In the '70s and '80s, when clients asked Doyle Dane Bernbach if they always did humorous commercials, the answer was no. "We don't do humorous commercials. We do human commercials."
There's no way to improve on that answer. A client could question humor as a selling technique, but not human. Someone could say "I don't think that's funny" but funny wasn't the point. Relating to people was the point.
David Ogilvy, another bigger than life figure in modern advertising, was clearly against using humor. "Nobody buys anything from a clown", he said. Perhaps he had a point there.If I answered my front door and there was a clown there with something to sell, I'd be scared out of my wits.
But advertising is different. Humor gives us permission to be listened to. It enables us to give a little gift to a tired viewer who certainly didn't come home after a hard day at work to watch us talk about cars and candy. Humor helps us plant an idea memorably, and maybe even get our commercials watched again on YouTube.
I've known a lot of funny people in advertising. One good friend had been the head of the studio card division at American Greetings. "Studio card" is greeting card talk for humorous. He went on to become Vice Chairman at Doyle Dane Bernbach. They obviously liked his ability to be human.
Another friend of mine had been a lounge comedian in Indiana. That was before he became chairman of a large international ad agency.
When I worked at the ad agency now known as Publicis, I became known for writing humorous commercials. To a fault. Creative people were constantly at my door asking me to add a funny "spin" on the end of their commercials. Which is usually impossible. As every comedy writer knows, in creating a joke you have to know the punch line before you begin.
I'm having trouble ending this piece because by now you're expecting me to be funny and whenever that happens, I'm not. But don't worry. Tomorrow about 3 o'clock I'll think of something hysterical. Stay tuned.