Humour & Offence in Advertising: A Quick Introduction

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In comedy, there is often the wonderful moment that a subject is brought into discussion that in any other circumstance would be avoided at all costs for fear of causing offence or outrage. Through a comedic medium, not only can these topics be discussed, but it can force people to truly think about them in a way that otherwise would not be possible. The simple reason for this is laughter. It’s hard to escape something if it’s funny, and it’s hard to get mad about something if it made you laugh. Comedy takes your attention hostage and forces you to consider something you might have otherwise ignored. But to use this style of humour and offence in advertising, there are two rules by which you should abide:

  1. Be funny.
  2. Make sure it fits the brand or that it deliberately does not.

Hyundai made an advertisement in which a man attempts suicide by using his exhaust to poison himself, but can’t succeed because his car is inferior to a Hyundai. While dark in tone, it’s not a subject matter alien to comedy. However, people were offended because of how inappropriate the content seemed when aligned with the brand. As an opposite example, at Rogue we present ourselves as an agency that is not afraid of offending, and will even intend to do that from time to time. Such as at an industry event when we attached Rogue promotional magnets to the tampon dispenser in the ladies bathroom with the caption “Is your marketing a bloody mess?”. Visceral, but entirely intended to be so, and it also reflects an attitude that would be found in the attitude of the agency itself.   The subjectivity of humour, offence in advertising is too intricate and complicated to even begin discussing at length in a short post such as this but what should be remembered is that offence is not inherently bad, it can even be the clear intent of the communication, but if it does not feel appropriate with the brand it will most likely fail.