Turning the Joke Upon Yourself

Aug 24, 2012   //   by Keith McDonald   //   Credit Cards, Latest Which4U Updates  //  1 Comment

Not taking oneself too seriously is seen as an attractive quality. In the social media age – if we may call it that – it has also become a crucial strategy for firms attempting to build relationships with customers.

When a campaign is built upon humour, recognising when it’s gone stale is the important part. And sometimes, having the ability to turn it upon oneself is just about the only rescue mission available to keep the campaign alive.

In 2006, Family Guy was subject to a rather savage parody by the makers of rival animated favourite South Park, in which the latter produced a farcical scenario for how the former’s trademark ‘gag’ humour was produced at random.

The Family Guy creators, subtly amused by it all, eventually turned the joke upon themselves. In the 2011 episode ‘Back to the Pilot’, a cleverly constructed piece of metafiction, Brian and Stewie travel back in time to the original pilot episode to witness the old animation, allowing the show the perfect opportunity to poke fun at itself and its old habits.

Peering through the kitchen window, the two witness the family zoning out into periods of motionlessness, before eventually realising what’s going on:

Family Guy - Back To The Pilot (Fox)

The parallel is then switched to their ‘current’ incarnation, where the family set up a sketch, then, ‘off-air’, turn to their phones, make-up, cigarettes and licquor. The characters become actors as the show turns the screw upon itself to hilarious effect.

The result of this was that viewers who had long grown tired of the show found a reason to watch and laugh again. Even those who dislike it started begrudgingly admiring Seth Macfarlane’s ability to make fun of his own show. Turning the screw has rekindled a lot of interest, and worthily so.

Go Repair: UK Advertising

There’s little based in the UK that parallels this, serial-wise. But in the world of advertising, serial is all-important.

Take the suite of BT Infinity ads, for example, where the guy’s failed attempts to seduce women through his broadband connection are becoming a bit of a running joke-cum-narrative.

When we recognise it’s a new ad, we watch it because it’s another instalment to a story, or an extension of the same running joke or motif. The alco-pop WkD, with advertising based around people playing pranks on each other, is another enticing example. It’s a different way of instilling the brand inside a viewer’s head.

But sooner or later, each of these campaigns runs its course. At that point, it’s only finding a way to turn the joke upon the brand itself that can keep a campaign alive.

Advertising that has long run its course, many will argue, is that of price-comparison websites. Our competitors, it seems, have long held close to the (somewhat risky) strategy that the highly annoying is a no-brainer for delivering inherently memorable messages.

It’s been hugely successful for a long time, I think, albeit at the cost of making the world a more unbearable place. But not necessarily so any more.

Whether or not we believe in the old adage that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’, there’s only so much of the glass-shattering ‘GoCompare’ aria we can stand before wanting to put a boot through our television screens. Building familiarity is no longer an issue; it’s now overkill, and actually becoming detrimental to the brand.

So how disappointing to see (from our friendly rivalry perspective) that the penny had finally started to drop.

There’s Sergei the meerkat ending up in intense care, wittering feverishly about credit cards; while at impresario fortress GoCompare, Gio Compario is finally floored by unlikely mercenary Sue Barker (perhaps the most random selection since Raef from The Apprentice insisted on Sian Lloyd for his tissue advert. (Why didn’t he go the extra mile, hire a busty wench, and market the tissues at single men instead?))

Go Compare - Save the Nation

Already, the brand thinks it’s onto something, with a team of random sporting celebrities seemingly lined up to take their shot at the ‘Save the Nation’ campaign. Now we’ve got Team GB football coach Stuart Pearce thumping a ball (with terrible editing) into the warbler’s midriff, leaving him writhing on the concrete of a car showroom forecourt.

Should we next expect Bradley Wiggins to ride past and inflict a whiplash-related injury through his mighty sideburns of greatness? At this rate, they’ll have to start flogging no-win, no-fee compensation.

The brand says on its YouTube channel, ‘we understand that everyone isn’t as fond of Gio Compario & his meticulously groomed moustache as we are’.

Go figure, Go Compare. But how long will this antihero gimmick last?

A few months ago, I suggested that Which4U’s appeal was inadvertantly forged by staying clear of the rather adversarial advertising bandwagon.

And I would still wager, tongue firmly in cheek, that even if Which4U’s major appeal is a lack of infuriating gimmicks, that’s still a decidedly worthy one.

Our Turn: Beat My Card

And of course, we’re well aware that there’s plenty we can make fun of from our own side as well.

If we take our clever Beat My Card credit card savings tool, we’ve never made its landing page more than an afterthought. Hence, it hardly looks a great deal better than the proverbial public toilet.

Even though it’s not taking personal details, consumers want everything even remotely related to financial products to look 100% fit-for-purpose. And rightly so.

So, when we commandeth “Enter Your Current Provider” in the centre of a disconcerting grey screen, it doesn’t look particularly inviting or secure.

But we assure you: that’s a clear case of appearances being deceptive and of style hindering substance.

If you see how Beat My Card is used and how simple it is, we’re convinced that you’ll find little reason not to try it.

The tool works by comparing your existing credit card against the rest of the cards in our database (given a few basic spending details), and then providing up to three cards that offer the best potential savings.

That we’re giving away an iPad to one fortunate user for 60 seconds’ effort, on top of the potential moneysaving benefits to be made, must surely be a conquering antidote to the grim aesthetics.

So, could you kick our perennially annoying competitors in the teeth and laugh in the face of your current credit card by finding a better offer? Two opera stars; one stone.

Here’s a cutaway.

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