Marketers – what a bunch of comedians

Guest blog from David Nichols, brandgym Head of Invention (and also musical writer and performer)

I have just read an interesting piece by Rory Sutherland of OgilvyOne on the Marketing Society blog on Comedy, Advertising and Behavioural Economics. He raises the same questions that are being asked in many other places at the moment:

-       How does advertising really work?

-       How do we affect people’s buying behaviour, not just their attitudes?

-       How do we judge advertising to be ‘good’?

He looks at comedy as an analogy, drawing on the recent book by comedian Stewart Lee.  I really like this approach because I have always thought that logical, concept tested arguments do not make effective, or good, adverts.  When a piece of communication has been constructed by a committee of marketers, using focus groups to build the most logical story that explains a benefit, the result is almost always poor: like a joke written by a computer.

Many of our clients are struggling with developing global or multi-market campaigns, in a bid to gain significant economies of scale.  However, the process of developing these ads is usually 12 months or more of qualitative and quantitative testing, concept crafting and then ‘creative’ development.  It seems doomed to failure.


Rory Sutherland gives a few clues, as does Byron Sharp in ‘How Brands Grow” based on the academic studies of Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, that we posted on here.

1.   Too much focus on changing attitudes, rather than behaviour

-       So much of advertising is intent on changing consumer’s attitudes to a brand.  Data is now showing that this is misspent effort.  Attitudes do not directly affect purchase behaviour. 

2.   Too much focus on the content of comms, rather than the effect

-       Creative ideas are just that, creative. Trying to analyze every scene of an ad to ‘maximise’ it will not guarantee effectiveness. 

-       Looking at how people behave once they have been exposed to a campaign is a surer guide to its effectiveness.  Do they remember it?  Can they tell which brand it was for?  Etc.  Some new ad evaluation methodologies are starting to do this.

3.   Logic is overrated in communications

-       Rory makes an excellent point that expecting consumers to understand the logic behind an ad is hugely restrictive, and asks a lot of people who are just waiting for the footie to come on.

In Summary

Comedians don’t need you to understand why a joke is funny, they just want you to laugh.  Maybe marketers would do better if they actually were a bunch of comedians (rather than just being called this by the Finance Director).