Starting to laugh again. The slow return of humor in advertising

New Kantar LINK+ data shows the power of humour in advertising across media channels for brands and highlights the importance of making consumers laugh out loud.
03 August 2023
Wyn Jones

Global Knowledge Manager, Creative & Media

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Just over a year ago, we talked about the steady overall decline of humor in advertising over the last two decades. The good news is that Kantar data from 2022 saw a slight return in the use of humor, which remains steady so far in 2023. We also note that humor has been a consistent theme of our Kantar Creative Effectiveness Awards winners, which are judged by consumers, but it was also a big topic this year at Cannes Lions, where experts are the judges. In previous years Lions were more often awarded to serious heart-felt advertising than funny ads.

This year, one of the Grand Prix awards in Film went to  Apple’s R.I.P. Leon: an ad that cleverly used humor to amplify the ad’s key message, the new ‘unsend message’ feature. As Affectiva’s Emotion AI data shows, audiences found the ad highly engaging, with the twist of Leon returning from the dead working really well to clarify the ad’s key message. Viewers showed clear indications of tension (brow furrow) as they witnessed his fate, with a strong transition into smiles as he came back to life – a clear product demo.   

The emotional response to Apple's ad: 'R.I.P. Leon' 

humour The case for humor was further backed up at Cannes by Andrew Robertson, CEO of ad agency BBDO, who gave a powerful presentation incorporating Kantar’s LINK+ data to demonstrate that humor can deliver impact for brands if it’s done well. Robertson called on the industry to use more humor and challenged Cannes Lions to open a whole new category of awards focusing solely on the use of humor in advertising.

The use of humor in advertising is back

With the slight increase in humor remaining steady across TV and Print/Outdoor advertising, we also looked at the use of humor across digital ads. The last five years of digital data shows a steady decline in the use of humor. Why is this? Firstly, digital ads are still unfortunately under-researched. Secondly, digital also still tend to be used for activation, where short-term sales increases are commonly the objective sales increases are commonly the objective. We contend that the powerful brand building tool of humor has slowly been getting overlooked by digital advertisers. This is a real shame, because ads that the brand intended to be funny show similar increases in engagement and distinctiveness across all media channels.

Where, and how much, is humor used?

32% of all ads contain some form of humor. Splitting this out by media channel, we see that over half of radio ads are humorous and there is above average use in TV ads. Print and outdoor ads make much less use of this powerful tool. Digital ads use humor slightly less than average, with variance seen across the different digital platforms. X (previously known as Twitter) and YouTube ads are more likely to make you smile than those seen on websites.

Slight differences are also seen by region. European ads contain the most humor, ads from Asia Pacific the least. Category variations show that establishments, retail and other services, (finance, travel etc.) along with food and drink ads are more likely to get you laughing than public information ads (for example health, charities, education).

% of ads containing humor


There are absolutely no barriers to the use of humor in ads, regardless of media channel, region or category. Done well, and appropriately, humor is fair game in advertising regardless of who is watching, where, and for what. In fact, it can be a very useful tool in broaching the most sensitive of subjects and can help to convey a message that might otherwise be difficult, as in this winning Kantar Creative Effectiveness Awards 2023 ad for Milgamma Protekt Vitamins. This is a clever example of how humor was used to convey a very serious message about numbness being a possible sign of nerve damage, due to vitamin deficiency. The fun painting of the feet that grandad hasn’t noticed helps to amplify the product’s core message with a touch of humor but, in a sensitive way.

Kantar Creative Effectiveness Awards 2023 ad Milgamma Protekt Vitamins


You thought it was funny, but did they?

So how funny is your ad? New Kantar data lets us look more closely at the differences between ads that were intended to be funny, versus those that really did make consumers laugh out loud. The Kantar Creative Effectiveness Awards have consistently awarded ‘funny’ ads every year and with consumers as the judge, it’s important that your humor really lands with them. The fact that they have been selecting funny ads as our winners since the awards began in 2019, whereas experts across other awards were not, is clear evidence of the disparity between what people want, and what we think they want. 

Kantar LINK+ data shows that ads marketers intend to be funny have above average distinctiveness, emotional connection and engagement, but are not as strong as the ads that made consumers truly laugh out loud. Ads that really landed their humor well are not only distinctive, emotionally connected and engaging, they are also more persuasive and well branded. On top of this they are clearly helping to build brand equity by differentiating themselves and making their brand feel more meaningful to consumers. These LOL ads genuinely have it all.   

Intention is not enough to make consumers 'laugh out loud' 


How can you ensure your humor works?

Knowing the benefits of really landing your humor is one thing, doing it is another. In my previous article Who's laughing now? I discussed the ideas of using professional comic writers, popular content creators, user-generated content, basically anyone who can help you really connect your humor in the right way, and I would still advocate their use. However, with Kantar’s ad testing solution LINK+ it is now faster, easier and cheaper to test out early-stage ideas to select your winners or do a quick last-minute check before the campaign goes live, to ensure that your humor will have those you want to connect with laughing out loud.

To find out more about how LINK+ can elevate your ad testing, click here to find out more and request a demo.

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