Humour across borders

Does humour travel across borders? A few tips for global marketers

24th Sep 2014

Humour is one of the basic features of social interaction that makes us human, and there is no doubt that this concept is embraced all around the world.

For marketers looking for a unique way to cut through the run-of-the-mill clutter, humour can be effective in building rapport, triggering memory, and creating alignment with the audience. However, humour is defined and expressed in many different ways, and is rooted deeply in cultural and linguistic context. Through a careful selection of humorous ads from around the world, Creative Culture has gathered some glocal tips for global marketers looking to take advantage of this emotive tool.

Know your audience

It is one of the most foundational concepts of the marketing process. Knowing the target market and audience is vital to understanding what form of humour should be expressed, and to what degree. For example, one Israeli coffee brand made by international food and beverage giant Strauss Group, uses the idea of stereotyping to create a comedic connection with the audience. Using exaggerated stereotypes to highlight the interviewer’s perceived Turkish origin, the nervous job applicant (with the help of his personified conscience) is able to alter his choice of drink, a selection that would hopefully increase his chances of landing the job. The reality is that if the target audience doesn’t understand that moustaches are a cultural hit across the Middle East, but not so much in Israel, the humour might just get lost in translation. In fact, moustaches are more than just a cultural statement in Turkey, as various styles can represent different leadership styles and political affiliations. As soon as the applicant understands this reality, he immediately gestures the Israeli sign for a small glass of coffee, or in other words, קפה טורקי: “Turkish coffee”.

Language-specific puns can yield a viral pay-out

This is certainly the case for American retailer, Kmart, who reminds the audience what makes puns so funny. At first listen, one might think that these ads should not be allowed to air without being censored, but a closer listen will reveal what Kmart is really trying to communicate. The series of viral ads relies heavily on language-centred humour, while also harnessing the understanding that Americans tend to embrace more “in-your-face” humour, in comparison to other markets. How do you think this type of humour would fare in the UK?

Another example of this comes from an American insurance company, Geico. The brand decided to exemplify a term that is typically used only in English speaking markets. The ad takes place in an office setting, and introduces a talking camel to help celebrate the success of making it halfway through the workweek.  The witty TVC generated over 20 million hits on YouTube alone, and demonstrates how using language or culture can be a very effective means to connect with the target audience.

Always link humour back to your brand’s mission and message

While taking the leap of incorporating humour into a campaign could be well worth the risk, sticking to a consistent brand message should always remain at the forefront. Global car manufacturer, Ford, makes a good case for this, as they prove that foundational brand messaging can be communicated in a number of comedic and relevant ways. For one of their ads targeting a Thai audience, the automotive brand used a fictional character recognized by many (King-Kong), to humorously shine light on the relationship between a parent and its child – an idea that transcends borders and remains as universal as Ford’s key brand message: Built tough.

In a more recent effort to incorporate a new global brand message into its marketing, Ford Canada uses a funny, out-of-this world scenario to communicate its Go further campaign. It is clear that this concept was carefully linked back to the overall message of the resulting campaign. While the ad is certainly humorous, its creative success lies in its ability to communicate Ford’s brand messaging without the use of words.

Whether cultures prefer satire, slapstick or more aggressive humour, the fact remains that this human expression exists in every area of the world.  Once understanding the cultural and linguistic influences that impact the value of humour, successful marketers can utilize this device to help define their brand, and make it more relatable and compelling. The key to its effectiveness is found in the insight.

By Alexander Knight

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