Friday, July 19, 2024

Cannes Lions 2024 | Humour makes a comeback

It’s like when Gretchen in Mean Girls, the iconic teen-flick parody, said, “That is so fetch!” and Regina, the film’s queen bee, bursts her bubble, “Gretchen, stop trying to make fetch happen! It’s not going to happen!”

In advertising, humour is ‘fetch,’ and global award juries seem to be Regina. Why else would Cannes Lions announce a humour category across disciplines starting this year? It’s because advertising is having a hard time laughing. Remember how hilarious ads were a couple of decades ago? Fevicol’s fishing rod was particularly a favourite in my household, followed closely by Asian Paints’ ‘Naya ghar… badhiya hai’. It was powerful when ads made you laugh.

‘Syllabus-ification’ of creativity

Those of you familiar with the advertising award landscape have seen trends come and go, and would know why I refer to humour as a thing of the past. Part of that is genuinely funny work not getting the biggest nods on global stages; causevertising has taken its place. It’s understandable; the global zeitgeist is not in a great place. We’re currently in the middle of two global conflicts, polarised political opinions, confusing social codes, and to top it all off, a pandemic that shaved off three-ish years of laughs.

Bouncing back

According to Kantar, a market research platform, humour in advertising has been in decline for a while, with major dips around the 2008 financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. Things started turning around, however, in 2022, and last year, at the Cannes Lions, 52% of the film category winners were intentionally funny. The Grand Prix in the film category, in fact, was awarded to Apple’s ‘RIP, Leon,’ a funny ad about a dead lizard and human error.

Don’t get me wrong, the world undeniably needs powerful and impactful work such as Bodyform’s ‘Womb Stories’ in 2023, which dealt with the emotion, grief, and excitement that often comes with being a woman; Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy’ in 2020, that focused on brands being agents of change; or Calm’s ‘The Last Photo’ from last year, a campaign for suicide prevention. Even the ‘Unfiltered History Tour’, a guerrilla tour of the British Museum’s stolen artefacts — which landed India its first ‘Agency of the year’ title at Cannes Lions last year — was as purpose-led as it gets.

Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy’

Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy’

Calm’s ‘The Last Photo’

Calm’s ‘The Last Photo’

But not all such campaigns are executed with the same sincerity. Wokewashing is as deadly as being tone-deaf. As more brands embraced purpose and action, few remained committed to their causes. This has unfortunately led to a ‘syllabus-ification’ of creativity where purpose and humour aren’t mutually exclusive. I agree with what Andrew Robertson, CEO of BBDO Worldwide, said last year at Cannes Lions: “There’s a sort of misguided belief that brand purpose needs to be presented in a very serious way. And I don’t think it does… If brands are truly looking to make the world a better place, we could do a lot worse than make people laugh.”

“Humour cuts through the noise. We live in a state of constant assault on our senses, but if something is funny, you’ll seek it out. It doesn’t mean we shy away from tough stuff, humour is one of the best ways to deal with rough things going on in the world”Kenan Thompson of ‘Saturday Night Live’, speaking at Cannes Lions 2024

Let’s laugh again

Laughter is not the opposite of sadness. Happiness is the opposite of sadness. Laughter is a reaction, and it can exist in both situations — a neglected truth pointed out by Daniel Sloss, a Scottish comedian. When the world goes up in flames, it still needs a jester for hope. Every laugh then becomes a tiny revolution.

So, why not award more funny ads? Why do we need a separate award category for it? Picture two scenarios in a jury room: one, where some jurors feel they’re unable to award humour-led work because of purpose-led work dominating, and two, where jurors feel humour-led work is getting ‘over-awarded’ despite the lack of a precise category fit. Whichever side you’re on, a separate category for humour feels like a win-win.

From the French Riviera

2024’s humour category attracted 798 entries, including CeraVe’s campaign with Michael Cera and Knorr’s ‘Bouillon Bag’. According to Marian Brannelly, the global director of awards for Lions, this demonstrated “a shift in tone and the rise of effective commercial work designed to entertain”.

Brands and creatives have been given their holy trifecta — love, laughs, and roars. It’s the fiercest opportunity to stop underutilising the inventiveness of humour. And contrary to the worry that it is harder to make humour work across multi-platforms, I’d say humour is like a Swiss army knife that cuts through platforms. It can turn puns into PR, like CeraVe’s campaign with Michael Cera, rewrite the rules of hospitality as seen with Artotel Group’s ‘Rockstar Status’, and even make hyaluronic acid funny, as demonstrated by The Ordinary’s ‘Science over Celebrity’.

So what can we expect from this new category in the years ahead? I’m thrilled at the prospect that the next decade of advertising could be a multinational collaboration, where we borrow and learn from Thailand’s exaggerated, slapstick humour, such as Thai Life Insurance’s ‘Unsung Hero’, or South Africa’s political satire with campaigns like Nando’s ‘Last Dictator Standing’.

Imagine defying the dichotomous nature of humour in South Asia too — the kind where we crack jokes in ‘safe places’, not public spaces because we think it is ‘anti-culture’. For instance, ours isn’t a region that’s used to being sold anything via sarcasm. But as the region rapidly changes, our appetite for new genres of humour could proportionally rise. The last few years have shown us the kind of brilliant, funny work we can make. Will those make us proud on the world’s biggest stages? It’s exciting times ahead, and that is so fetch.

The writer is a founding member and creative at Talented advertising agency.

#Cannes #Lions #Humour #comeback

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