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Why brand managers should spend more time on jokes and cartoons…



Ever wondered why we like jokes and cartoons? Why sardar (mallu, gujju etc etc) jokes abound, and Dilbert, Garfield, RK Laxman’s common man are such iconic figures?

(And no, ‘because they are funny’ is not the answer we are looking for J)

Long ago, a study suggested what was (then) surprising for me.

We like them because jokes and cartoons make us feel superior

Many years of consumer insight and brand work later, I can today understand and buy into it much better. In fact, this understanding is vital to brand strategies.

When you think of it, two things are common to most humor: you either laugh at someone, or something

The laugh-at-someone school of humor, essentially accentuates character flaws. Someone’s naiveté, stupidity, laziness, gluttony, greed… the study pointed out that seeing them makes us think ‘hah, at least I am better than this looser!’ by contrast our flaws seem lesser.

It is important therefore that the flaws of the joke/cartoon characters mirror what bothers us about us. The more they do, the more ‘liberating’ the joke is from our poor self image.

The laugh-at-something brand of humor attacks what bothers us but we feel powerless against in real life. Politics, office policies, marriage being some of the pet targets. This school also targets the ‘someone’ who represents the evil in the context – Politicians, Bosses, Spouses. But you can see how the motive here is different from the first school.

In other words, jokes and cartoons are nothing but coping mechanisms. Easing what bothers us. Either our self image or our situation, which makes us feel helpless.

The stronger the pain/anxiety, the more meaningful the humor.

Have you thought of your brand in this light?