Advertisers are often focussed on creating ads for specific age groups and life stages. Makes sense considering that attitudes and priorities change with age. It’s also possible, however, to speak to everyone simultaneously. And to do so in a universally entertaining manner while clearly demonstrating the product involved. That’s precisely what the most popular ad across all generations has been doing for the last couple of years.
In all our studies, regardless of who we speak to or the topic involved, we like to examine consumers’ favourite ads. When a thirty second spot on television can cut through the clutter and strike a chord there’s got to be a good reason behind it. There is much to learn about those ads that connect and this exercise has provided fascinating learnings for the decade and a half we have been asking the question.
There are clear differences in favourite ads among age groups. For example, young people are drawn to advertising that push the boundaries of taste; that offer randomness and make no sense; that reflect and exaggerate a truism about their lives. Mums are often drawn to ads that offer glimpses of family life through the lens of realistic aspiration, ideal but not impossible; and to news and information that is concise, relevant and actionable. The Boomers are happy with any advertising that speaks to them, for they feel so ignored, especially ones that reflect their youthful self-perception and desire for experiences.
But there is one advertisement that has been raised consistently for the last couple of years by Australians regardless of age. It is enjoyed by everyone, from kids to older people. Once mentioned by someone in a group discussion the others smile, nod in concurrent and even burst into laughter.
The ad is for Windex and features the two magpies who trick the man reading the newspaper in the garden by ringing his door bell and then shutting the glass doors while he heads to the front door. On his return he walks into the glass while the magpies giggle and say “let’s do it again.”
The humour is timeless and can be found as staples in the black & white era of Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy and The Three Stooges. In more recent times it has been fodder for Funniest Home Videos. It’s slapstick at its purest and therefore, by definition, funny. It is also permissible malice. We are permitted to laugh at the man’s misfortune without feeling any guilt for doing so. And we can watch it over and over finding it repeatedly funny each and every time.
It is friendly to audiences across the spectrum and does not rely on cultural specifics of segments and life stages. By not disconnecting from one audience in order to please another – as many beer ads do intentionally in their efforts to appeal to the young – it enhances its popularity. Funniest Homes Videos is cited as one of those programs whole families can enjoy together, without the discomfort of anticipated swearing, violence or sex. It is a safe zone in a world where such imagery feels all too commonplace and often unnecessary.
While the advertisement itself is American in origin, the hero magpies are very local in character. They are larrikins, they’re clever and they’re mates having a good time and therefore easily relatable to our audiences.
Significantly, the audience easily recalls the product being advertised and are provided with a clear demonstration of its prowess. The punch line is a reward delivered because the product is so effective. And Australians love it when brands manage to incorporate their attributes naturally into the communication story line.
Such humour is one way to appeal across the ages in communication. As we discovered a couple of years ago in a study called Bridging the Divide there are many other means of crossing age and life stage boundaries. It is possible to speak to all audiences simultaneously, as Windex so clearly demonstrates. It is an advertisement that will never date and can be reintroduced onto our screens intermittently to the same popular reception.