When "funny" goes right (and wrong) for a brand

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Warning! The video below may, or may not, be safe for work, and depending on your particular funny bone, it may or may not be humorous.

Did you laugh at this DDB ad for Bud Light Lime? Ad Age's Jeremy Mullman didn't. In a harsh but fair critique, Mullman mocked the ad's attempt at -- but failure to achieve -- edginess. And even for those who did laugh, Mullman's takeaway -- "if you like anal sex, this Bud's for you" -- certainly isn't the message Anheuser-Busch was going for.

But if Mullman were a 22-year-old frat boy, he might feel differently. He may have laughed. He may have bought a case of the stuff when out with his friends at the liquor store, and -- cue the brand/marketer dream sequence -- each of those frat boys may have been repeating variations of the ad's many double-entendres.

I gave it to my boss in the can.

I'm gonna get it in the can in about five minutes.

I never thought I'd enjoy getting it in the can as much as I do.

It's been a decade since I last hung out with frat boys, so I can't really say if the ad effectively reached its target audience, although judging from the low number of views on YouTube, a small advertising industry backlash, and an official "no comment" from A-B, it's safe to say the joke didn't go over well.

Still, I laughed. Maybe I'm juvenile or crude, but I laughed. Not out loud. Not LMAO. And certainly not LMAOROTF. But I did chuckle. So at least someone, somewhere thought the ad was funny.

But funny isn't good enough, because when you're using humor in your ads, funny is just the threshold. And no matter how much the ad makes you laugh, it has to be right for your brand. Of course, doing that is an art, which is why I asked these agencies to talk about some of their more recent funnies.

These days, there's nothing funny going on in automotive. But that didn't stop Organic from creating a humorous campaign featuring an over-zealous park ranger character who grills Jeep owners about why they love their Jeeps.

So what made the campaign work?

"Something about the 'schtick' needs to be true and authentic to the brand," says Katie Bolen, Organic's director for engagement management. "In our case, the Urban Ranger represents the legacy and authenticity of the Jeep brand -- the Jeep Wrangler mentality. He is the real deal: a big, irreverent Boy Scout. Born to live and roam in nature, our Jeep Urban Ranger was a preverbal fish-out-of-water when he was 'relocated' to the city and shocked to learn that Jeep owners use their vehicles for purposes other than 4x4 driving. We relied heavily on the juxtaposition between 4x4 versus street driving."

But beyond connecting brand values with the comedic impact, Bolen also says humor may have been the right choice at the right time because a difficult economic picture often means that people really need a laugh.

"In sour times, when you're feeling blue, laughter is the ultimate antidote -- it's a type of escapism," Bolen says. "Brands might use the humor angle because it's warm, personable, and memorable. So, given today's economy, perhaps you shouldn't take yourself too seriously."

How do you shock and amuse a young, male target demo that is best described as a cult-like band of adrenaline junkies? Well, if you're Dimitry Ioffe, CEO of The Visionaire Group, you dare them to do something wild, laugh-worthy, and maybe even a little bit controversial. At least, that was the idea behind a Facebook app to plug the action movie "Crank: High Voltage."

So, what was the dare? Would you believe that the app asked its users to post a video of "their granny getting humped" in their Facebook news feeds?

Vulgar? You bet.

Funny? Only to the people who would go see the movie.

On brand and attention-grabbing? Absolutely, Ioffe says.

"The key is to know your audience," Ioffe explains. "If you choose the spaghetti-meets-wall approach with humor, your campaign will either be too diluted to resonate with enough users, or it will come across as scattershot and lose any intended impact. For the 'Crank' campaign, we had a pretty strong handle on our audience based on the success of the first film and the subsequent cult that built up around it. We knew that the core fans, a lot of whom are adrenaline junkies (myself included), could handle the more shocking and controversial elements of the Facebook Connect campaign we created. We were confident they would get it and continue the dialogue surrounding the sequel's release."

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