Resolutions to Look out 2022: Resolution 3

Brighten the viewer’s world with humour, music and colour


Here at System1 we want to make a serious case for humour, never more so than during and after a pandemic. Humour keeps society flexible and is a highly useful vehicle for thought. It relaxes us and puts us in an open mode of possibility. Laughter is also good for us. Humour is an effective creative strategy, yet advertising is losing its sense of humour. There has been a steady decline over the last decade in the proportion of people saying they’re ‘amused’ by the advertising that System1 tests.

What makes us laugh? At the heart of humour is the desire to poke fun at rigidity. Repetition, inversion (reversing the expected) and overlapping beams (seeing the same thing from two perspectives at once) not only makes us laugh but captures our attention, and can moreover also provide a helpful structure for long-running campaign.

It helps to ‘throw a blanket over sympathy’ – isolate the unsociable trait within the person (single-mindedness, a lack of awareness, vanity, a fixed idea that causes the character to stick to their course, behaving resolutely and rigidly) so that the audience recognizes the episode as comic. Check out Volkswagen’s classic “Laughing Horses” or Barclaycard’s ‘Snake Bite’ ad with Rowan Atkinson.

You can also use sound as a vehicle for humour to exaggerate or shift a perspective or idea. By using a layering effect, sound and visuals can create a comic crescendo – a conveyor belt that seemingly has no ‘stop’ button. See how sound was used in this ad by Mary Wear for Visa.

When you start digging into the Test Your Ad   database, you’ll see the same thing in category after category. Funny ads show up high in the rankings. That’s true whether it’s insurance with the World’s Strongest Man helping out a Geico customer, or coffee with George Clooney hanging out with the Muppets (among others). Some of the highest-rated ads use humour, and we know from effectiveness data, that when viewers are laughing, they’re usually buying.

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Music and colour

Music and colour can make a dramatic difference to the ability of an ad to connect with an audience and to the audience’s interpretation of the ad.

It can pay to start with the music – to have a clear idea of it upfront. Sir John Hegarty had a clear idea that he wanted Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ when conceiving Levi’s Laundrette ad. Music sets the tone for an ad or campaign, instantly rousing or amplifying a feeling. Kelloggs recent cross-brand campaign was a big hit with the UK public because the quirky punk energy of its Plastic Bertrand song matched the get-up-and-go breakfast feeling so well. Using popular songs (with voices) can create brand fame. And don’t forget jingles – if you create a jingle, it can establish a lasting mental short-cut for your brand. The repeated use of a jingle can stay with people for life. And often what’s too silly to be said can be sung.

Colour works in a similar way to music. Modern digital technology ensures crisp, clear images, and the colour hues of choice today often look rather dark and cold, with an emphasis on teal and orange. But is it always a good thing if images look perfect and polished? Colour grading in post-production can alter the feel of your ad and enhance emotional response. At System1 we ran some experiments with the  Cheat to see how varying the palette and tone of ads changed the emotions people felt. The results were surprising and dramatic – making the colours warmer enhanced positive emotional response and fundamentally changed viewers’ perceptions of the ad. It’s another way to add depth and vitality to your ads – especially where faces are concerned. You can also emulate the look of film stock if you want to evoke nostalgia, with colour separation, diffusion and grain effects.

So, for your resolutions in 2022,

“Find a way upwards and outwards… see things with wit, charm and human vitality”.

Catch up on Resolution 1 and Resolution 2


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