Acerbic Wit: What You Can Learn From ‘Dry British Humor’

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british humor

Many British people think that their brand of comedy is funnier than is everyone else’s. Popular British playwright Oscar Wilde even went so far as to say, “It is clear that humour is far superior to humor.”

British marketing is funnier than U.S. advertisements on the television because marketers in the United Kingdom use cuter words and phrases in their adverts on the telly. They also dress up their words in funnier ways by putting the “u” in humor and other places it doesn’t belong.

About British Humor in Marketing – More than Sticking U in Funny Places

British humor is quite different from slapstick and many other types of humor in its subtlety. In slapstick, comedians use facial expressions and body language to tell the audience when to laugh at the jokes. Dry humor, often attributed to people living in the fog and rain-soaked Britain, features irony, sarcasm, banter, understatement, self-deprecation, teasing and mockery, all delivered with a perfectly straight face. If a British person says something utterly ridiculous with a straight face, he or she is probably kidding.

Irony and sarcasm are the hallmarks of dry British humor. Sarcasm is a derivative of irony, and Brits eagerly whip both out at every opportunity. Savvy advertisers have also learned to use dry wit as marketing strategies. Here’s why.

Why Use Sharp Wit to Market Your Products and Services

Oscar Wilde also said, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

Truer words were never spoken, Mr. Wilde, especially in the world of marketing today. Purveyors of fine goods everywhere are hawking their tawdry wares on websites, blogs, social media accounts, televisions, radios, billboards, and even on the sides of barns. Getting noticed is getting harder every day.

Humor cuts through the mind-numbing noise of everyday life and then give us permission to laugh about our problems. Because it uses sharp, acerbic wit, British humor is especially good at calling attention to a brand.

Next, wit helps you convince interested prospects that your product or service is the world’s best solution to their aggravating, annoying or even embarrassing problem. Take poverty, for example, which prevents many people from achieving their dreams.

State of Marketing Report 2024

Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO used dry wit to tap into that feeling of hope and dashed dreams when they created the 2016 ad for the U.K. National Lottery. The video features singer James Blunt, who says he wanted to win so that he could fulfill his dream of creating holograms that delivers the earworm “Your Beautiful” straight into the brain of every ordinary Brit who looks in a mirror. The advert ends by saying that anyone can win the lottery but, “please, don’t let it be him.”

Humor is a way for companies to make an emotional connection with consumers. If comedy gently tugs at our emotions, then sharp wit yanks out our feelings like slamming a doorknob strung to a tooth. Eliciting a positive response, such as laughter, also creates a lasting impression on a customer. Make someone laugh about getting a tooth yanked out today, and they might buy your product tomorrow.

Dry wit can also make your brand more memorable. Way back in 1993, a group of scientists published a study in the always-hilarious Journal of Marketing that looked at the multinational effects of humor on advertising. The study’s conclusion is as spot on today as it was when those wankers published it 25 years ago: “humor is more likely to enhance recall, evaluation, and purchase intention when the humorous message coincides with ad objectives, is well-integrated with those objectives, and is viewed as appropriate for the product category. Under such circumstances, humorous advertising is more likely to secure audience attention, increase memorability, overcome sales resistance, and enhance message persuasiveness.”

Hilarious, right? What they are basically saying is that, when you do it right, wit can boost your bottom line by catching attention, making you brand memorable, getting people in the mood to buy and making them feel like your company is the only one that can really solve their problem.

Perhaps the best part about using dry British humor is your company doesn’t have to be headquartered in the U.K. – manufacturers around the world can incorporate acerbic wit into their advertising. Based in Addison Texas, Scentsible, LLC incorporated a whiff of British humor in their Poo~Pourri ads, for example, to gain 200 million combined YouTube views and sell more than 20 million bottles that provide a stink-free bathroom guarantee. This ad proves that you can talk about the power of a before-you-go toilet spray to control the “subtle scent of a 300-cow dairy farm” as long as you do it with a cute accent.

Dry humor can do more than sell products. Israel-based carbonated beverage maker SodaStream used this comedic approach in their recruitment film, Join the Revolution. Chock full of self-deprecating and sharp humor, the ad helped the company find talented and creative people for their payroll.

In review, acerbic wit is good for your company’s bottom line because it:

  • Grabs attention
  • Associates the positive emotion elicited by the marketing with your brand
  • Makes a lasting impression

The next time you want to use comedy to boost your marketing among your mates, consider doing so with dry comedy. While you don’t have to put the letter “u” in all your words, you can use the approach the blokes in the U.K. have made so famous.


2024 State of Marketing Report

Your golden ticket to crush your goals with data-driven insights!

2024 State of Marketing Report

Your golden ticket to crush your goals with data-driven insights!

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