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Ad Lib blog

Creative critiques of pharma and healthcare ads and campaigns

The Language of Laughter

Time to lighten up just a tad with Angelo Ghidotti and Mair Dilworth’s review of three campaigns 

Using humour to promote a brand can be complicated. Not least because being funny is hard work. But more often because humour is not always appropriate for the brand. The advertisement entertains us, but the brand or message can be subverted by it, and sometimes even adversely affected by an attempt at humour.

And then there's the problem of translation. As campaigns become increasingly global, there's little place for irony, puns or culturally specific 'in jokes'. A joke that can split one nation's sides, leaves another stone faced.

But if you are going to attempt a bit of humour, it's essential to find the right tone: neither too subtle nor too simple-minded. You cannot make fun of the consumer. Schadenfreude (pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others) doesn't exactly engender a warm and fuzzy feeling! In Italy humour usually means a gag, typically reliant on puns. This can annoy language purists who'll then turn away from the brand.

But where pharmaceuticals and communication to doctors are concerned, it's even more tricky. Doctors notoriously have a black sense of humour, but tapping into it can be dangerous. So while it's acceptable to take hay fever lightly, for instance, serious illness requires a sensitive touch. Choose your moment!

We've chosen three examples of healthcare ads where humour works well – more importantly where it also crosses cultural divides. As a litmus test, Mair has chosen an Italian ad and Angelo has chosen a British ad. The third choice has virtually no copy, perfect for both of us to review!

Brioschi – Manetti and Roberts



Agency: Legas Delaney Italia

Mair: There are times when it feels as if Italy is another planet – when the culture clash is more like a culture train smash. But this little gem of an ad for heartburn relief restores my faith in European unity.

One the one hand, it is entirely Italian – who else would eat wild boar for supper? And it’s based on an Italian saying. After eating a heavy meal ‘la cena ti è rimasta sullo stomaco’ – dinner stays on your stomach. On the other hand, it‘s a totally universal concept with the kind of silly humour that has global appeal.

It’s only 15 seconds long, but I love the fact that they didn’t go straight to the reveal. The close-up shot of the boar’s face, with its quizzical expression is the perfect pause between the set up and the ‘punchline’.

A simple problem and solution ad. Minimal copy, no fancy techniques just a strong idea beautifully executed. It works every time, everywhere.

Voltaren – Novartis



Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi Simko

Mair & Angelo:  It seems pointless to write a lot of copy about an ad that needs no words. This is a subtle ad that takes a couple of seconds to get – which makes it all the more rewarding. It’s a great, campaignable idea for pain relief that doesn’t show patients, barbed wire, fire or hammers.

And it’s proof that the Swiss have a sense of humour after all!

British Heart Foundation



British Heart Foundation

Agency: Grey London

Angelo: If I’d witnessed a heart attack just a few weeks ago,  I can honestly say I wouldn’t have known what to do. Years of TV and movies  told me all about the ‘kiss of life’. But at the key moment, would I really  have been able to give it? I suspect not. Today, I think I’d fare a lot better.  Thanks to Vinnie Jones. As he clearly says: "No kissing". You only  kiss your missus on the lips. Call 999 and push hard and fast. The rhythm? The  old Bee Gees song Staying Alive is perfect, Vinnie tells us.

I’ve seen many adverts about heart attacks over the  years but this is by far the most effective, the clearest and the most  memorable. Vinnie’s trademark voice and facial expressions; the serious yet  hilariously delivered "No kissing" line; the use of Staying Alive; and the final "Hard" and "Fast" memo written on the fingers. It’s a brilliant piece of work and proof that good advertising really can save lives. 

Article by
Angelo Ghidotti and Mair Dilworth

executive creative directors,
Sudler & Hennessey, Milan

9th July 2012


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