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Boredom is death: why advertising and comedy make great bedfellows

Bill Bernbach’s famous line that ‘in advertising not to be different is virtually suicidal’ could just as easily be applied to comedy. And as Comedy Festival general manager Lauren Whitney searches for sponsors for this year's festivities, she trumpets the growing popularity, the commercial opportunity and the cultural relevance of a bit of humour.

February 20, 2018 | Sponsored content

There’s a scene in the film No, during which a young ad executive, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, insists on his political spot for the Chilean referendum to feature a jingle.

“I want a jingle,” he says.

“No art, no folk, no pop, no rock, a jingle.”

In what is the most important moment in modern Chilean history, the advertiser asked for a jingle when it came to bringing an end to the reign of the nation’s dictator. What the hell was he thinking?

The politicians in charge of the campaign wondered the same thing but eventually overcame their reticence and approved the spot, albeit with a healthy dose of trepidation.  

Once it aired, the fun-filled ad became the optimistic foil to the serious ‘Vote Yes’ messages delivered by the stoic general Pinochet and played a significant role in persuading voters to reject the status quo.

Now, years later, it stands as a reminder of the power of humour and also that serious messages don’t always have to be delivered with a contemplative frown.

Closer to home and bit more recently, we’ve seen the same principle play out in the recent recruitment video of NZ Police. In lieu of stern messages about having a sense of duty, the campaign plays out as an elaborate cop chase punctuated with a series of jokes.

The Swim Reaper’s cameo for Water Safety NZ, Joe Bro and Brandon in Maritime NZ’s cop-themed spot and NZTA’s awkward intimacy in the ‘Hello’ campaign all follow a similar route, using humour to deliver important messages without being so worthy that the audience switches off and doesn’t pay attention.

This is, of course, something that all great comedians excel at, says Comedy Festival general manager Lauren Whitney.

“This is absolutely one of the most powerful things about comedy,” Whitney says. “Comedians often use their platform talk about serious things and drive change.”

This is also part of the reason why the organisers have set a challenge for performers to address the issue of mental health during the 2018 edition of their storytelling show Dialogue.

“We really believe comedy can be a catalyst for change,” says Whitney. 

Comedians borrow from cultural moments and integrate them into their sets to keep the messaging topical and relevant to the moment their audiences are living in. This is why it can be difficult to understand the exact context of a joke told in a different country (or even region).

It’s also worth noting that many of the most memorable ads are those that make us laugh. While the culture might move on, the nostalgia of the moment pulls us back into the moment. The continued enjoyment of Mitre 10’s Sandpit, Toyota’s Bugger and L&P’s Stubbies all stand as a testament to this.   

In making her pitch to potential sponsors for the 2018 Comedy Festival, Whitney says that one of the biggest advantages about the event is that it puts an organisation at the centre of what New Zealanders are talking about.

“It’s about being part of the moment,” says Whitney. “People are going out, having a few drinks, laughing and having a great time.”

It’s all about associating a brand with these positive experiences, says Whitney. 

Last year, 85,800 attendees watched 800 performances across the country. This was further consolidated by half a million viewers of the Comedy Gala, 214,00 website hits and decent social traction, giving previous naming rights sponsor Flick Electric exposure across multiple channels.

There’s also something to be said for the growing popularity of comedy. Only 15 to 20 years ago, comedy was an amateur pastime, usually taking place in dingy bars on quiet midweek nights. The modern scene now sees established stars own television on Friday nights and take sold-out tours across the country. 

Whitney says that sponsoring the Comedy Festival allows brands to tag onto this growing hype and go along for the ride. 

She says the Comedy Festival has always put enormous emphasis on giving its partners more than just a brand name on a banner.

“Gone are the days of sponsorship just being a logo,” she says.

As was previously the case with Flick Electric, brands will be able to tap into the comedy talent and develop social videos that deliver a clear brand message.

“You basically have a copywriter and an actor rolled into one when you’re working with these comedians,” Whitney says. “They love brainstorming ideas on how to deliver a message.”

With the likes of Rose Matafeo, Rhys Mathewson, Guy Williams, Michele A’Court and others all cutting their teeth at the Comedy Festival over the years, it also presents an opportunity for a brand to work with one of the up-and-comers who will likely emerge as stars in the future.

Whitney says the team at the Comedy Festival also works hard to ensure that the line-up doesn’t fall into the trap of becoming a white boys’ club. This year, 46 percent of the shows at the event had women performing in them and the team is hoping to replicate or better that in 2018. They’re also looking to include New Zealanders of different cultural backgrounds.

“It’s important that we have a diverse range of voices on stage,” Whitney says.

Admittedly, there’s always a risk that comes with comedy. This is perhaps why challenger brands are the ones that usually embrace humour while more established brands often play it safe. It’s far easier to take a risk when you don’t have quite as much to lose. Then again, a certain Chilean dictator probably would’ve gone for a jingle, a joke or a clever quip if given a second shot.

There is, perhaps, no greater risk in advertising than being boring. The same applies in comedy.

  • If you think your brand might be a good fit as a sponsor of the Comedy Festival, contact Lauren Whitney (Lauren@comedyfestival.co.nz / 021 2622259).   

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