First of all I have to thank my father, because his sense of humor was my best school. Telling jokes comes naturally to me, but ten years ago I started to study why something is funny: reading sociology, psychology, and semiotic books.
Meet Sergio Spaccavento: the Italian ad man who takes humour seriously
Where do you work and what do you do?
Currently I am the executive creative director at the advertising agency Conversion in Milan, an art director, a copywriter, a scriptwriter, a TV and radio show writer, an advertising teacher and definitely a mythomaniac. I started my career doing proper advertising, then he fell in love with new and alternative media – and found out the real fun is mixing it all together.
How did you become an expert on the use of humour?
First of all I have to thank my father, because his sense of humor was my best school. Telling jokes comes naturally to me, but ten years ago I started to study why something is funny: reading sociology, psychology, and semiotic books. I met stand up comedians and humour writers. Growing up I used to write for TV, radio and cinema. I won the MTV Awards for a TV series, and I had three nominations at Nastro d'argento for two comedy movies.
What kind of humour works particularly well in advertising?
There are many mechanisms that you can use in advertising: surprise, exaggeration, comparison, puns, satire, parody, black humor, screwball, slapstick and so on. It’s hard to find a funny ad that uses just one mechanism, normally it is a mix of two or more techniques. Any of these humour mechanisms works well. But it depends on your target as defined by geographical location, culture, maturity, level of education, intelligence, context, sex and age; and on the medium you are going to use.
Can you define the Italian sense of humour? Does it cross borders easily, or is it more local?
Italian humour can change from region to region. It uses absurdity, exaggeration, parody, satire and puns a lot. Its humor can be understood and appreciated in similar European cultures, but will hardly cross the ocean.
What are some typical mistakes copywriters make when trying to use humour in advertising?
I can give you some suggestions. First of all you can’t employ humour just for the sake of using it: humour works differently around the world and across different audiences. Humour can backfire when the advertising makes fun of a specific group, or is in bad taste relative to the sophistication or the culture of the audience. Different things are funny to different people. And you have to remember that there must be a relevance to the product, it should tie together the product features, the advantage the product offers customers and the personal values of the brand.
Interview conducted by Mark Tungate