“I force myself to laugh at everything, out of fear that I will be constrained to weep instead.” This famous quote by Beaumarchais could be the mantra of the start of this turbulent century. Humor increasingly affirms itself as the ultimate weapon in handling the hazards of life, as a way of seeing life on positive note. Humor therefore retains tremendous value as a refuge in a society of perpetual change and movement, where the loss of orientation can be distressing.

But humor, as the anti-crisis remedy, also offers superb seductive leverage for brands. Challenged by a rapport with consumers, in which they are perceived as arrogant, these brands have gone along with an inevitable process of demystification by adopting an increasingly playful and uninhibited posture.

Still perceived as too divisive a few years ago, the idea of fun is now widely developing as a response to various marketing challenges. Here, an interpretation.

The Brand is My Best Friend

The advent of social networks has ushered in the phenomenon of the personification of brands. Today it is possible to address them directly, just as we would interact with a friend. And in return, brands “talk” to consumers. The traditional balance of power between seller and buyer is obsolete and has given way to a bilateral conversation. As a design agency we have thus witnessed, in recent years, the arrival of a new packaging era where humor has become a way of creating complicity, thus increasing the potential for emotional attachment and brand loyalty – not to mention that laughter is a great way to unite people. In this regard, the Oasis brand has managed pull off a theoretically complex bet: to develop a humorous universe, based on a unique language and comic characters with different degrees of interpretation that appeal to both the young and old.

Affirming the Difference

Humor, which is embodied in a quirky tone of voice, is also a way to demonstrate originality and emerge as a stand-out within a competitive environment. Thus, when arriving in saturated markets, new players often choose this disruptive strategy. The objective then is to exist by virtue of being different – but also to affirm a form of resistance to the established order, assuming the status of a challenger. This falsely-distanced rapport with the laws of marketing, via humor, is often an attractive alternative for consumers. For example, when the brand N.A ! invested in the universe of snacks, it successfully redirected the codes of naturalness to enhance its unique offering, which is decidedly healthier than the hyper-sweet frame of reference of its competitors. From semantics to graphics to the packaging volumes, N.A ! has fun while it entertains us, but always by offering a promise of natural pleasure. In doing so, the brand asserts a unique and inspiring vision and proves that leadership is measured not only in terms of market share.

Simplifying a Message

Finally, humor is a way to de-dramatize certain issues. For example, about ten years ago, the “fun factor” heavily influenced the democratization of organic products. Long confined to a specialized, austere niche, organic products have indeed proven to be attractive in the eyes of a large population that falls under the influence of non-specialized brands – all by playing up an intentionally childish cheekiness in order to place this product category in mainstream supermarkets.

Similarly, humor also helps make more palatable those positions that might be unattractive on paper. The low-cost market has thus capitalized greatly on perceived insignificance, transforming economic constraint (‘I have no money’) into ingenuity (‘I’m clever”). In another example, Le Slip Français managed to make kangaroo briefs go from tacky to cool.

To sum things up, we point out “Just” – a very successful initiative of the WWF. To raise awareness among consumers about the ecological harm caused by household cleaners, the foundation launched a series of packaging containing only natural raw ingredients whose use is explained in zany, utterly eccentric videos hosted on a dedicated website. When it’s funny, intelligent and engaging all at once… we approve!

Beyond the obvious warnings about limits which should not be breached in order to avoid bad taste, or being too discriminating, humor remains a rich tool for brands. When well-balanced and worked in the direction of the brand positioning, there is real leverage for the creation of value, differentiation and loyalty.

In the foreseeable future, humor might even become the new communication paradigm, spurred on by a “Generation Z” that places fun at the top of its value pyramid. These neo-consumers, far from rejecting marketing, have deciphered all of its secrets and have claimed ownership of brand codes, which they redirect with great quirkiness and creativity. Humor is definitely a trend to follow.

 

Sarah Zannetti, Strategic Planner