How many times how we laughed out loud in front of a humourist mocking himself on stage? If an ignorant might claim that the human race became massively masochist, the wise will see that most of these humourists became famous and loved by that same public laughing at their “misery”. Is it because we relate to these people in some way, thus are laughing at ourselves unconsciously? Or is it because we feel some kind of sympathy for these characters? In any case, I’m far to be the only one who saw underlying marketing opportunities in self-mockery.
The most obvious opportunity was in Politics. If a humourist can make himself famous nationwide by simply mocking himself, then why would a Politician with no clear programme not have a go at it? French President Jacques Chirac admitted in an interview that his success in the 1995 elections against Edouard Balladur was partly due to the derision given to his character in the 2.6M-audience French Muppet show Les Guignols de l’Info. The show presented him as a no-programme-man lazy moron, who only wished he’d finally be elected against Balladur, who betrayed him. This made him the most famous and liked Muppet in the show ahead of presenter PPDA for the 2 years ahead of the election.
It wasn’t long before smart and edgy ad agencies pitched to convince some of their clients to try themselves at this exercise. Kapferer found that VW “style of expression is one of humour as shown in its attitude of self-derision, false modesty and impertinence towards competitors as well as in the use of paradox”. Gillette latest spoof ad is a more recent example where the brand takes one of its consumer’s insights i.e. “one day they’ll be selling us 10-blade razors” and embraces that cynicism by humouring themselves, as well as creating some buzz over their brand equity.
So, smart or risky exercise? Since not many brands are risking themselves to such a niche practice, one could argue that differentiation could be a good motive to such positioning – bearing in mind the products (or people in the case of our politician) concerned usually hardly differ from their competitors. Rod A. Martin stated that ‘‘they are making use of the peripheral rather than the central route to persuasion”. That said, relevance is key and in most cases the antidote becomes the poison. Ask Chirac what he thought of his Muppet in Les Guignols de l’Info in the 2002 elections…