Brands need to marry humour and purpose


System1 testing of Cannes Film Lions winners suggests that humour is once again becoming an important element of advertising, partly at the expense of purpose.

While just one award fitted the purpose-driven description, over half the winners (52%) of Cannes Film Lions in 2023 were intentionally funny, up from 43% last year. But the same research also found that award winners still aren’t testing better than the average video ad, in part because there are quite a few negative emotions mixed in there. Further, “Edgy humour that makes marketers laugh often fails to connect with the world outside the marketing bubble,” System1 adds.

BBDO’s Andrew Robertson addressed the issue of humour in a Cannes session where he noted that, in 2022, just one in ten of all of the Golden Grand Prix winners used humour – “and I think that’s a big problem”. 

Why it matters

Humour should be a no-brainer for marketers: humorous ads are more memorable, more distinctive, and brands involved are more recommended, according to data from Kantar, which also shows that almost everyone wants brands to be funny. System1’s own testing indicates that the emotions driving the biggest business effects are amusement and schadenfreude. And, as Robertson said, humour can work in every media channel.

“There is a global rise in unhappiness,” Robertson noted. “So I would argue that if brands really are looking to make the world a better place they can do a lot worse than make people laugh and, at the same time, make some money.” He also suggested there should be a Cannes Lions award for best use of humour.


  • Humour is more memorable: 90% say they’re more likely to remember a funny ad. 
  • It’s more distinctive: it delivers an 11-point increase on Kantar’s distinctiveness measurement. 
  • It’s more persuasive: 72% say they would choose a humorous brand over the competition.
  • Humour leads to recommendation: 80% say they’re more likely to recommend a funny brand. 
  • Who doesn’t like to laugh: 91% say they want brands to be funny. 

Key quote

“There are ways in which you can have a serious purpose and talk about it in a way that isn’t. And in some cases, maybe you don’t have to have a very serious purpose. And even when you adopt sensitive causes, you can be successful if you’re funny [per Maltesers]” – Andrew Robertson, President and CEO of BBDO Worldwide.


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