Making a Funny Commercial Work

“Oh… and make it funny.”

For nearly a decade, my biggest Portland radio advertising client was a car dealer who appeared in his own commercials. I wrote the copy — more than 500 separate scripts over that time. And whenever he gave me the copy points, “Make it funny” was one of them.

He wanted the commercials to sell cars. But more important to him, I learned over time, he wanted his employees, customers, and friends to tell him what a funny guy he was.

In the interest of getting the copy approved, and preserving my commission, my first objective became to make him laugh when he read the script. My second objective for the script was to make it sell cars.

I’m not necessarily proud that my objectives were in that order, but there you go.

I’m reminded of that struggle every time I see the Volkswagen “The Force” commercial. This ad debuted on the Super Bowl, and two things happened:

1. Everybody loved it. Loved it. LOVED it.

2. When it was over, nobody could remember what car was featured in the ad.

It entertained, but it forgot to sell.

Pretty much everyone who owns a TV has seen it, but if you haven’t, here it is:

It was Radio Copywriting Guru Dan O’Day, at a seminar in Los Angeles, who taught me how to do both. His rule: the sales message must be part of the comedy.

On Dan’s blog, he’s begun an extended discussion of why humor, used properly, works in advertising. Here’s a short excerpt:

When an advertisement comes on the radio, the listener’s guard is up. Even though my saying this will offend a few radio sales chauvinists, people do not turn on the radio for the commercials….

If the commercial makes you laugh, however, then while you’re laughing your guard is down. Your filter is in the “pause” mode.

The full discussion is well worth reading, and there’s more to come. You’ll find the full post here.


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