“I don’t get it,” my dad tells me after watching an episode of Family Guy where Peter Griffin fights a chicken for a full two minutes with no relation to the episode’s plot. “Is this supposed to make sense?”
He’s not the only one asking. More and more humor aimed at millennials relies on non sequiturs to get a laugh. Instead of setting up a joke within the context of the scene, random humor surprises the viewer with unexpected references. Unfortunately for dad, the whole point is that it’s not supposed to make sense.
So, how do millennial marketers capitalize on a humor based on nonsense?
This method can be advantageous to advertisers with a short timeslot. Bizzarre juxtapositions snap viewers to attention by interrupting expectations. However, random humor only works when it reinforces the advertisement’s value proposition–otherwise, it distracts the viewer from the message. The commercial must be novel enough to warrant attention, but simple enough to remember easily.
Today, I focus on two famous commercials that use random humor to reach millennials and why they succeed or fail.
Old Spice: “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”
This ad is full of quick non sequitur transitions. From oysters to tickets to diamonds, Isaiah Mustafa takes us from the shower, to a boat, to the horse. However, these supposedly random items reinforce the central message of the commercial. The non sequiturs used are bizarre enough to stimulate viewers, but still communicate a simple, clear value proposition to the customer: this is the man your man could smell like.
The commercial also works to weave the non sequiturs into one digestable package. By having items appear out of a single take shot, things that would be out-of-context become a part of the narrative. Although the items are random, they are unified into one storyline within a single frame. This collaboration makes it easier to associate the entire commercial with the Old Spice name rather than separate moments. Mustafa became the “Old Spice Guy” not “the guy from the funny commercial on a horse”.
Toyota Camry: “It’s Reinvented”
Aired during the 2012 SuperBowl, Toyota wanted to release a remodeled Camry to a large audience. Along with the technical changes, Toyota’s 2012 branding strategy for the Camry is to make a somewhat “bland” car more fun and attractive to a younger, millennial audience. In keeping with this idea, the commercial listed funny, bizzarre items “reinvented” to make them more awesome.
Personally, I would love rain that makes me lose weight or a blender that plays Lionel Ritchie. However, neither does anything to make me want a Camry.
Like the Old Spice advertisement, Toyota’s list of non sequiturs adhere to the ad’s primary message: reinvention. But instead of supporting the product’s value proposition to the consumer, the list was distracting. When I talked about this commercial with my friends, I recalled it as “the one with the time-traveling baby” or “that ad with the people couch”. Until researching for this article, I completely forgot it was a Toyota ad. If I weren’t paying attention, I almost would miss that it was for a car. Toyota succeeded in choosing a very humorous entertaining ad–just not an effective one.
So, should every commercial be like Old Spice? After one hundred YouTube parodies, maybe not. Random humor remains up-and-coming in the advertising world, with mixed results. This DollarShaveClub.com commercial made me wish I had an excuse to buy men’s razors while this DirectTv advert left me scratching my head. The difference between the successes and failures? Allowing the viewer make sense of the nonsense.
If you’ve seen any commercials using this type of humor, let me know what you think of them in the comments section. Thanks for reading and it’s good to be back. Hope you had a fun Memorial Day weekend! Lindsey Kirchoff.