Crossing the line - humour in advertising

1:48 PM, 23 February 2016

Crossing the line with humorEveryone loves a good laugh.

It creates space to set aside those things in the mind that bother us. Nothing is more contagious than uncontrollable laughter ... unless someone doesn't get the joke. Or worse, you offend someone; one person's banter may be another person's offence.

So it is with humour in advertising: try to avoid crossing 'the line'. In some cases, advertisers are finding their attempts at humour are resulting in public outrage. Outrage which is amplified by social media and churnalism. Unfortunately, what you and your agency see as funny may not be viewed the same way by the wider community. Should you care?

Those in the industry for many years will recall Toyota's classic Bugger commercial was once this country's most complained about ad. Today we look at it and wonder how was offence taken. More recently, across the Tasman, the MLA's Australia Day ad caused quite a stir -- breaking complaints records -- with complainants arguing it was racist and offensive to vegans.

Just because an advertisement offends a viewer's sensibilities, it doesn't mean an advertiser has acted irresponsibly or broken the advertising rules. Yes, we must always take responsibility for creating work of good quality and taste, but it is nearly - if not entirely - impossible to please everyone. So what will that mean for the use of humour in our craft?

Has the threat of offending someone in the community made humour too risky? Can advertising codes effectively deal with the breadth of humour? If you have any feedback please contact

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