When Life Needs and Escape Button, We Can Be the Antidote

By Marianne Bellorin, Brand Strategist, VCCP

Day-to-day life can be trying at the best of times. Think about it. If it’s not a deadline that’s threatening you, bills, taxes, or the dentist (always the dentist) will. This is the regular life we live outside of the 24 hour news cycle. According to GWI, six in ten internet users keep up to date with the news online. We’re jumping from one wildfire to the next witnessing wars on borders and wars on bodies.  So, if the Slack notifications from your boss weren’t enough to give you a Sunday-Scaries stroke, Google Alerts about the world collapsing probably will.

This business requires us to meet the cultural moment we’re living in. But how can we do that without piling onto the negativity? For the past few years, a spoonful of purpose has served as the go-to antidote for this near unanimous burnout. Now, I think we’re guilty of overdosing on it. Once upon an unprecedented time, an influx of COVID-19 ads all used the same somber piano music. To this day, I’m triggered. From my perspective, advertising doesn’t always need to spell out the reality we’re living in; self-aware content isn’t always that soothing. There’s a better medicine against despair. So, while purpose has its place in telling powerful stories, it can’t be our only tool for engaging audiences

A history of past crises proves that serious times sometimes demand a not so serious response. When you take a look at the percentage of comedy films released between 1929 and 1945, the most sizable spikes occurred after turbulent times: The Great Depression, and World War II. Post 9/11, an influx of fantasy films allowed us to live in fantastic alternate realities. From Potter to Pixar with Avatar in between, we disconnected from the everyday doom and gloom and reconnected with ourselves through laughter and imagination. Throughout COVID, we had everything from Tiger King craze to a never-ending Drag Race. Life needs an escape button and, oftentimes, there’s no better escape button than comedy.

As an industry, we need to embrace creative storytelling and ditch the desire to spit utilitarian facts. Two of the biggest cultural icons of the past five years, Lil Nas X and Oliver Tree, have reached international stardom because they don’t shy away from nonsense. Rather, they indulge in it. These masters of mischief live in a fantasy world of their own creation inviting fans along for the ride. In Lil Nas X’s universe, Satan Shoes can exist (well, until you get sued by Nike that is). In the Oliver Tree dimension, you can prank Atlantic Records into funding the 34th most expensive music video of all time. They’ve crafted their own brands that give them otherworldly freedom, so why can’t we?

Even the most established brands don’t need to be serious all the time. This year, Louis Vuitton partnered with KidSuper’s Colm Dillane to bring us Funny Business, a runway show turned comedy special. Fashion houses typically require a straight face in exchange for a front row seat –no matter what. Louis Vuitton challenged this very behavior, creating a unique moment in culture and connecting with consumers in the process.Most of the time, however, it’s the challenger brands that inspire a cultural reset. Liquid Death is proof that leading with laughs can turn “the dumbest name” and a simple Facebook post into a $700 million water brand. CEO Mike Cessario proudly pushes the comedy agenda: “We want to actually entertain people [and] make them laugh in service of a brand. And if you can do that, they’re going to love your brand because you’re giving them something of value. You’re actually making them laugh.” Now that’s refreshing.

We as marketers have an opportunity to lean into a gear shift. By leaning into comedy, into creativity, our industry has an opportunity to drive the direction of culture, something that advertising, at its best, has always done.