Is humour the new sex in advertising?

Malboro billboard advert, smoking maybe be hazardous to your health, that's why only real men do it
I’m not sure if I am alone on this one, but whenever I watch TV most of the ads I see tend to aim at leaving the viewers laughing more than anything else.

Sex has been employed in advertising since the beginning of advertising. It has been predominantly used to draw attention to a product, with a goal to make a sale.

The sexual imagery used usually has no connection to the product advertised.

While listening to the Metro FM’s Breakfast Show a couple of weeks back, the DJ asked the listeners to call-in and share their faviourite (currently on-air) adverts. All of the adverts the listeners mentioned as their favourites were ads that had a some sort of a ‘punch line’ at the end.
Most of the callers couldn’t stop giggling while they were sharing their favourites with other listeners.

It’s clear that the ads made it to the viewers ‘faviourites list’ simply because they made them laugh. The same kind of adverts resurrect whenever ‘cool’ adverts become part of the conversation whenever I converse with friends, family and complete strangers.
Before labeling an ad as a success, does the advertiser and the ad’s intended audience judge the ad on the same audience (re)action?

Some ads even managed to make me laugh so hard that I’d be in tears. But, I have never bought and I doubt I’ll ever buy most of the products that were being advertised, though I fall within the advertiser’s targeted market. KFC also has some funny TV ads, again most make me laugh until my poor t-shirt drowns in my tears. However, the disturbing thing is that I really don’t remember or even have noticed which of their product range was advertised.

Most ads have some sort of ‘story or play’ happening for 99% of the time and then only get to say, name or show the product being sold at the last 2 seconds of the ad.
The product usually loses the spotlight to the ‘joke’.

I have a friend named Tshepho, almost all the time we watch TV together and an ad he liked just went by, he’ll go “tjo, ah advert yela e blind san!” (wow, that ad is a killer man). And most of the times I can tell when he is about to say his ‘phrase of approval’ before he even utters a word.
Why? Because he’d already be laughing like there’s no tomorrow, occasionally with a round of applause.

I know that with the countless number of marketing messages we consume daily, an ad that seriously made me laugh is likely to stay in my already over-populated mind for some time to come, while some ads never get to part ways with my memory.

People really do fall in love with ads; my dad would at times shout my younger brother’s name, just calling him to come see his favourite ad. But does that translate into a sale or at least a brand building exercise that might be a sale someday?
Do consumers really make their final buying decision based on who made them laugh the most?

The biggest contrast between sex and humour in advertising is that sex is mainly used to attract audience to the ad, while humour is only exercised after the ad has attracted the viewers’ attention.

Is there any logical reasons for advertisers to play comedians?

  • Semblance Said:

    It is great if an advert can make you laugh. I suppose the idea behind the advertisers is to grab the viewer’s attention to watch the advert. But it is rather pointless when it goes off the subject and don’t carry the message of the product across. Some adverts’ story line is beating around the bush so much that it completely looses the plot and you actually have no idea why the product should be bought. Great post!
    — On April 7th, 2009 at 11:38 am [permarlink]
  • Dithapelo kgonyane Said:


    I personally like the KFC and telkom ads (story teller) because in the end, most of this ad shows how their organisation can bring solutions to our daily lives. In the KFC ad, the boy was tired of his grandfather using his head as a napkin then KFC (streetwise two) became a solution to the problem.

    Telkom ad, people in the rural areas can still reach friends and family who lives miles away.

    I also think MTN is finding a way back since they have been failing for the past few years!

    — On April 8th, 2009 at 12:14 am [permarlink]
  • Mokokoma Mokhonoana Said:


    I agree, a lot of times the product being sold is not told. Thanks for your complement on this post.


    My questioning was whether the employment of humour in advertising adds any value to the sale of product sold or at least the overall branding efforts.
    — On April 9th, 2009 at 10:38 am [permarlink]
  • James Kurtz III Said:

    I agree that humor has taken a more prominent place in advertising lately. Whether or not it’s the “new sex” is a whole other thing. But I think it has become so prominent because advertisers are competing for our attention more than before. It’s much easier to skip past an ad than it used to be and it’s harder to be noticed amongst the larger advertising marketplace. But I think most importantly is that advertising can now be passed along via the internet and “go viral.” Basically I think it’s a shift in thinking from ads as a necessary evil to ads as content onto themselves.
    — On April 11th, 2009 at 5:00 pm [permarlink]
  • Mokokoma Mokhonoana Said:

    James Kurtz III,

    Attention is now a scares commodity, I agree. But I believe when I am busy watching an ad, at that moment, the advertiser is not really competing for my attention – as their ad would already have my attention.

    I think homour is more likely to succeed in having consumer remember the ad, and hopefully the product sold than in attracting attention.

    The question is, does the laughter of the audience actually translate into a profits or whatever the ad intends to achieve?

    Thanks for sharing your views.
    — On April 12th, 2009 at 3:44 pm [permarlink]
  • James Kurtz III Said:

    “The question is, does the laughter of the audience actually translate into a profits or whatever the ad intends to achieve?”

    I think the more eyes that see the ad the more profitable it becomes. Which is kind of what I was getting at with the ads going viral. Humorous videos are more likely to be passed along and willingly viewed these days, thus more eyes and more sales.
    — On April 13th, 2009 at 3:38 pm [permarlink]
  • Dithapelo Kgonyane Said:


    What do you think of Nando’s ad (Julius Malema), remember the was this one “choose between A,N,C and it was banned because of political influences but i recently read an article by Nando’s Communications Manager on The Times news paper, he said their aim to to inform people of the current issues happening around SA and they prefer to use this issues to ad more spices to their flavour!

    I’d like you hear your views on this one.
    — On April 13th, 2009 at 5:09 pm [permarlink]
  • Mokokoma Mokhonoana Said:

    James Kurtz III,

    “Humorous videos are more likely to be passed along and willingly viewed these days, thus more eyes and more sales.“Not necessarily.

    A sale is ‘made’ from a consumer who not only need or want a product but who’ll actually take the step to go and buy the product sold.

    Not every person that will get to see an ad falls within the product’s targeted market.

    And out of those who are ‘qualified leads’, how many of them will find the ad desirable enough to make a purchase?I think an ad that reaches 500 000 people, where 98 percent are the product’s targeted market is way better than an ad that is seen by a million viewers, where 98 percent of them aren’t really people who’d want or need the product sold.

    Dithapelo Kgonyane,

    Nandos’s usage of the country’s current affairs (politics) into their advertisements must be a challenge for their creative team but I think it’s a very interesting approach. None of their competitors does this, so that’s another way that helps Nandos standout.

    I think consumer are so exposed to too much promises and sales pitches that no advertiser wants to spend most of their ad’s airplay, promising or selling.

    What brands do now is entertain the audience and then dedicate the last few seconds of the ad to selling their product.
    — On April 13th, 2009 at 10:45 pm [permarlink]
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