When was the last time you laughed at an ad?

“A joke is a very serious thing,” –Sir Winston Churchill.

I don’t mean a giggle, I mean full out crack up in your chair. Spread the laughs across the room, share them with your guests.

When was the last time an ad really surprised you?

This was the last time for me. My dad and I were watching Seinfeld when the Geico ad came on, and my old man damn nearly fell off the couch.

So, what happened?

I just saw another study that said over half of consumers want their brands to stand for something now.


I get it, were shifting towards new horizons. All our brands think they’re superheroes. The social-justice bRand-wagon just keeps getting heavier.

But, think of the last commercial you saw somebody share on social media. What are the odds it was funny? We used to entertain, we used to generate laughs, we used to create something worth watching.

A few brands out there still churn out funny work. These Ikea spots from Havas Lemz are refreshingly funny. A perfect execution of a misdirect, where the problem becomes the solution. A formula for surprise, one that makes you laugh.

Rock on, Ikea.

So, why are we seeing less and less of this? Because research and data is constantly churning out claiming emotional is more than just a hot trend, and that humor doesn’t sell anymore. And with ad budgets running to millions of dollars, no one wants to waste money on something that doesn’t work. CMOs want constant exposure everywhere you look, giving Facebook and Instagram’s promoted content the chance to eat up 90% of the brand’s budget, leaving agencies to pick up the scraps and try to put something together with it.

And when it comes to TV, they shift gears and resort to “emotional” stuff that tries to get us to experience some sort of epiphany about the product rather than giving us a reason to want to pay attention.

A fucking Super Bowl commercial.

The Super Bowl was the last frontier. It all started when Nationwide tried to sell life insurance in an ad that ended tragically with a dead kid. It’s like even knowing our audience is trashed on beer and having a grand old time, just ready to hock up some laughs, we see pompous crap that’s designed to “enlighten” and “inspire” on the big screen instead. I bet somewhere during the making of that campaign someone suggested it would even “make people cry.”

*breaks pencil*

I heard a strategist argue comedy was only useful when we were confined to 15 and 30-second time limits. It was just enough time to set up a joke. Now we’re creating five-minute long pieces of branded content that’s supposed to emotionally connect with us.

I’m sorry, but Donate Life’s The World’s Biggest Asshole is a three-minute spectacle of laughs and giggles. And it’s got all that “emotional” crap you crave. You can’t tell me extending the time limit cuts good humor off the table.

The worst thing you can do is replace it with a story that exploits our social causes and appropriates our cultures.

I’m a gay Jew, and there’s a few of us out here. So I’m just waiting for the day we see an ad about a gay Jew. Because here’s a sample of a conversation you’d hear in a typical ad agency “ideading” session nowadays:

Me: “What if we show a guy’s life without the product first? Then we show how it changed his life, but we exaggerate it.”

Them: “Great! But instead of a guy, let’s make it a gender-neutral ethnic minority with one leg and autism fighting Hitler in a river of refugees’ tears!”

Ugh, gimme a break.

At least give us the Super Bowl back. If you’re just going to blow your money on something big, give us something worthy of talking about. Make us laugh again.

Probability theory states you can study and predict but you cannot know. How are you going to tell me your funny video won’t perform better than an ad about a dead kid? McDonalds tried it in the UK with a dead dad, and it didn’t work either.

Moral of the story: dead people don’t sell.

Copywriter at Publicis. Aggressively unfancy. A daydream dressed like a nightmare. 🏳️‍🌈 www.mikeshaheen.com

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