the gift of a delightful chuckle. Watchers are having such a good time that Career Builder probably could have gotten away with making the point another dozen times. That is the power of concealing repetition within a great story.
So what can you do if you don’t have a zillion dollars for Superbowl-quality creative? Great ads don’t require big budgets. This ad for Lowes uses a funny little pun to clearly makes the point of “next day delivery.” They get a little silly. Most importantly, they use this little Vaudeville-inspired skit to distract the viewer and make the ad less self-serving.
Humor is the most used repetition vehicle, but it isn’t the only one. The distraction can be musical, metaphorical, visual, or even frightening. This spooky ad for Chiller cleverly builds repetition while keeping the viewer amused with all the charm of Christmas and the fun of mutilation. The best workflow is to start with the distraction, then build the repetition around it. Don’t start with your product feature, begin with the emotion.
So check your marketing. Are you making a vain attempt to annoy your customers into loving your brand? Using announcer copy to endlessly repeat a product attribute can drive traffic temporarily but this strategy will ultimately lose out to more comprehensive, customer-focused marketing tactics. Turn your process on its head. Begin your creative approach with the fun, the clever, or the intriguing. Then, slyly weave that repeated product attribute into your entertaining concept.
Next week: the secret sauce of emotional marketing behind Nike’s incredibly successful branding. If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy this article on best practices for customer testimonials, and check out more than 100 other marketing articles at Graeme’s blog.