Here’s To the Father of Funny Advertising

  • Harry Hayes

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Long before most of us were born, Jack Benny was making advertising funny.

If You’ve Ever Laughed at Funny Advertising on TV, Radio, or the Super Bowl, You Have Jack Benny to Thank. 

Years ago, in the early days of Madison Avenue, funny advertising was practically nonexistent. Poking fun at a product, any product, was a big no no.

As legendary copywriter Rosser Reeves once said, “No one buys anything from a clown.”

So what changed? How did humor break through, and finally become accepted as a marketing approach?

It all started with a popular radio show.

Show Me the Funny

One of the first uses of funny advertising can be traced back to Jack Benny, in 1932.

Jack was one of the first vaudeville comedians to host his own radio show, and after a few weeks on the air, he had used up most of his jokes.

He realized he needed to take a different approach, and that’s when Jack Benny’s true genius emerged.

Jack and his team of writers created a cast of quirky characters—different comic personalities he could interact with on a weekly basis.

So instead of writing jokes, they wrote funny situations and dialogue. In other words, they invented situational comedy, or sitcoms.

And soon, they began using that same approach for the show’s advertising.

Funny Advertising

Benny and the show’s writers began integrating sponsor messages into the show. At first the show’s sponsor, Canada Dry, enjoyed the witty dialogue and the response from fans.

But about a year later, they grew tired of being the butt of the joke, and didn’t renew their contract.

So Benny switched sponsors, first to Chevrolet, then General Tire, then Jell-O, then Grape Nuts.

The show itself was a huge success, with a large national audience. So finally, to gauge the effectiveness of this marketing approach, ad agency Young & Rubicam conducted research.

Jack Benny’s listeners scored a 91 percent sponsor recall—the highest measurement ever recorded.

More Funny Advertising

Soon, more radio personalities began copying Benny’s approach, making jokes at their sponsor’s expense.

Fred Allen became especially known for this, but Jack Benny was the true innovator.

And now, nearly a century later, funny advertising has become mainstream, if not the norm.

And year after year, it seems like funny ads on the Super Bowl are the ones that score highest on USA Today’s Ad Meter.


About the Author: 

Harry Hayes is the owner and executive producer at Content Puppy Productions, a corporate video production agency based in Charlotte. Before starting Content Puppy, he spent 20+ years as an advertising writer and creative director.

Blog by Content Puppy Productions