Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Make ‘Em Laugh! But Be Careful…

One of the best ways to gain attention is through humor. Comedy sticks in your brain. It releases endorphins which put you in a good mood triggered by what you are watching. Personally, I think Geico is the Master here. Besides the Gecko and Cave Men, they also have what I call “serious guy”. He tells you that Geico will save you 15% or more on your car insurance. To prove he’s not lying he asks “Was Abe Lincoln Honest?” This is followed by a hilarious fake film clip designed to look like it was from the Civil War. The one with the little piggy crying “wee wee wee” all the way home is equally memorable. Geico has a whole channel of these on YouTube. They are really entertaining and might save you 15% or more on your car insurance.
These ads work because the message is simple (save money on your insurance), are linked to iconic characters, and are genuinely funny. We are talking classic comedy here. The kind your kids and mom can appreciate. It helps you to link Geico to positive emotions. Ask anyone about Geico and they start to chuckle. The simple message sticks in you head. Even if you don’t know how much they claim to save you,  you will recall that they save you money because it is linked to a positive emotional response.

You knew there was a gotcha here though. There are a lot of ways to take that positive feeling, turn it around 180 degrees, and trash your product message. Here’s my hit list of ways to turn funny into lost opportunity:
  1. Use mean stereotypes. A recent Storwize video portrays a a storage administrator -  an IT professional and presumably a customer - as an overweight, sweaty guy dressed in a white short sleeve shirt and tiny black tie. In other words, he’s Dilbert. He even gets abused by his data storage. A true loser. This has just got to insult IT people. And overweight people too. Lovely, a twofer. I did check with some sysadmins/IT pros I know about this. They were not amused.
  2. Being ironic. As in hipster ironic not real irony. Advertising that is full of snarky, insider jokes never works. Inevitably, someone doesn’t get the joke. Tech advertising can be like this. You try to be funny but it comes across as geeky. It’s all the internal references and acronyms folks. It doesn’t play well with the people who have to write the checks or the end users. Now, reduce it to a twitter Tweet and you get a lot of “Huh?” reactions. If your ad is making a play on the word iSCSI, it will have a small audience.
  3. Complex messages. Geico’s ads work (just like the Budweiser frogs) because the message is straightforward. Technology advertising tends to be a tad more complex. As in incomprehensible. How can you be funny when you jam  several technical and business messages into 3 minutes? You can’t. Even if you start out funny, you are soon mired in Dullsville. Keep It Simple! When Dell ran a serious of ads full of colorful laptops being created to the song lollipop, it was cute, delightful, and humorous. It also got the message across that a laptop was a treat, something you enjoy and not just a tool. You ruin funny when you add complexity.
  4. No message at all or no connection to the product. Lots of these abound, especially in print. No pictures or mention of a product. Something cute and funny that grabs our attention and then… nothing. You have to connect the good feelings that the humor gives you to something. Otherwise the arousal is lost in space.
  5. Overdo it. One of the few places Geico blew it was when they overexposed the Cave Men. A whole TV show devoted to them was quite over the top. When you see or hear something repeatedly, you start to like it more. After a certain point, however, it gets overexposed and you begin to like it less. Psychologists have known about this behavior (called the Familiarity Principle) since the early 1960’s.
I like funny advertising. I love funny blogs, Tweets, songs and jingles, websites, Facebook posts, and videos. It gives me a good feeling which I then transfer to whatever it is someone is trying to sell. It might not close a sale but it puts the company on the list of “products to look at”.

A local company called Mighty Taco (awesome fast food by the way) has humorous placemats that often feature something local like the Queen City Roller Girls roller derby league. They also have a bunch of weird, quirky commercials that you only see late at night when it’s cheap. Even their website is funny. The message is simple - “Eat our food!” If you live anywhere near Buffalo, NY, the very mention of the name Mighty Taco makes you smile. That’s perfect advertising.

Only, now I’m hungry. Perhaps it worked too well.


Steve said...

Tom, really?

First, I want to thank you for getting the Geico reference right off - it is actually what I had in mind when I did the series - and yes there will be more - so I must have done something right.

Second - Dilbert! Exactly! So for years, people have been laughing "with" Dilbert, not AT Dilbert and now you pick it a part to call it unfunny?

Tom, normally you and I are on the same page, not sure what missed here.

The reality is, social media is changing. Videos can be funny in what can be a very dull day for IT. When was the last time you said to your IT guy, "hey, thanks for keeping Outlook up all day, I got all my mail on time! - Thanks!" - the answer - never so lets throw a little humor out there and brighten a few days - and if we can drive some traffic, great.

Tom Petrocelli said...

Hi Steve,

I ran the ad past some IT guys I knew and they were a bit offended. The common response was "Do they think I'm like that!" It's not a function of social, new, or old media. It's about comedy. That's why comedy can be dangerous. What may seem funny to some are not to others and what may seem funny at one point isn't funny later.
I remember an ad many years ago for a voice system, basically an auto attendant. They had a picture of a woman in bondage gear with the caption "It's like having a secretary in bondage." The ad was open on my desk and the VP of Administration, a women, saw it and said "We'll never buy anything from them, right?" I said right. Some of the guys thought it was funny. Not me though. Really...