Is Humor Touchdown Or Fumble In Super Bowl Ads? That Depends

This week, we’re all talking about Super Bowl commercials, especially the funny ones. Marketers leaned heavily on humor this year, from Lindsay Lohan visiting the gym to grabbing the last potato chip.

Humor is great for business. We know that laughter generates alpha waves in the brain, enabling us to connect ideas in new ways. But humor and marketing also can be an explosive combo if the comedy doesn’t work.

To explore this topic, I asked three members of our Laughing Matters Council to analyze two spots from insurance companies using humor in different ways: Allstate’s “TikTok Mayhem” ad and Cure Auto Insurance’s “Whip It Out” 2021 spot. 



Here’s why they believe one deserves a Vince Lombardi Trophy, while the other performed worse than this season’s New York Giants.

David Horning, founder of Water Cooler Comedy, which helps companies use humor as a tool:

Allstate Allstate’s personification of the calamities that make insurance necessary draws from an infinite well of ad premises, making this parody of the deluge of TikTok hashtag challenges relevant to all. Actor Dean Winters’ “This is going to get tens and tens of views” is a line that hits harder than the victim’s car into the garbage truck. Making your characters likable will get people invested in seeing them more, which is why Mayhem has been around since 2010.

Cure Comedy is especially powerful when it presents a touchy topic in a way that isn’t in your face and makes an audience laugh before they even realize why they’re laughing. This ad does none of that and makes my face feel like it’s been punched. The humor feels forced, the characters are unlikable, and the ad isn’t relevant to insurance. How does “We can’t protect your opinion, but we CAN protect your car” apply to insurance?

Clayton Fletcher, stand-up comedian, actor and writer:

Allstate Mayhem works because we all fear the terrible drivers on the road who are constantly distracted by whatever’s on their phones. Poking fun at how hypnotic social media can be, while subtly addressing the real danger it presents to drivers, is a funny and powerful way to sell car insurance. Seeing a man in his 40s do a TikTok dance is the icing on the cake.

Cure CURE misses the mark because it attempts to poke fun at something decidedly unfunny: sexual harassment. Comparing an opinion to male genitalia is puerile and forced. Comedy never comes from simply replacing one word with an unrelated word. Laughs come from striking a chord with the audience. Too bad Cure’s chord doesn’t resonate with anyone.

Karyn Buxman, speaker, author and neurohumorist (someone who studies the intersection of the brain and humor, and how the two function together):

Allstate I love how Allstate personifies Mayhem — and the absurdity of a 40-something guy in a suit dancing for tens of views makes me laugh out loud. The resulting crash creates a direct connection with the product (don’t make me think too hard—especially during the Super Bowl). Laugh out loud plus direct connection with the product is the definite winner for this Bowl game.

Cure “Whip it out” is cute, if you’re into juvenile, sexist humor. As a female viewer, I’m not laughing — just shaking my head.  And the connection between opinions and cars is a longshot (whaaaaa?). While Cure may entertain its young, male viewers, I don’t think that audience is buying insurance. But that’s just my opinion….

Extra Points

Regardless of how you intend to inject humor in your campaigns, be sure to follow these three guidelines:

  • Put yourself in your target audience’s shoes. Based on research into their personas, will they embrace a humorous pitch or recoil like they’ve spotted a cockroach scrambling across the floor?
  • Make sure there’s a reason why you’re doing it, rather than “Wouldn’t it be funny if…?”
  • Be aware of societal issues that matter to your audiences. What your brand may think is funny could be highly offensive to traditionally under-represented people.

Humor, when used strategically, can help your team cross the goal line. At the same time, a poorly conceived, comedy-driven campaign could end up with your squad not only losing the game, but market share as well.

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