Why Michael McIntyre would do annoyingly well in advertising

“Observational comedy is when the comedian pretends to have the same life as you. Rather than being a philandering coke-addict.”


If you’re at the Edinburgh Fringe you may get to see Stewart Lee who, as you can see from that quote, has a comical dislike of Michael McIntyre.

In one of his funniest shows (search “Toaster Song” on YouTube), Lee makes it clear that he’s not a fan of observational comedy. And neither am I. “Isn’t it funny how women own lots of clothes? Isn’t it funny when you wait for ages and then three buses come at once?” No. It’s not funny. It’s just obvious.

And that’s exactly what a lot of strategy and advertising feels like: statements of the bleedin’ obvious. Just look at the early Carling Zest ads: British people think that British summers are crap. Hmmm.

I can see why this happens. There’s an expectation of every planner (and its agency) to find the Holy Grail of 21st century advertising: “the consumer insight”, sometimes lovingly referred to as a “human truth”.

Jim Carroll said in his book, Wind Tunnel Marketing: “We’ve lived for too long under the tyranny of consumer insight. Of course consumer insight can be engaging, but it can also be familiar.” And it’s sometimes really hard to come up with something original when your consumers are broadly the same and the way they behave inside and outside your category doesn’t differ hugely.

I’ve been guilty of this too. The question of “so what’s the consumer insight?” is always at the back of my mind, to the point where I’ve on occasion thought it best to write something down, however mundane and over-used it is.

Don’t get me wrong, when it’s something new and different it can be really great. But seeing the Honda “Hands” film I realised that some of the most interesting and unique (and shouldn’t we all strive to do something different?) work can come from the brand, the business, the employees, the product, the manufacturing, or elsewhere.

Playing back consumer insights garnered from focus groups might show that you understand your consumer, but it doesn’t make you interesting. Of course when you bring something interesting about the brand, the consumer and culture together, that’s when you get magic.

So, from now on I won’t live under the tyranny of consumer insight. If I uncover a consumer insight worth including, I’ll build on it and see how it can fit with the brand and current cultural trend. If the best I can come up with is “people like to drive cars”, I’ll leave it off. And I won’t be scared to base my brief on something intriguing from product, brand, category or culture.

Because if stating the obvious about people is good enough, I might as well just buy Michael McIntyre’s latest over-priced DVD for inspiration.

Kim Jordan is a planner at Arnold KLP

  • mark beasley

    Isn’t it funny how so many of us ‘intelligent’ ad people find Michael McIntyre so annoying? Yet his shows and DVDs sell by the lorry load. No-one ever went broke under-estimating the intelligence of the public, as they say. Just like advertising then.

  • Craig Wood

    I thought the answer was going to be ‘because he’s a smug middle class prick’

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