November 18, 2011The best puns in advertising

Wordplay can be a fantastic thing. Several years ago, in an effort to convince my not-entirely-computer-literate parents to migrate to Firefox from IE5, I renamed the desktop shortcut from “Internet Explorer” to “Internet Exploder” and solemnly warned them “if you use this program, you will destroy the internet.” I think they got the message.

Sometimes wordplay is subtle. Sometimes it’s not. The pun, that most maligned staple of Englsh language humour, can be both.

More importantly sometimes it works in copywriting and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes a pun can liven up a dull sentence and keep your client’s message in their customers’ heads for hours, or even days. It can also lose your audience’s respect and ruin your pitch.

The trick to a good pun is knowing when, and how, to use it.

In an early episode of Mad Men, Account Manager Ken Cosgrove gets a short story published. Copywriter Paul Kinsey asks him why he doesn’t become a creative. “I don’t like puns,” Ken replies, then adds: “Admiral! The TV set that won’t go down the tubes.” and laughs mockingly.

This is an example of a bad pun. It’s a pun that draws attention to itself and not the product. It isn’t funny. And it gets even less funny over time.

The golden rule:

The pun is not an aim in itself.
You’re not writing comedy. Your’e not trying to be clever.

You’re not trying to write a memorable pun.
You’re trying to make the reader remember the client’s product.

A good pun is noticeable at first, but becomes less obtrusive over time — in other words, it makes you think about the product more than the joke.

With that in mind, here’s my list of my top five favourite puns in advertising.

5. House of Fraser: “Temptation on Every Level”

This simple pun works for House of Fraser. As a department store, we’re used to having to check the layout on arrival to find out which floor we’re looking for. So this subtle message reminds us that the whole store is full of tempting things. Suggesting the things themselves are tempting the customer, rather than merely being commodities there to be bought, is a nice touch to encourage impulse buying.

4. Toyota: “The Car in Front is a Toyota”

Personally, I’m a Mercedes fan. And their use of Janis Joplin’s “Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz” was genius. But they can’t top this brilliant bit of punning by Toyota. The double meaning is compounded by the fact that for a few years all Toyotas came with this slogan as a sticker on the rear window. Brilliant situational advertising. Special mention should also go to Land Rover for their “The best 4 by 4 by far” strapline.

3. Skint: “You’re broke. We’ll fix it.”

Sorry. You knew it was coming. I had to put one of my own lines in here. A few years back this online loan company came to us looking for a website. I suggested “You’re broke, we’ll fix it” as a strapline and I still get a mild chuckle out of it even now. Sadly, the line was replaced when the owner decided he preferred “It’s no fun with no money”. I explained that two uses of the incredibly negative “no” wouldn’t work in a strapline when people are already worried about cash. The web design was replaced by an “SEO consultant” too. Unsurprisingly, the company couldn’t prove a match for — but I got paid, which is what really counts.

2. Nokia: “Connecting people.”

Don’t think it’s a great slogan? Think again. In 2011, we’re tired of hearing social media gurus (t)witter on about engagement factors, conversations, ROI, and “connections”. But back when this strapline was coined the mobile revolution was just starting and this simple two word slogan struck a chord. Nokia connect people. Yes, but they also connect people. The double meaning is as simple as the intonation. A simple, unobtrusive way to explain how great technology brings people together. Simplicity in its greatest form — and, importantly, it translates into multiple languages.

1. “Absolut ______”

No, it might not seem like a pun at first. But as a witty ┬áplay on words, Absolut definitely qualifies. Absolut’s marketing has been the same since time immemorial – append a word to the brand name. “Absolut magic.” “Absolut chaos” “Absolut spring”. In this way, they can associate their brand name with absolutely anything making it one of the most successful — and simplest — marketing campaigns of all time. Absolut genius.

What are your favourite puns in advertising? Do you think puns are over-used? Or do they liven up dull ads?

What do you think?

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This entry was posted on Friday, November 18th, 2011 at 3:04 pm and is filed under Advertising, Blog, Copywriting. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1. David says:

    Like this post, one of my favourite jokes unites puns and advertising:

    Teacher: “Use the word ‘judicious’ in a sentence.”

    Pupil: “Now hands that judicious can feel soft as your face…”

    I think my favourite advertising slogan involving wordplay is Ford’s ‘Everything we do is driven by you’. It flatters the consumer, has an unforced rhyme complementing the pun and can boast a soundtrack by Brian May.

    I’m also fond of an early slogan used by The Book People, ‘We think you’ll enjoy our company’, for what it implied, with a note of quiet confidence, about customer service. And of course there’s the Access slogan that became the stuff of comedy…

  2. Ellie says:

    “Money Supermarket. A great deal easier..”

    Perfection in four words.

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