Character: The Key To Great Comedy Writing

Truly funny television commercials get picked up and passed around in a sort of ad hoc media buy that clients can only wish they could afford.  Unfortunately, creating truly funny television commercials is extraordinarily difficult, particularly when you add the requirement that the comedy must have some strategic relationship with the product or service being advertised.

But occasionally, someone does it brilliantly.  The crinkly-male-wisdom of the old Miller High Life voice over…  The over the top histrionics of Bud Light’s Real Men of Genius announcer.  The deadpan charisma of Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World…  All of these served as the cornerstone of highly-successful comic ad campaigns.  What do they have in common?  I mean, aside from the fact that they are from the beer category–one of the few sectors unafraid to chase entertainment as a branding strategy.

The most interesting trait that they all share is that their unique comic voices spring from character.  We never see him but we know the High Life guy is a wisened old dog from the blue collar set, street smart and unimpressed by foolishness.  Given that well defined character, the kind of lines he’d read became self-selecting.  Puns wouldn’t work.  Name checking pop culture references wouldn’t work.  But talking about plumbing?  Right in his wheel house.

It is extraordinarily difficult to create an advertising character in thirty seconds that’s well defined.  Most characters evolve over the course of a campaign.  But recently, Weiden and Kennedy introduced us to a shirtless he-man with a loopy self-confidence named Isaiah Mustafa who sold all sorts of deodorants and body washes for Old Spice.  And in short order, they created a singular comic patois that is totally unique: sprightly, unerring, stentorian…and prone to idiosyncratic references like monocles and motorcycles.

Extending this campaign virally, they created a series of one-take, single wall set monologues where Isaiah ostensibly addresses people who either reference him, his commercials or the Old Spice brand in social media.  A collection of nearly two dozen of his responses can be found on this You Tube page.  If you appreciate good writing and winning performance, go watch each and every one of them.  They are note perfect and widely-divergent, yet the words in each one of them seem almost pre-ordained.

Because they spring from a singularly unique character.  Well played Old Spice, well played…

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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