Can we be funny again?

—John St.’s Angus Tucker wonders if, after a decade of super-serious advertising, and with everyone so anxious all the time, is it time for humour to make a comeback—

Seriously, I’m asking. Can we be funny again? Because man, it has been a very, very serious decade hasn’t it?

Ever since Dove ushered in the “earnest-vertising” era with the Evolution film and Campaign for Real Beauty, it seems like every brand from bread to luxury cars has been bending over backward to show how it is doing good for society, the planet, teen moms, leatherback turtles, ginger haired pre-schoolers, etc, etc.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Except when it gets to the point where it all starts to sound and feel the same.

And I think we might be at that point. The Tipping Point, as Malcolm Gladwell would put it. And if we have, advertising historians might call out the Gillette “the best men can be” work from January as the tip that broke the camel’s back.

Gillette, to its credit, got a lot of discussion going with that film, but through the rage and accusations flying back and forth on the internet, the subtext seemed to be something like: “Seriously? Can’t I just shave my face without having to consider whether I’m encouraging toxic masculinity by doing so?”

Which led me to think: Maybe we’ve reached peak caring?

Like a lot of you, I get Apple News on my phone—didn’t ask for it, but there it was one day. Here are three headlines that I read on successive days last week while walking the dog (no joke, these were the actual headlines):




I kind of felt like walking in front of a bus.

I didn’t, but I did walk into work thinking that when we ask people to care, they might not have much left in the care bucket. And even if they do, they’re going to be very choosy about how they dole it out.

Because there’s only so much stuff we human beings can actively care about in any one day. And when the news and social media are constantly throwing heavy stuff our way (like, you know, mass extinction), how much room do we have left for disposable razors telling us to talk to our sons about being better men?

Which brings me back to funny.

We need some funny right now. Partly because everyone is so freaking anxious and it feels good to laugh. But partly because so few brands are doing it.

Funny is a massive opportunity to differentiate your brand from the other guy who’s trying to wring yet another tear out of consumers’ eyes that are now so dry they may need Vaseline. A smart insight, funnily executed, can strategically separate your brand in a more and more commoditized world.

Let’s call it the importance of being un-earnest.

It’s why we did this recently with the launch of PC Express.

Like a lot of direct-to-home brands, PC Express saves you time so you can do other stuff. But rather than try to suggest that you do something “important,” like finger-paint with your kids or make cookies with your Grandma, we showed how PC Express lets you stare dumbly at the screen with your boyfriend while you illegally stream another episode of that show about rich British people trying to hook up.

I can’t remember the last time I went into a shoot where the emotional outcome we were looking for was a laugh. Not a smile, but an actual laugh. A don’t-skip-this-ad-I-love it-when-she-tells-the-guy-to-shut-up laugh. And here’s what I like to say when someone in the boardroom says: “Yeah, I don’t think funny’s right here. I think we need to make an emotional connection.”

“There’s only one reason my wife married me: I made her laugh. We’ve been married almost 25 years. That’s a pretty good connection, don’t you think?”

Angus Tucker is the CCO and co-founder of john st. – one of Canada’s most successful and most awarded agencies since they opened in 2001. He is not against earnest-vertising per se. In fact, he’s even done some. john st.’s “Kids Read Mean Tweets” film made him cry so much during a new business presentation that he had to leave the room to compose himself. He said there was something in his eye, but no one was buying it.