Where have the yucks gone?

I was just reading this article from a US advertising site. It says that characters in ‘funny’ ads tend to react in unrealistic ways, and suggests a bit more humanity of character would help.

It doesn’t do much for me, I’m afraid. I mean, The Man Your Man Can Smell Like is plenty funny without being even vaguely realistic. Same goes for The Most Interesting Man In The World.

Actually, I’m only linking to it because it made me think about humour in advertising. I don’t see many TV ads in the real world of America, and I have even less of an idea about the funny ads of other countries, but I seem to remember more ads being funnier in the past. Maybe I was more easily pleased, or just younger, but I can’t recall many ads of recent years really making me laugh.

Humour has always seemed to me to be a great way to elicit a positive reaction and make an ad memorable. This is because laughter is communication; a way of telling people you like something. So when it happens in a room of people it can give a more immediate impression that something is liked. Try watching that Ikea ad where the woman falls out of bed:

Everyone in the room might like it, but you’ll only know if you have a chat about it afterwards.

Whereas this will bring obvious and immediate approbation wherever it appears:

Now, I’m sure you can tell by the flip-phone that the above ad is a bit old. Is that indicative of anything? Not sure. It might just be my memory, but I’m sure there were more laugh-out-loud thigh-slappers 10-15 years ago (and beyond) than there are these days (please feel free to correct me with suggestions in the comments).

If I’m right, is there a reason for that? I could quickly leap to the oft-mentioned-on-this-blog brain drain that means advertising has less talent coursing through its creative departments. Writing and producing shit-hot yuck-based advertising is very hard, so if the people doing it aren’t tip-top (golly, my hyphen key is getting quite a workout today) then nor will the jokes be.

It might also be something to do with the directors. In those days Danny Kleinman, Kuntz and Maguire, Brian Buckley and Fredrik Bond, would be guaranteed to turn your 7/10 script into a 9/10 laff-fest. But aside from Mr. Kuntz, I’m not sure those people are producing funny ads anymore.

There might be another reason: fashion. These days ads seem to be heading in the direction of the tugging of the heart strings that John Lewis has popularised, or the corporate guilt trip of Like A Girl/Dove etc. And maybe it’s easier to make those ads. Once the point has been made you can tell the story with a less craft: let the mawkish acoustic version of the famous pop song do the heavy lifting, or make the most of the tears of the sad people who realise how insecure they’ve been (yes, I know the very best of these are immensely well-crafted, but the imitators are less so). By way of proof, here’s a not-very-funny list of last year’s best ads.

Are ads less funny now? Is my memory piss-poor? Do my reasons hold water? And, most importantly, do you care?