What can marketers learn from comedians?

By Aditya Jaishankar , McCann, Mumbai | In Advertising | August 25, 2017
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When stereotypes are demolished, or brought alive in a humorous manner, interesting advertising is born.

Little do we realise how insightful comedians are. A comedian who can make a crowd roll with laughter by drawing inspiration from real life is definitely a master at arriving at penetrating insights.

Aditya Jaishankar Aditya Jaishankar

With topics ranging from stereotypes, racism and daughter-in-law-mother-in-law relationships to big fat Indian weddings and a lateral view of the Indian middle class family, comedians have cracked it all.

There is a striking similarity between what we classically call 'insights' and the insights that comedians come up with to make us laugh.

When we listen to a great insight, brought up by a comedian in a witty manner, we feel, 'Wow, how true this is, but I never thought of it like that...'

The art of arriving at an insight is all about exploiting a tension that exists. Comedians are adept at that. Marketers can probably learn a trick or two from them. Here is one such example in which the tension in relationships is brought alive.

A comedian named Anu Menon - of Lola Kutty fame - beautifully illustrates a mother calling her son every few hours when he was newly-wed... to "her". The tension between exerting control over her son whom she initially 'owned' (my son) versus letting go was highlighted. She also highlights the discomfort of the daughter-in-law calling "mommy mommy" and "papa papa" in the initial stages of the marriage.

Anu Menon on stage - A still from YouTube Anu Menon on stage - A still from YouTube

Comedians revel in the art of exaggeration and in the process they bring alive the problem of a brand or category in a manner that marketing folks can learn from. In fact, a good idea would be to invite a stand-up comedian to bring alive a problem in a manner that can truly inspire the creative team.

Just like how Aditi Mittal brought alive the problem plaguing the bra category in her act. Millions of Indian women could relate to it - that is, the ridiculously harrowing retail experience that women have to go through to buy a bra, what with the Chotus and Rajus (surprisingly there is always a man behind the counter) gazing at them and telling them what their bra size is with uncanny confidence.

Aditi Mittal on stage - A still from YouTube Aditi Mittal on stage - A still from YouTube

Perhaps, one could actually get ideas to change the game of the 'bra buying' experience after listening to her. Any retail experience ideas anybody?

Comedians can actually enable you to draw up a rich and evocative pen portrait of your audience. A slight exaggeration gives a clearer picture of the kind of audience you are talking to, as illustrated by Angad Singh's act titled 'Growing up in a middle class family'.

Angad Singh on middle class families - YouTube grab Angad Singh on middle class families - YouTube grab

We study huge audiences such as, the youth of India or middle class India, but often find it difficult to think of a pen portrait that can bring alive these audiences alive. The resentment and irritation of growing up in a typical middle class Indian family was brought alive in his act. Since many of our discussions revolve around middle class families of today and yesterday, it would be noteworthy to listen to some of the quirks of middle class families highlighted in acts like these. Many funny insights - the mother's obsession with cleaning up hotel rooms while on vacation, the idea that watching a movie twice is an act of indulgence, the fight for the TV remote, etc. - can be used in creating consumer portraits and writing better briefs.

The condom segment faces some serious issues, brought alive beautifully by comedian Abijit Ganguly. The hardest thing an Indian has to buy is a condom. Look for a deserted chemist so that no one can spot you, first look at the medicines, then muster the courage to get to the point, whisper to the chemist, who in turn pretends he can't understand what you're saying and makes you speak up... Surely an 'inspiring' problem for a creative director and a planner in an agency to solve; remains unsolved.

Abijit Ganguly on stage - A still from YouTube Abijit Ganguly on stage - A still from YouTube

We tend to focus more on bringing the solution alive. Perhaps, we should focus on bringing the problem alive in an evocative manner... just like these comedians do. Doing so, may make creative folks fall in love with the problem.

Stand-up comedians describe things in a peculiar way that helps bring alive the mindset of an audience. Take for instance what happens when a Hard Rock Café opens in Velachery, a residential area in South Chennai. In his act, comedian Arvind SA highlights some local insights - every other 'chamata payan' (meaning, good boy in Tamil) asks for cranberry juice!

Comedian Arvind SA's act about Hard Rock Café coming to Chennai. Grab from YouTube Comedian Arvind SA's act about Hard Rock Café coming to Chennai. Grab from YouTube

A lot of interesting advertising happens when stereotypes are demolished or brought alive in a manner that's really humorous. Comedians have brought alive the north-south divide with strong arguments that make us feel stupid about our stereotypes.

The manner in which stereotypes have been exaggerated and challenged by comedians could inspire advertisers to look at breaking stereotypes in a lateral manner.

Comedian Karthik Kumar on the North-South divide in India. Grab from YouTube Comedian Karthik Kumar on the North-South divide in India. Grab from YouTube

What's most important is the universal connect that some comedians manage to establish. This is something that mass marketers would die for. Nothing binds people across cross-sections like comedy.

If marketing and advertising dudes spend some more time with the kings of comedy, who knows what might happen - maybe they'll laugh all the way to the bank.

(The author is planning head, South India, McCann)

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