Conventional (or, possibly, old-fashioned) wisdom says that puns are an absolute no-no in advertising.
In fact, when I started out as a copywriter – with an art director partner – I was told that if you took a portfolio into an agency (when looking for a job/placement) which was full of pun-based work/ideas, you’d be ‘shown the door’.
While puns shouldn’t be used too often (they are, after all, simply ‘dad jokes’), it’s complete bollocks to say they shouldn’t be used at all.
Puns – in the right context, at the right time, for the right ad/campaign – have their place.
They can actually act as a mnemonic, so that people remember your product or service – if only for the pun.
Consider that possibly the greatest ad campaign of the last decade is based on a pun around ‘market’ and ‘meerkat’.
Consider reactive ads – like this one from Veet, the day after Barack Obama was confirmed as the new President of the U.S.
It’s silly. It’s puerile. But it’s utterly relevant to the news of the day, and the product being advertised.
It may have been eye-roll inducing, but many people in the UK were glad Bush was no longer President; were happy Obama was President; or didn’t care enough about U.S politics either way… so the pun, in context, worked – it was funny.
Now consider this, from Easyjet, printed today:
Last night, England – commonly known as the ‘Three Lions’ – were knocked out of the World Cup at the semi-final stage: the best chance they’ve had to win the competition in nearly 30 years.
Most people in the country – even those who don’t really care about football – had been caught up in the drama, the excitement, the hope… the idea that an England football team could ‘go all the way’.
So, going out of the World Cup last night was a bitter disappointment – disappointment that was still felt this morning… particularly as people took on their commute into work.
With that in mind, this was not the time for Easyjet (or any brand) to run an England-football-team-based pun, to shift cheap flights, right underneath the match report.
Again – puns are eye-roll inducing jokes. In the right context, when people are in a good mood, they might raise a smile.
In the context of England going out of the World Cup last night, I can imagine your average football fan looking at that ad, and just thinking (of Easyjet): ‘w*nkers’.
Even the copy underneath the pun – ‘celebrate England’s amazing run with a long weekend in Europe’ – falls flat.
I’m not celebrating their ‘amazing run’ – I’m currently disappointed that run hasn’t continued to the final… and how does that link to making me spend money on a city break?
What I think may have happened is that Easyjet / their agency simply got carried away with ‘this is a great pun – we have to use it’, so just ran with it anyway… or the ad was created in anticipation of England reaching the final, and the copy (under the pun) originally said ‘celebrate England reaching the final with a long weekend in Europe’.
Mind you, that ‘long weekend’ would’ve meant not watching the final at home / finding a bar to watch it in, in another country.
Whatever the case, the ad should’ve been pulled, regardless of ‘OMG, that’s such a good pun! We have to run it!’
There’s a time and a place for pun-based ads.
The day after a semi-final defeat is not the time.
Directly underneath the match report covering that defeat is not the place.