It’s a cracker: Smiles all round as jokes make ads shine

Asa_and_Robert_Uber_OneThe return of humour in advertising is paying huge dividends in terms of effectiveness – and awards – with a new analysis of this year’s Cannes Lions winners from the US and UK showing jovial ads not only resonate with the judges but also the public at large.

Cannes Lions winners in the 2010s were often known for promoting brand purpose in inspirational and heart-warming ads. Laughs were in short supply.

But, according to an analysis by System1, this year 75% of US or UK winners used humour, up from 52% in 2023. Purpose ads, meanwhile, have fallen out of fashion with juries, with only 13% of the winners fitting the description.

This was evidenced in the Silver Lion-winning “Best Friends”, from Uber One and agency Mother in the UK. The ad, in which Asa Butterfield becomes best pals with Robert De Niro based on their love of “eating food” and “going places”, scored 3.8-Stars, a solidly good Test Your Ad score.

As well as being funnier, the 2024 Lions winners were more international – 73% of awarded film ads this year came from outside the US and UK, compared to 51% last year.

The top-scoring international ad was a 5-Star Bronze Lion winner for Thai underwear brand Sabina; a farcical, blouse-ripping domestic drama that reflects the country’s changing social norms while also making audiences grin.

System1’s Test Your Ad platform tests consumers’ emotional responses throughout an ad, assigning creative a score of 1.0 to 5.9 stars based on long-term brand-building potential. Ads that make people feel intense, positive emotions like happiness and surprise score high on the scale. Usually only 1% of ads secure a 5-Star score.

From 2021 to 2023, the UK and US Lions winners scored a flat 2.1-stars on average with the public – roughly in line with the average TV ad. This year has witnessed a small rise in that average, to 2.3-stars.

System1 chief customer officer Jon Evans said: “Humour is firmly back on the advertising agenda and juries are taking note. We know that funny ads tend to be more effective, and it’s likely the increase in laughs is helping the star rating rise slightly.

“Now marketers and juries aren’t scared of making people laugh, the next step is to make sure the ad feels good too – in the US and UK we’re seeing a lot of humour driven by awkward or uncomfortable situations which can leave viewers feeling uncomfortable too.

“There are so many other ways to get laughs – surreal ads, slapstick ads, and character comedy like that top-scoring Uber winner. Congratulations to the team at Uber and Mother for creating such an amusing an effective ad.”

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