Starting With a Laugh: Marketing Innovation Through Comedy


After the ubiquitous celebrity spokesperson, comedy is likely the most common trope in advertising. And why not? It grabs your attention, makes you remember things and provides a chuckle in the process. Who hasn’t repeated “Where’s the beef,” at least once in his or her life?

But many marketers fail to leverage comedy as a tool in other aspects of marketing. Success in comedy, like marketing, depends on highly perceptive observations of people. Half of a comedian’s job is that of a market researcher. Comedians just use their data to combine the real with the absurd to then reveal some greater truth about human behavior—which we, the audience, then laugh at.

We at BrandCulture believe the comedic process can also help inspire innovation. No, innovations should not be absurd (though as we pointed out with things like The Vessyl, they often are).

But true innovation extends beyond our normal mode of thinking about the world or a problem people experience in the world. And what better way to defy the conventional wisdom than by mixing the real with the absurd?

We’ve found this heady brew of reality and absurdity enhances the effectiveness of brainstorming, as well as making it more fun. When we determine that an idea is in fact “absurd,” we work backwards from that absurdity to reveal the underlying truth that undergirds the “absurd” idea. And an innovation emerges.

There is no more amusing example of mixing of the real and the absurd to develop marketing innovations right now than the Comedy Central program Nathan for You. Nathan, “who got really good grades at one of Canada’s top business schools,” uses his strategic skills to innovate various Los Angeles based businesses. In one scenario, Nathan reveals his plan to have a local auto-mechanic give his estimates while hooked to a lie detector.

This obviously absurd idea was actually quite popular with customers and underscores the very real problem of a lack of trust between mechanics and customers. Working backward from the absurd idea that Nathan came up with, one might be able to develop less absurd ways to give motorists greater assurance that their mechanics aren’t ripping them off.

We welcome your examples where comedy reveals underlying truths that provide marketers opportunities to assert new, innovative solutions. And for more of our thoughts on innovation, be sure to check out our piece in Calling BS.

Now It’s Your Turn

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