First, Get Their Attention

Humor can be charming, disarming, or alarming

Thom Forbes
Agency contributing editor and freelance writer,
Hastings-on-Hudson, NY

The executives at Leo Burnett who were scrutinizing job applicant Cheryl Berman's book obviously liked what they saw - with one notable exception. Her ad for the fictitious Eyes Cream, which was humorous in a Fellini-esque way, drew nothing but frowns.

'People looked at it and said, "You could never do something like that for cosmetics,"' recalls Berman, who is now vice chairman and chief creative officer of Leo Burnett USA. 'And I said, "Why not? Why not?" And 20 years later I'm still saying, "Why not?"'

Why not, indeed? Humor, after all, is being used to advertise everything from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts to Harley-Davidson motorcycles. It moved cantaloupes out of the produce department for Skaggs Alpha Beta. It differentiated American Standard's toilet bowls from fixtures with more hoity-toity aspirations. It has made us cheer for Cheer, sing along with raisins, drink milk and seek out fast food we later wished we had not (and then reach for some Beano to prevent a flatulent gaffe). And of course, humor has made Volkswagen a jaunty brand again - helping to inject some contagious lightheartedness into a category that is usually oh-so-serious.