Puns as a device in advertising

2021-10-11 by Jim Crickell
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Puns can be useful as a marketing strategy. Despite having a questionable reputation, punning is considered to be among the highest displays of wit. Wordplay can be a powerful strategy for audience engagement. It can be catchy and fun, and can help a brand to stand out from the crowd. However, one has to be careful while using puns, as excessive usage can make a brand seem outdated. Humor, in the midst of pandemic and financial meltdown, can lead to positive feelings and hence more customer engagement. 

There are several famous punchlines based on puns. Some examples are, ‘Nothing runs like a Deere’ for JohnDeere tractors, ‘ I think therefore IBM and ‘Did you MacClean your teeth today?’ The name of the biggest band of all time, The Beatles, is also a terrible pun. 

Visual puns- Marketing can also embrace visual puns, which can be relied on for a quick gag. A poster for the UK listings magazine ‘ Time Out ‘ showed a candle being burned at both ends. A poster for Fit cars showed a wolf disguised as a sheep. In the given examples it is evident that visual puns can successfully communicate a message without the need for an explanatory line. Such messages can also stand out among cluttered competition. 

Puns may not always be a good choice- Sometimes the use of puns can go wrong. For example, the shoe company Foot Petals used a pun in an ad campaign, ‘Shoe-icide is not the answer’. The advertisement used an image of shoes with feet and legs attached hanging upside down in a noose. It may have seemed humorous but an image of the kind used would have made people uncomfortable. This was seen as reckless and insensitive and overshadowed the wordsmithing. 

The readability of content may be affected by using puns. Using a pun might not be google friendly and might affect the SEO strategy of content. Although they are direct and entertaining, puns can be extremely easy to think of and write, hence it would be odd for a business to pay a marketing agency for something that they could come up with themselves. For puns to really have an impact, they need to be exceptionally clever and it is difficult to make them meet that standard. 

The ongoing pandemic also provides quite a few bad examples. Some content creators make references to ‘going viral’ and how appearances ‘on the surface’ need to be wiped down with Clorox. These can appear to be insensitive. 

Puns can be productive – This device may be included in paragraphs of blogs, subheadings, and social media platforms. Snickers nailed wordplay with the term ‘snaxi’. The use of that term by Snickers on taxis aimed to spur purchases. Puns can give brands a personality depending on the context. ‘The Economist’ uses lines like,’ Some like it yacht’ and manages to conjure an air of witticism which makes the reader feel smart too. Dollar Shave Club’s slogan,’ Shave time. Shave money’ sets the bar high for humorous campaigns. One thing has to be remembered: the pun is not the primary focus, and it is rather a device used to make a brand memorable.