Angus Tucker
Apr 14, 2024

Signs of light: Is fun coming back to adland?

The best reason to work in advertising should be that it’s fun, says Angus Tucker. Without it, advertising is just telemarketing.

Signs of light: Is fun coming back to adland?

I’m almost scared to say it out loud because I don’t want to jinx it.

Like an eight-year-old waking up to a blizzard on a Monday morning, I don’t want to get too excited about a snow day only to see the school bus making its way down the street. But here goes:

Is advertising getting fun again

There are some real signs. I’m seeing funny ads again. Ads that aren’t trying to be funny but actually funny ads. And last month, I only saw a couple of super earnest posts on Linkedin that said “I got into advertising to change the world and am so #honoured and #grateful to be changing the conversation about male pattern baldness.” 

Even Cannes Lions is getting into it by creating the Humour Lions. And sure, maybe someone on the Festival Committee needed to replace the teak railings on their 300-foot yacht, but they could have raised that money by creating the Sad Lions, so I’ll take my fun crumbs where I can find them.

And if the fun is back for real, I can only say “thank god” and “just in time.”

Because advertising without fun is telemarketing.

I honestly can’t think of one good reason to be in advertising if it isn’t fun. Money? Not for the first 10 years anyway. Fame? Outside of our industry bubble, no one cares what a Lion is. Job security? Nope. Work/life balance? Please.

Fun is our only recruiting and retention advantage. And for decades, it was a gun in a knife fight. If fun was what you wanted in a job, advertising was Tiger Woods from 1997 to 2012. Everybody else was playing for second.

Fun got the young kids who wanted to do something creative but weren’t quite ready to be starving artists. Fun got the business kids who couldn’t stomach spreadsheets and operations meetings. Fun got the kids who sucked at essays but loved to write. Fun got the characters. And when you put all those characters together, shoulder to shoulder in an agency working on ideas? It was like recess in second grade, except you got paid to go. It wasn’t perfect (not by a long shot), but it was fun.

But then, the fun just kind of went away. And fun’s boring older brother, Earnest, took its place. Have you ever sat beside Earnest at a dinner party? Dessert can’t come fast enough.   

We can debate the causes. Dove’s ground-breaking campaign for Real Beauty happened and overnight, every client on the planet wanted to be seen as purposeful whether they were or not. (To be clear, Dove’s Real Beauty campaign is the greatest idea to ever come out of Canada, and I would kill to have done it, but unless your brand is truly committed to a cause, don’t pretend to be.)

Award shows and award categories ballooned and Linkedin became a firehose of humblebrags: “This many shortlists for this many clients!” It is more than a bit ironic that agencies are always complaining about clients or holding companies being so obsessed with numbers, yet every second humbled and honoured Linkedin post is about who won what and how many.

Fun took a hit when we (and the industry trade press) started worrying more about what some award judges think of our ideas than the consumers we were trying to persuade. When our first thought after seeing an amazing idea went from: “OMG! How the f*** are we gonna sell that?” to “Will the judges like that?”

When doing rule-breaking (fun! creative!) stuff became less important than doing award-winning (important! earnest!) stuff. When accomplishment would no longer be measured in what we make, but what we win.

When creativity became servitude.

But then, like those first little raindrops on your face before the deluge, things started to change.

Etsy did the best holiday campaign in recent memory by taking the Mission Impossible theme and putting lyrics to it that spoke of the difficulties of buying a gift for your giant husband, or your twin daughters.

And then they followed it up with one of the best Super Bowl ads of the lot (celebrity free to boot).

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups went full Monty Python with this bit of lunacy to launch their new Caramel Peanut Butter Cups—and if they haven’t already sold out of the things, I would be shocked.

This sells as hard as anything I’ve seen in years, and I think I could watch it 100 times and still enjoy it.

Pizza Pizza did a note perfect send up of fixed rate mortgages and heating bill commercials with their so-bad-it’s-amazing Fixed Rate Pizza idea.

And CeraVe stuck their tongues so far in their cheeks with their Michael Cera ‘is-he-or-isn’t-he-our-spokesman?’ that they may require facial reconstruction.

And in perhaps the best news yet (you know, if you actually like fun) is that Quiznos has brought back the Spongmonkeys.

Sixteen years after Quiznos debuted the Spongmonkeys as their spokescreatures (crudely animated puppets with human mouths that sang about how much they loved Quiznos subs), they are back in all their bizarre, creepy and I can only imagine, extremely effective glory. Now this is creativity. It’s unique, fresh, and wildly re-watchable. Everything good advertising could hope to be.

It doesn’t tell me that Quiznos believes in community. Or that a portion of each sale goes to food banks. Or that their peppers are sourced from local farms. It’s pointedly un-earnest, concerned only that you:

  1. Remember the brand (d’uh, Quiznos).
  2. Get that they’re going back to what made them great in the first place (toasted subs).
  3. Are laughing your head off.

No algorithm, best practice, or “how to write award winning case videos” seminar could have come up with this campaign.

It is outrageously inventive, breaks every rule, and is fun as hell. But best of all, it looks like the creators didn’t think about awards at all when they made it. Like, AT. ALL. In fact, it looks more like they imagined standing before the juries at Cannes and mooning them.

The Spongmonkeys defy every single convention of spokespeople (and perhaps, even advertising), but as one of the Youtube comments under the video puts it: “They’re not the heroes we expected, but they’re definitely the heroes we needed!”

They sure are.


Angus Tucker is the co-founder and former CCO of John St., one of Canada’s most respected and revered agencies of the last 20 years. He is resigned to the fact that of all the ideas he’s been a part of over his career, ‘Catvertising’ will likely be on his work headstone. Tell him how much you like or hate his takes on Linkedin.

 

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