Laughter Breaks Through the Noise

As an advertising student, it’s part of my job to actively pay attention to as many ads as I can. I try to figure out what each ad’s creators were trying to accomplish when they put it out to the public. What’s the audience that they are speaking to? What’s the tone of the message? Does it fit with the brands image? What was the overall thought process that lead to this boring poster on the side of a building asking me to try their toothpaste? How could it have been done better?

“Well, duh,” you’re probably thinking. More than likely you are a classmate of mine, or almost definitely my professor, who already knows all of this and considers it to be pointless filler space on a blog assignment (on an unrelated note — you’re my favorite teacher and I think you look great in whatever you are wearing while you’re grading this). Well, you’re partly right — what I’m saying is pretty obvious to all of us. So let me continue with the obvious statements: a lot of ads we see in the world are boring.

My example of a "white noise" ad.  Get it?  Whitening toothpaste?  White noise?  Look at her face, she thought it was funny.

My example of a "white noise" ad.  Get it?  Whitening toothpaste?  White noise?  Look at her face, she thought it was funny.

In class we get shown a lot of examples of what’s considered great work, and typically it is. These ads try to get us to laugh, they try to get us to cry (I’m looking at you, P&G’s ‘Thank You Mom’ commercial), or at least they have that little something about them that makes you remember what they were saying. Inevitably, however, we leave the classroom to go back out into the real world and find that so many ads out there right now are like white noise. They’re boring, or irrelevant, or they try too hard, or — worst of all- they’re forgettable. The upside to this, though, is that it helps us to realize how hard it is to make some truly good ads that stand out against all the rest of the white noise in the world.

One of my favorite things in life is comedy. I love to watch stand-up comedians, most television shows I watch are on Comedy Central, and most of my favorite movies are comedies. I love people with a good sense of humor and I love making people laugh. For me, any advertising that can get me to smile or laugh out loud (which is rare), I consider to be well done. That doesn't mean any ad that gets a laugh is good, but I find myself drawn to those more than others. Most people would agree that comedy is hard. Harder still is getting you to laugh and selling you a product/service at the same time, but some ads manage to do it.

HBO’s “Awkward Family Viewing” campaign is my favorite campaign of 2014. It has a perfect blend of comedy, awkwardness, and relevancy that just makes for an extremely well done ad. The campaign focuses on those awkward times when you are watching a movie or television show (in this case HBO shows) with your parents and a sex scene comes on or there is more than a typical “PG-13” conversation happening. The silence…the tension in the room…the palpable awkwardness….it’s like somebody tricked me into watching soft core porn with my family out of nowhere. I don’t remember signing up for this.

They got the idea for this campaign from my living room. Except in in real life it’s longer than a 30 second spot. So much longer.

The first time I saw this campaign I just kept thinking to myself, “oh my god that’s exactly right.” It was like they had cameras in the living room at my parents’ house and seen what I had been through so many times as my family and I watched Game of Thrones or True Detective together. As soon as clothes start coming off on the screen I realize that I need to get a glass of water from the kitchen and reply to all the texts I suddenly got when the scene started.

It’s such a simple idea that came straight from the real life experiences of so many people. Plus, they sold HBO GO perfectly. “Might be a good time for HBO GO,” at the end of the spot just hits the nail on the head. Shepardson Stern & Kaminsky, who made the ad, gave me a perfect reason for why I should pay for HBO GO. They didn't show a guy at a party surrounded by beautiful women saying, “Oooh, you’re so sexy AND you have HBO GO?” who could be me if I just became a member already. Instead, they told me in a playful way, “Listen, dude, we've all be there, and HBO GO means you can watch on your own and avoid this scenario.” Thanks, HBO, that’s actually a good reason to buy it. I also shared this ad with a few of my friends who I know have been in this situation before, and when an ad has you sharing it with your friends, you know you've got something special.

So, to me, this is what makes for good advertising. It seems to have the perfect blend of comedy, awkwardness, and straight-from-your-life relevancy that makes you think, “Exactly.” If I still lived with my parents, I would already be a customer of HBO GO. Well, I still might be, but I’m going to wait for the next time I have to go home and visit. Regardless of if I actually buy it, in my mind, they've already sold me.