Are we ready for humour in advertising?
Published on 24 Apr 2020

From anxiety to adjustment

We are entering a new phase of the corona crisis. The research agency Canvas8 provides a very useful description of these different phases. It seems that we are slowly moving out of the Anxiety phase and are now in the Adjustment phase. As measures are eased, we need to rediscover what that means for our daily lives.


The pandemic phases as defined by Canvas8:


  • Denial
  • Anxiety
  • Adjustment
  • Re-evaluation
  • New normal


This is also reflected in the results from several research sources. The Monitor Consumer Behaviour (Validators/VU) in the Netherlands shows that we are a little less worried by now, but we remain uncertain about what the future will bring. System1 measures the mood in a number of countries based on basic emotions. Their research shows that we are shifting from Anxiety towards Sadness. That doesn’t sound much better, but on the positive side, it can also indicate resignation; we have come to accept our fate. In Italy they are noticing an increase in Anger. Italy has been fighting the virus for a longer period of time, with even more drastic measures than we have. But in the Netherlands too, incomprehension about the duration and scope of the measures is increasing.


Laughable uniformity

In the previous phase of Anxiety, several brands showed their solidarity.  Many contributed to efforts to contain and battle the virus, others helped ease the consequences of the lockdown. But there were also brands that only showed solidarity in their advertising, without really contributing anything, resulting in laughable uniformity. Of course, that wasn’t ever enough, and it certainly won’t be enough in the coming weeks.



People expect and appreciate an active role from brands (Monitor Consumer Behaviour, Validators/VU). This is a great opportunity for brands to act. People appreciate positive initiatives. Initiatives that cheer us up, as a counterbalance to a collective feeling of Sadness (System1).


People are also not opposed to advertising. They expect brands to keep advertising. GWI‘s international research shows that half of the people approve of ‘normal’ advertising. Moreover, 80% appreciate advertising that is corona related. In the Netherlands, we see a similar picture. Most people expect brands to adapt their advertising to the current situation. Yet the content of advertising will have to change. Showing solidarity isn’t enough, unless you act accordingly.


Humour as a logical weapon

The first examples of this new wave of advertising are already emerging. Humour seems to be a logical weapon to counter Sadness and Anger. This fits with the role Canvas8 sees for brands: they must offer support and/or entertainment. Examples of brands that already use this tool effectively are Burger King, Honda and Netflix. All three brands communicate consistently from their brand archetype and each battles its archetypal opponent. As an Entertainer, Burger King fights the boredom of people confined to their homes and uses exactly the right dose of irony to show how heroic staying at home can be. Honda, as a Magician, shows us that we can transcend our current reality as long as we use our imagination. And Netflix, as Leader, fights chaos by keeping us inside with spoilers.


If you’re unsure about the role of your own brand, read our previous article Pick your battle. Humour doesn’t work for every brand. But every brand can help alleviate the impact of the corona crisis, especially in this phase of constant adjustment.