Something You Otter Know About Puns



It’s Thursday May 22, 2013 and I’m on a dream vacation to San Francisco, birthplace of the great Harvey Milk. I’m about to leave the Aquarium of the Bay after spending 15 minutes–quite the disappointment. This bald fella stands about five feet from an advertisement for the upcoming  Sea Otters exhibit. He stares at it as if trying to figure out a puzzle, tilts his head sideways, and bites his fingernails. After what seems like 10 minutes, his eyes light up and his hand comes out of his mouth. His right index finger extends knowingly. Others ignore the pun completely; it’s not worth the effort.


Advertisers have an affinity for puns. Entire sites are dedicated to the puns of advertising, like this Tumblr. And there’s been a lot of talk about some truly superb ads lately that have used puns. In my last blog post I highlighted Ship My Pants; it’s no secret that I love that commercial.   And it’s also no secret that I am just generally a fan of puns–even bad ones. It’s all good pun.

But advertising is a form of sales. If the pun befuddles the message that the ad is trying to convey,  that’s wasted dollars. A bad pun might be hilarious to the copywriter creating it, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to sell diapers. A good pun, one that most of society can easily get, can make a campaign. A clever, timely pun shows that a brand is tuned into the pulse of culture.

So, advertising, you have my permission to pun (Advertising: “Thanks, Jonathan!”). Please, please, just don’t be lazy about it. Mustard up the courage to put your best foot forward, pepper the ads with your wit, and relish in the  reward.

Four QR codes across a subway track and modern day sexist advertising:  we still need to talk.

Go Viral Without Making Everyone Sick

I’m sitting four rows up at Hill Holliday’s TVnext and Discovery is talking about live multi-platform programming. The man presenting makes the mistake of saying the “k” word. The word that guarantees your entire audience will zone out. The word that  is the enemy of productivity everywhere. The word that induces images of fluffy cute little critters.


It’s no secret, if you want something to go viral, add kittens. We, as humans, love kittens. Just ask this developer, he outsourced his work to China so he could watch cat videos all day. Or take Work It Kitty for example, which racked up more than 400,000 views in under two weeks without any additional marketing efforts.

But there’s better, on-brand ways to go viral. Draftfcb‘s Ship My Pants for Kmart  uses a clever pun to announce a new service. It’s a joke that everyone can get in on, requiring few cultural cues. Best of all, the joke doesn’t run the risk of offending many people.

Ship My Pants makes great use of social currency to spread a message via word of mouth. Humans have a natural need to belong– to feel like they’re insiders. Talking about Ship My Pants shows that you’re in on the joke. You’re smart, funny, and relevant.

Though, sellers need beware. Not everything you spread turns into delicious buttery goodness. People on the internet have the unfortunate tendency to focus on the negative. Sometimes you run the risk of spreading some bad, moldy dairy.

Draftfcb’s other viral effort, #Iatethebones, has gone viral to a certain degree, but the response has been mixed at best. Some have posted how hilarious the video is, while others have completely derailed the brand, saying the commercial makes KFC consumers look like idiots.

Yesterday, KFC started a U.S.-based promotion that asks consumers to come to KFC and say that they ate the bone in exchange for free chicken. This counters some of the negative WOM marketing KFC is receiving, but the ship has already hit the fan.

These campaigns are prime examples of why advertising professionals need to think beyond going viral. They need to ask themselves some basic questions before green-lighting a campaign: How would the average person react? Will social media reaction be positive or negative? Is there any potential for backlash? How will consumers view the brand once the campaign runs? After it runs?

When it comes to viral campaigns, its always best to prepare for the worst. But it’s still worth pursuing these type of campaigns, because WOM is invaluable–the positive potential far outweighs the risk. A great viral campaign, like Ship My Pants,  creates invaluable, lasting brand equity.

Tragedy Strikes, Humanity Reigns

The tragedy yesterday was shocking for all Boston area natives. But for people who are also ad mavens in the making, like me, it was  depressing  how insensitive some national brands were on social media.

How hard would it be to have a human being monitoring a brand’s social media? It’s not like most of these brands can’t afford a social media expert or two. Besides, this tragedy happened when work was still in session across most of the USA, so someone should have been around to stop these promotional tweets from getting out in the first place.

Unfortunately, many brands had their Twitter set to automatically post and no one was able to stop their release. Other brands were able to pull their promotional tweets in time or delete them soon after.

It’s really sad when people are losing life and limb  and all you get from Burger King is a promotion for coffee.

In contrast to Burger King, fast food giants like Wendy’s and Taco Bell quickly deleted their  tweets.  But they weren’t able to stop them from going up in the first place. McDonald’s was one of the only major fast food chains to directly respond to the tragedy.

It isn’t all bad in ad land, though. Some New England based companies did more than respond– they acted with heart.  Local restaurant chains Fire+Ice and Joe’s American Bar & Grill passed out food to officers and emergency crew.

On the national level, Southwest Airlines was quick to accommodate people, giving homage to the age-old saying that actions speak louder than words.

This type of response shows the importance of the human element in branding. It’s a reminder that the best brands are driven by interaction and an emotional core–they aren’t mindless robots.