Let's be honest, what qualifies as “entertainment” has definitely changed over the last few decades.
From the sexist humor of the 1950s to the weird and witty humor of many modern ads, consumers’ tastes have evolved as well.
In the below infographic, we explore “funny” ads from the last eight decades in an effort to identify any unifying themes.
“Surprise & Delight”: A Formula for Success
As you can see, when it comes to the makeup of a “funny” ad there seems to be a certain formula that advertisers follow, often called “surprise and delight”.
This formula is fairly self-explanatory, as the goal of such an ad is to catch viewers unaware in an effort to entertain them. When this kind of ad begins, the viewer is led to believe that they know what’s going on. But, at some point in the ad, everything changes — that’s the “surprise” part.
Now, for it to be a successful and funny ad, this surprise needs to also delight the viewers. For example, in the last ad discussed above — Ryan Reynolds’ ad within an ad — as viewers, we start out thinking we know what’s happening.
It’s a regular ad for a QLED Samsung TV, where the TV itself is showing Reynolds’ newest movie, 6 Underground. This, of course, is not surprising. Using a well-known actor to promote a new TV has been done before, and adding his own movie as the backdrop is a logical choice.
So where does the “surprise” come from? After a few seconds of a seemingly normal ad, the screen behind Reynolds changes to an ad for Aviation Gin, which is (coincidentally) Reynolds’ company.
Feigning surprise, Reynolds hesitantly asks: “Oh, how’d that get there?”
After this moment, the facade of a normal ad is dropped and the ad’s director shouts “Cut!” and walks on set to ask Reynolds what’s going on. Somewhat flustered yet charming, Reynolds explains that he’s purchased a mid-roll ad within this ad, stating: “It felt like the right thing to do.”
As the director isn’t sure whether or not this is prohibited, she reluctantly turns to the crew, saying “Okay, we’re going to make that work,” and the ad keeps running.
As the viewer hears a voice-over in the background of Reynolds extolling the virtues of Aviation Gin, the on-set Reynolds confidently states: “I think we got it.”
As we’re already identified the “surprise” aspect of this ad, let’s now touch on the “delight” aspect. Why is this ad delightful to the modern viewer?
Well, it plays into our current understanding of humor. By going for something witty and a bit irreverent, this ad provides viewers with the unexpected, and it is, indeed, incredibly delightful.
Overall, this ad hits every note of the “surprise & delight” formula with impressive precision. But what exactly are these stages? Let’s explore.
Applying This Winning Formula To Your Own Brand Ads
So, as a brand, what can you do to ensure your ads meet the requirements to adequately “surprise and delight” viewers?
1. Start Out With the Expected
For this kind of ad to work, you need to start out with a relatively familiar situation or concept.
Viewers need to be able to identify with, or at least understand, what’s going on — otherwise, the “surprise” aspect will only lead to more confusion.
Additionally, you need to keep your target audience in mind when deciding what an “expected” situation might be. From age to geographic location to education level, all of these characteristics will have an effect on whether or not your intended audience will understand and sympathize with the situation on screen.
For example, if your target audience is filled with rural Boomers, creating an ad that features Gen Z celebrities making TikToks will fall flat.
2. Sprinkle in a Surprise
Once you’ve lulled your viewers into a false sense of comfort, you need to roll out your “surprise”.
Be it a character who does the unexpected or a situation that goes awry, your target audience needs to be legitimately surprised by what unfolds.
However, this doesn’t mean you need to go crazy with your ad, the “surprise” can be subtle and still work. For example, consider the 1970s Volkswagen ad included in our infographic.
Throughout the ad, nothing too over the top happens. The deceased’s will is read in voice-over and we learn that he believes most of his spoiled relatives are unworthy of inheriting his fortune.
However, when he gets to the last car in his funeral processional — a Volkswagen Beetle — we learn that his thrifty, practical nephew is about to become a millionaire.
While this is a surprising realization for both the viewers and the nephew, the speaker’s delivery is subtle and calm.
Therefore, when deciding what your “surprise” will be, consider your target audience’s likes and dislikes, as well as the demographic makeup. Depending on their age, location, interests, and more, you’ll know which route to go.
3. End With the Thoroughly Delightful
At this point, you should know what it is that will delight your audience. While a decent surprise is vital, it’s even more important that the aftermath of that surprise is delightful for your audience.
Be it hilarious, satisfying, or kooky, your ending needs to leave a lasting impression on your viewers — essentially, they need to remember your ad. Again, what your target audience considers “delightful” will depend on their makeup. So, keep this in mind when formulating your ad.
Moreover, when consumers start to recognize your brand via different touchpoints, such as your TV, digital, or print ads, website, or social media profiles — you can increase your brand recognition, which ties into your brand awareness.
By consistently delivering surprising and delightful ads, you’re more likely to remain top of mind with consumers, allowing you to increase your brand awareness where it matters most.
We hope this infographic and subsequent breakdown of the “surprise & delight” ad formula has been both informative and entertaining.
Keep in mind that these kinds of ads are quite flexible and can be used for a variety of different industries.
And, if you'd like to learn more about the importance of changing up brand communication, check out our recent article.