You should read this blog. It’s funny! Very Funny!
One would suspect that such obnoxiously, over-the-top self-promotion wouldn’t work, but some productions are successfully marketing themselves with such ad campaigns today, and they have been doing so for some time.
If I were to put word out that this blog was going to pay a ridiculously high amount for promotion, and of the hundreds of ad agencies that began vying for this money, one suggested that we build a marketing plan around the idea that “It’s funny!” that campaign probably would not finish in my top 100.
“It’s funny!” just wouldn’t seem, to me, to be a campaign built for the long haul. This simplistic approach would surely generate some traffic in the short term, but I would think that a true, funny designation would have to be earned over time through meretricious production, and that the obnoxiously over-the-top suggestion that it was funny, would only take me so far. “We’re not even making a suggestion, I would complain. “We’re making a statement. Isn’t there going to be some backlash to that?”
“Look, your blog is already funny,” would be the sales pitch that an ad man would surely use. “We just have to get the word out.”
“That’s great,” I would reply, “But aren’t there going to be some unintended consequences involved in skipping the steps in the long haul word of mouth process?”
“Haven’t you already been trying that?” I can hear him asking. “Where’s that gotten you?”
He would be right, of course, but there’s something about determining what is funny that seems intimate to me. You determine what is funny according to what fits your “my sense of humor” designation. This “It’s funny” ad campaign appears to be saying: “Look, we’ve already determined that it’s funny for you, so you don’t have to go through all that. All you have to do is laugh. You don’t have to think about it. You can just sit back, relax, and enjoy. You don’t even have to tell your friends about it. We’ll take care of that too. So just sit back and enjoy it! It’s funny. Very funny!” It all seems to be a violation of the principles of that intimate decision about what’s funny and what’s not. A decision that the audience should make on their own.
Pull quotes, such as these, are effective. As are critical praise and peer review, but I would think that if a prospective audience member were to find out that I was the one making the claim, about my blog, that there would be an immediate backlash. I would expect to see my fellow cynical minds loading up the comments section of my blog with “You may think this is funny, but it don’t appeal to my sense of humor”. Or, “You may think this is funny, but it’s not funny to me.” Even if I wrote what was unquestionably the funniest blog ever written, I could see some rebels wanting to stand out from the crowd by saying, “It’s just not for me. I can see this appealing to the common man, but I’ve read Kafka and Voltaire, and I’ve seen George Carlin at Carnegie Hall, so my expectations may be higher than some. I prefer cerebral, subtle humor that this author apparently knows nothing about.” One could say that such responses would happen regardless, but I imagine that an obnoxiously over-the-top ad campaign, like “It’s funny” would only provoke more of this type of rebellion.
Saying, “It’s funny” or “Very funny!” also tells me that the product in question may be funny in a universal way, in a way my parents thought Milton Berle was funny, and Bob Hope, or Andy Griffith. These guys may have been funny to them, and they may have even been very funny in that universal manner, but they don’t appeal to me, or my sense of humor. I have always preferred the risque humor that comedians like George Carlin and Sam Kinison employed. There was something bitter and angry about their humor that appealed to me. They confused and angered my parents, and I idolized them for it. And when Andy Kaufman did the things Andy Kaufman did, few people around me got it. They thought he was weird. I got it, and there was something about getting it that gave it an intangible quality that may have been diminished had Kaufman prefaced one of his bits with, “Watch this next skit, it’s funny.”
I enjoy the universal slapstick, body function humor as much as anyone else, but to get me enjoying your product over the long haul, you have to be different, and over-the-top in a manner that leads me to believe that no one has ever tried that joke quite that way before. If my parents think it’s funny, or that guy at the deli that repeats Andy Griffith jokes thinks it’s funny, I may find it humorous, but it would never achieve that long-term, “wait with bated-breath for the next episode” level of hilarity for me.
The ad campaign reminds me of the obnoxious retort, obnoxious people like Tony Kornheiser, make to comedic sentiments: “That’s funny, and I know funny!” I’ve always wanted to ask these people, if you know funny, why haven’t you ever been funny? You may know what you consider funny, but I haven’t heard you ever say anything that I consider funny.
I don’t know which team started this promo. Whether it was the promo Ricky Gervais ran for his show Idiot Abroad: “You should watch this show. It’s funny.” Or, if it was the TBS switching from the “Superstation” tagline, to the “Very Funny” one. I would think that telling the audience what to think about their product would be a major no no in marketing, but if it didn’t work, they wouldn’t keep these campaigns going, and it shows that I know little-to-nothing about marketing.
In the case of the show Idiot Abroad, one could argue that Ricky Gervais probably needed to clarify that the show was a comedy, as opposed to the serious travelogue one might perceive after reading a brief description of the show. I still find it condescending. I find it condescending in the same manner I find laugh tracks condescending. I know where to laugh, my cynical, rebellious mind responds to laugh tracks. I don’t need to be told where to laugh. and I don’t need to be told what’s funny … because you know funny.
It could also be argued that when a star like Ricky Gervais tells us that something is funny, we apparently listen to him because he is a star. We know that when a star tells us how to vote, we listen. We know that when stars tell us how to live, how to eat, and how to dress, we listen, because we’ve wanted to have people see us agreeing with cool kids since the fifth grade. When these same cool kids happen to be hawking their own products, however, we shouldn’t allow them to have any authority over whether it’s cool, good, or funny. They should, at the very least, be required to hire another star to make such a comment, just to avoid appearing obnoxious. There’s a part of me, a part that always hated the cool kid aesthetic –because I’ve never been a cool kid– that says that not only should this not work, for the cool kids that do it, but that they should be shamed for even trying it.
As I said, I don’t know who tried it first, but I saw the Gervais ad first, and my first reaction was that this must be common in England, the place that treats royalty like superhumans. My next reaction was that this type of shameless self-promotion would never work here, until I heard the American broadcasting company, TBS, do it too, saying that they were “Very funny!” I refused to watch TBS, and Idiot Abroad, for these reasons, until a friend of mine told me that Idiot Abroad was, indeed, funny, and I determined that it was, but it wasn’t the marketing that convinced me of it.