While doing research for the blog this week I cam across a haterade drinker who was bashing puns and their effectiveness in advertising.
And let me just say — things got a little personal.
Paul Suggett with The Balance while discussing puns in advertising says, “They’re tacky, they debase the product or service and they should be avoided at all costs.”
And he kept going.
He went on to say, “A “good pun” is an oxymoron if ever there was one, and a book full of them will guarantee you a permanent place on the rejection pile. To be honest, you can do better. You should do better.”
Puns in advertising are nothing new. We’ve seen them employed many times before. Sometimes on purpose. Sometimes on accident. Sometimes done very well and other times done abhorrently wrong. Just like what I said two weeks ago — there is a time and place for a pun. But to say a pun never has a place in an ad and there’s no such thing as a good pun? Wrong.
Believe it or not, and you probably do because you’ve learned by now I am a huge pun loving nerd, I did some research on this for a class a couple semesters back and found a very interesting study that, well, disproves Suggett’s argument.
For an abstract I wrote in my Communication Theory class I analyzed the following article — “A Study of the Humor Aspect of English Puns: Views from the Relevance Theory”
In this article, the author, Xiaoli Gan, argues puns effectively use the relevance theory, which is a social theory that says human beings pay attention to things more relevant to them rather than other things which are less relevant.
Gan goes on to say puns evoke humor and cause us to pay attention and ponder the unexpected and confusing words we have just heard. He also found in his research that puns result in extra mental processing which makes them strengthen a person’s memory. In other words, puns are more memorable because of their unique use of language and altering of our usual contextual perceptions.
And what advertiser doesn’t want someone to better remember their product or brand? Isn’t that kind of, the point?
Another interesting point Gan made about puns and advertising — he found in his research there were correlations between people having to think harder about a pun and how the longer a person had to think about a pun the funnier it was when that person finally figured it out.
A good pun in an ad it seems — is one that’s clever and requires some thought to figure out — often times accomplished by a visual pun that may take and extra moment or two to process.
Suggett seems to suggestt (that is me trying to make a sad attempt at punning on this guy’s last name NOT a typo) that puns are never above a low caliber, base level humor — another argument I strongly disagree with.
Yes, a pun can sometimes be the simplest word play based off the lowest hanging fruit. And there is a time and place for those kind of puns (I say them all the time in my every day, non professional, lay person life.) But in advertising, journalism, public relations, and literature there are also higher level, thought provoking puns meant to not only entertain or catch the attention of an audience but also to make them think about and remember that certain pun and the subject matter, brand, or story that pun is trying to supplement and convey.
Puns have a place in advertising and can enhance a brand and engage with an audience like no other form of rhetoric can.