Humor in advertising: how NOT to do it.

When I teach seminars for marketing creative, one question that invariably comes up is, ‘Does humor work’? The answer, ‘It depends’ sounds like a weenie response, but that’s the best I can do.

That’s because humor is a tricky creative tool. It seems easy – who doesn’t like a good joke – but in truth humor can be very regional and it’s often done at someone’s expense. Heaven help you if the one whose expense it’s done is the market you’re going after.

That is precisely what’s going on with the replacement for “Got Milk?” that the CA Milk Processor Board’s agency has just created for them. These are the “Got Milk?” folks. but they’ve been led astray…

This campaign was brought to my attention by Mike Cassidy, of the SJ Mercury News, in this article:

Those of you who know me are aware that I have a very broad sense of humor. In other words, you could use me for a human laugh track for almost anything. So when something strikes me as very UN-funny it’s got to be pretty bad.

At first I was simply ‘put off’ by the campaign. Then I really started to get truly annoyed by the campaign created by probably by 20-something guys and approved by 50-something guys.  Annoyed by their arrogant stereotyping of women and hormonal swings.

Some of the taglines include, “I’m sorry I listened to what you said and not what you meant,” and “We can both blame myself.” There’s also a website at, that asks “are you a man living with PMS?” Pooooor babies, they work sooo hard to keep the peace with their unreasonable wife.

This kind of “Take my wife” crap embarrasses me for the milk industry, who obviously fell for this campaign. How could they not have seen how dumb and sexist it is? And how their target market is made to look like insane pms-driven shrews… who have some poor innocent man falling on their sword to try to keep the peace. Please.

This afternoon I got word that the controversy was just too much, and thank GOD, they’re scrapping the campaign. Here’s a link:

The lessons from this are many but the most obvious ones are:

1. Don’t market for the people who live with your target market! Market to the ones you want to buy your product. This is a real ‘D’oh!’ but they really missed their market in this situation.

2. Never assume that just because your agency thinks it’s funny, that it really is. Agency people are not like your public. They have different taste and are probably from a whole different place in the world and in their lives. Often they have no real interest in what your market lives with every day. And many of these folks are so smitten with their own ideas, so narcissistic,  that they can sell terrible concepts with a clear conscience. To do great work you absolutely must love the customer you’re marketing to.

3. Research, research, research. I am convinced that if the milk board had done a good solid sweep of e-research into a broad market, using an expert researcher like my buddy Brad Peppard, they would have spotted this debacle in plenty of time before kicking it off and shaming themselves. Sometimes internal marketers think they can do it themselves with something like Survey Monkey but their research will always be tainted because they have a goal in mind. And more often, they cut corners and don’t do it at all. Here is why it costs more to NOT do research than to do it.

4. Always evaluate the work of your agency as they are on a project. Don’t assume that because they are rock solid in their reputation that they will be flawless.The agency who did this – Goodby Silverstein & Partners – is solid gold as far as I am concerned. But for the first time, there’s some idiot working in there who is too self-absorbed to be truly good at this. Someone inside needed to provide some checks and balances, and apparently now at Goodby there are things like this that slip through the cracks. It’s a terrible disappointment, because i was a real fan of the agency. But how can you trust them to do the right thing after seeing this crap?

5. Remember that advertising, web, mail, outdoor boards… all of this stuff is there to ultimately sell something. Sell a product or service. We are not doing this advertising work to amuse, impress, entertain… sometimes you can get some of that done but if it doesn’t sell, it’s not worth putting out there. Thank you David Ogilvy for that wisdom.

This is not a call for ‘creative by committee’ but it is a call for common sense!

1 Comment

Filed under Copywriting, Creative Share: my weekly critique, Creative Strategy

One response to “Humor in advertising: how NOT to do it.

  1. Pingback: Using Humor in Advertising « The Green Marketing Company

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