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Papa, Don’t Preach

We’re all pretty tired of being told what to do.  We know we should “stop using disposable plastic,” “practice social distancing,” and “wear pants to work”, but we’re fed up with the word “should.” And yet, we as a society have a lot to work on to keep each other, and our planet, safe.

Some brands and causes have found authentic ways to go beyond “should,” using humour to promote socially positive behaviour change.  And yes, I am going to write an entire article on humour in Canadian advertising without once linking to Ryan Reynolds, the crush of all local LinkedIn marketers.

Celebrate the Small Things

At SodaStream, we use humour to promote a consumer behaviour change that goes beyond building brand loyalty or frequency, the mainstay of most consumer marketing.  With our cheeky, upbeat humour, we have compelled consumers to shift from buying disposable bottles to making their own sparkling water at home. On the cusp of 5 straight years of strong double-digit growth and as the #1 sparkling water brand in Canada, we know it works.

Our current campaign features Snoop Dogg celebrating the “small things” that he does (in classic Snoop style) to make a difference at home.  Tongue firmly in cheek, Snoop celebrates the holidays with his eerily-lookalike family at home and he uses a SodaStream to reduce plastic waste with an animated “nearly-extinct friend.”  He pokes fun at himself, as past SodaStream spokespeople such as Paris Hilton, Mayim Bialik and Hafþór Júlíus “Thor” Björnsson have in past videos.  Locally, the uber-confident yet self-deprecating Priyanka, winner of Canada’s Drag Race, hosts a social video content series to celebrate Canadians who do small things to make a big impact.

Haul a Cart Apart

No Frills uses bold humour to make an impact by extending its #Haulerseries with an outlandish and catchy video tackling COVID safety.  Most impressive is the timing: It launched in early May, when COVID was just plain scary and before 2020 became a sad meme of a year we just want to end.

But the risk paid off and the message is clear: you can’t help humming “a cart apart,” as you watch dancing bananas and psychedelic swirling copy.  No Frills and agency John St. have been widely recognized for their #Hauler campaign, collecting numerous marketing awards for the videos that celebrate stony-faced leaping millennials and hip grey-haired yogi as athletic shoppers in a low-gravity, supernatural No Frills store. Minivans never looked this cool.

Beyond the courage to make light of a deadly serious situation to change behaviour, No Frills took on additional risk by extending its campaign in May, given the rise of consumer panic buying at the start of COVID-19 that caused mass shortages. (Who else here still has hard-won yeast in the freezer that they have no plans to actually use?) In response, No Frills clarifies, “Hauling isn’t hoarding” and encourages people to shop once a week.

Support Racism

While environmental sustainability and COVID-19 are clearly tough topics to tackle with humour, they seem less risky than racism.  How could prejudice possibly be funny, given the painful experience of systemic racism that has given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement and efforts to recognize BIPOC contributions and inequality in society?  This is a mine field.

And yet, trust the Kiwis to achieve this feat. New Zealand has a history of successfully tackling tough topics with empathy and humour, nailing the tone and content.  They have produced funny, non-preachy campaigns reminding parents to teach their children about safe, consensual sex and warning kids about the dangers of drunk driving.  But prejudice?  Could it really be done?  

Yes. They did it by making an ad FOR racism. It features Hollywood director Taika Waititi, New Zealander of the Year, who is of Maori descent.  He took a break from filming Thor: Ragnarok to pitch…racism.

“Racism needs your help to survive,” he says.

“You may not be in a position to give much to racism, but whatever you feel comfortable giving will make a huge difference.”

“You don’t have to be a full-on racist, just being a tiny racist is enough. A smile, a cheeky giggle, even a simple nod and agreement, it all adds up, and it gives others the message it’s OK.”

He even sports a “racist on the inside” t-shirt in one scene and curtly tells“ mum,” who says it’s bad to be “a bit racist,” to “shut up.”  

Shot as a PSA with classical music and a forward-facing black & white aesthetic, this spot spoofs all of the “should” ads we’re so fed up with. Its job is to make us laugh...and think...and change.

And isn’t that the whole point?

Rena Nickerson is the General Manager of SodaStream Canada, and a 20-year marketing veteran of the Canadian Consumer Packaged Goods industry.  She has been judging marketing awards for 5+years, and she posts on LinkedIn too often.