Dissecting the Frog: Humor in Advertising

Alice K. Sylvester
FCB Worldwide
Dr. Max Sutherland
Santa Clara University

Dissecting the Frog

....and the lizards.., and all the rest of the outrageous humorous advertising that's captivated America and the advertising industry's attention lately.

E.B. White once said understanding humor is a lot like dissecting a frog. You can do it, but the frog will die.

So let's kill a couple of frogs, today, eh? Let's dissect humor and get a better understanding of how it works and when it works.

This topic interests me a great deal. I've been the planner on a couple of very successful humorous campaigns – the global 'Inner Circle' campaign for Jim Beam that celebrates guy friendships, and the 2000 campaign for H&R Block that recently won ADDY Best of Show award. The experience taught me that humor can be tricky all around – internally, selling the ads through to the clients and finally with the consumers. It's never as simple as it initially appears on a storyboard. I also collaborated on an advertising book, entitled 'Advertising and the Mind of the Consumer:' which became available in the US October 1st. My co-author, Max Sutherland, is a psychologist and founder of the MarketMind continuous tracking research company in Australia. He has had over 10 years experience evaluating humorous advertising. There's a chapter on humor in advertising in the book, and we wanted to take you through some of our thinking on the subject.