A Global Comparison of Humor in Advertising: Final Findings

It has taken four months, roughly one hundred emails and too many horrible puns, but I’m proud to say that I have made my global comparison of humor in advertising between the U.S. and U.K. What I’ve found has been somewhat surprising and the insights that I have gathered will be very helpful in my professional career.

In summing up my final key findings, I must start by saying that there certainly seem to be more similarities than differences when it comes to the process of creating advertisements with humorous content. Initially, I assumed there would be more differences. Why else would we run different ads for equivalent brands and products?


A still from Mariachi Doritos, an ad only ran in the U.K.

I’ve found by talking to both U.S. and U.K. advertising practitioners that it is not so much the process or even the humor itself, but the culture and the audience that each individual brand is dealing with. Most comedic campaigns that are successful reflect a specific culture in some way. Advertisers run with current events, trends and attitudes that are rarely universal across different regions of the world. According to Creative Director Richard Doory, humor in advertising seems to work best when the topic is niche and the audience finds it relatable to their personal and “unique” senses of humor. As an audience, we do not want to laugh at the same things. We like the demographic and geographic boundaries that make us and our senses of humor different.

Advertisers understand that consumers identify as individuals, but when it comes to using humor in advertising, there are elements of humor that will almost always overlap no matter where and who your audience is. Senior Copywriter of TDH, Jared El-Mofty explained one of those consistent elements of humor is the unexpected. While Jared, and other writers agree that there is no formula for coming up with successful humorous campaigns, a sense of surprise along with culture specific content generally works well wherever your audience is.

On top of these methods of actually creating ads, similar concerns exist between the the U.S. and U.K. when making sure content is acceptable to the public. About a month back, I summed up significant findings from my U.S. studies and discussed how ranging sensitivities, fragmented audiences and risks with mega-spending clients play a large role when developing advertising content. After several interviews here in London, I realized that those are major concerns for U.K. practitioners as well.

Based on all of these similarities in developing campaigns for two geographically separate sets of consumers, it seems the only difference is the content. Content is different not only because of global differences in culture and language, but because consumers want the content to be relatable in more than just a general sense.

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At a Loss for Words

The sights in London are simply indescribable. Trust me, any pictures you’ve seen do this city no justice. From the iconic scenes that everyone knows about to every little store sign and park bench, everything here seems picturesque. I’ve been snapping photos down every alley, up at every tall building and even across the tube stations. I’m no photographer, but what I’ve captured is Instagram gold. Had I only been able to roam the city just to see the sights, I’d have been perfectly content. I’m going to miss the wonderful view once I head home in four short days.

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A City Full of Surprises

My personal and professional experiences so far in London have already shed loads of light on my study of humor used in advertising. What my initial research lead me to believe about British humor seems to be very different from my actual experiences with people here in London. I expected people to be explicitly crude in telling jokes and that their personalities would reflect a dark sense of humor. Instead, I’ve found people to be very polite and sincere, not to mention very funny.

Apart from my encounters with British locals, I’ve kept an eye out for advertisements throughout the city that clearly use humor to market products. As expected, very few ads are the same here as they were back in the States. I wondered why that was, as I understood and enjoyed them all. I realized pretty quickly that there seem to be more similarities than differences when it comes to advertising. Read more ›

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A Sense of Belonging in London

With a great reputation comes high expectations. Before I left Kent for turf I’d never tread, I developed images in my mind of what I thought the great city of London would be like. I imaged it would be a fascinating and captivating city; one that promised new opportunities and exciting adventures. What I have found since we touched down at London Heathrow Airport on Thursday night does not match the expectations I had. Everything that I have experienced so far has undoubtedly surpassed them.

hp934While this trip has only just begun, I already feel a sense of belonging in this city. From day one, I’ve felt comfortable here. This is my first time out of the States, so I prepared to feel unwelcome or experience culture shock in some sense. I was surprised yet thrilled to feel an instant connection with the city. It’s something that I could have never expected, something I find difficult to explain, but it’s why my experiences thus far have been better than I ever imagined they could be.

So far, I’ve seen mind-blowing, beautiful sights, took part in things I’d never done before and met genuinely kind and creative people who have made my experiences that much better. While all of the sights and attractions were what I anticipated most, my interactions with the locals, tourist and my classmates will be the memories that I hold onto forever.

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Wrapping U.S. Research

After tons of research throughout this semester, I feel I have a very good understanding of what type of humor is used in Doritos® U.S. advertisements and just why it works. The next step is to take all that I have learned and compare my findings with those practices I learn about in England.

One major insight I found on U.S. humor is that ranging sensitivities in our culture play a big role in what content is used for comedic value. Ever notice how often we clarify, “just kidding” when a joke could maybe be slightly offensive? We constantly worry that what we intend to be funny will cause controversy, which is rarely what clients want with their advertising. To avoid upsetting anyone that could see the advertising message, brands often use humor that is so outrageous that the joke is obvious.


Grandma launching baby with a slingshot to nab nagging big brother’s Doritos® is an unlikely scenario. However, watching it happen is pretty funny, or so it is to me – a member of Doritos® target audience. I found that the brand’s objective is to connect with a young audience that is just asking to be entertained. By developing a fun, humorous brand image, Doritos® advertising contributes to current pop culture, giving the audience something to talk about and making consumers want to interact with the brand. Among this audience, Doritos® advertising strategies seem to be a great success.

By talking to several industry creatives in London, I intend to find out just what makes for a successful humorous campaign among U.K. audiences. After I explain findings from my U.S. research, I hope they note similarities along with differences. However, I am most interested in learning how irony translates into advertising there. Since it is such an apparent element of how Brits often communicate, I am curious if it is actually the dividing factor that prevents the U.S. and U.K. from running identical ads. If not obscurity, what differences exist that separate us?

Image from: http://i.usatoday.net/money/_photos/2012/02/07/Ad-Meter-winner-Doritos-baby-rules-REV5V04-x-large.jpg

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Big City Sights

All semester, my classmates and I have been discussing which neighborhoods and attractions to check out in London. Needless to say, we are all very eager for this trip! While research, interviews and agency tours are top priority, we’ll still have plenty of time to explore some of our choice destinations in the city. This being my first time to England, I can’t wait to see all of the sights that I possibly can during the two weeks that we are there.

London is an enormous city with tons to see. I am prepared for London to be drastically different from the relatively small city of Akron, OH that is really the only place I know. I made up a video to compare my top destinations in London with several locations in my hometown. While I love where I am from, I doubt I will ever want to leave London. Check out my video below!

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United States Humor: Audience Perspective

laughingSo far, my research has made me laugh a lot and learn even more. The topic of humor in advertising makes for great conversation whether both parties have comparable or dissimilar definitions of humor.

The one concept that has been stressed to me in my interviews and in all of my secondary research is that cultural differences influence comedy tremendously. Read more ›

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