What Apple’s Humor Ad Can Show About Marketing During a Pandemic

Apple got cabin-fevered fans feeling consumer-y once more with its “The whole working-from-home thing” ad.

Key Insights:

  • How humor can capture and retain attention

  • The reprioritization of entertainment with authenticity and agility is key

  • Why comedians remain an untapped resource for marketers

  • The timeless value of humor in uncertain times

How did a six-minute video advertisement get 26 million views in two weeks without spending a dime to promote through social channels?

Apple’s latest ad has done something most brands envy; it got eyeballs from consumers who willingly shared it on social and bloggers talking across the web.

The use of storytelling and humor may seem like a bold move when many are offering solace and comfort. As advertisers are struggling to know what to say these days, here are four lessons we can learn from Apple’s success:

Humor Captures and Retains Attention

The effects of an emerging pandemic and volatile economy keep cable news fueled 24/7. Homebound consumers have used the time creatively, drawing large followings on Instagram and TikTok. Brands have the difficult task of cutting through the noise to earn precious mindshare.

Thales S. Teixeira, who teaches Digital Disruption and The Economics of Attention at Harvard, says, “Attention is a necessary ingredient for effective advertising. The market for consumer ‘eyeballs’ has become so competitive that attention can be regarded as a currency.”

Apple’s newest ad is now the eighth-highest viewed video on its YouTube channel. Granted, it’s not a comedy special but there is plenty of humor to invest in. Funny is subjective. It dispels the myth that the audience must be rolling with laughter, but a little humor can get viewers to vote with their attention.

Entertainment Casts the Consumer in the Story - Increasing Purchase Intent

We have entered a period where the entertainment and advertising industries need one another. Brands must think in terms of storytelling to draw in consumers. In fact, Cision found that 84 percent of people expect brands to provide content that entertains, tells stories, offers solutions, and creates experiences.

Further still, when consumers are undergoing periods of rapid disruption, they suddenly find themselves facing new challenges. The point of habit change (i.e., working from home) triggers an inclination towards discovery. When solutions are presented in an entertaining and familiar manner, these would-be customers are more engaged and begin to see themselves in the story.

Until recently, brands preferred to partner with influencers to develop organic, first-hand accounts that would appear natural in consumers’ social feeds. This is no longer universally viable. Further still, influencers’ prestige does not always translate to advertising as we saw with Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner spot in 2017. In mercurial times, comedians can push boundaries that influencers and models cannot, underscoring authenticity, timeliness, and the element of surprise.

Apple's 'Underdogs' is made up of comedic actors with a background in Improv comedy

An Untapped Resource: Comedians

Apple at Work - Underdogs,” the original digital short produced by SMUGGLER and directed by Mark Malloy, portrays a team of four colleagues scrambling to impress a senior manager of an agency.

What stands out is that three of the “Underdogs” come from a background in comedy, whether it’s writing sketches, improv acting, or stand-up comedy.

Why does this matter? Apple used a creative extension of their traditional marketing team by hiring comedians who can take the script to new heights and add resonance.

Comedians do not always require an Apple-sized budget. At, entertainment underscores everything we do from writing sketches, punching up scripts, or performing in content that is customized to help brands get noticed. As a creative service platform that works as an extension for marketers at brands and agencies, our comedy teams remain agile and can help brands of all sizes pivot with creativity.

Humor Works Especially Well During Recessions

A humor-themed ad goes against the common theme that many brands expressed during the onset of this pandemic. Jeremy Schumann of Adweek shared, “Empathy was [initially] the desired tone” in the first few weeks of the nationwide quarantine, it’s evident that this approach can wear out its welcome as consumers grow weary of daily news reports.

Several advertising practitioners suggest that humor could be an effective advertising approach in recessions (Bryson 2010; Neff 2008) as people are looking for relief through humor.

It may seem that Apple made a bold choice to release a humor-themed ad during a pandemic. However, during the Great Depression people turned to sports and the glamour of Hollywood to rediscover joy and happiness. In the 2009 recession, brands like Coke Zero, Capital One, and Trojan Condoms added humor to offer a respite to consumers. By following the same marketing trends from the past, the opportunity to stand-out, be shared, and remembered, is now.

Is humor the right choice for your brand?

Listen to komedy's podcast Win With Wit, hosted by Ben Willson and Stephanie Houng as they discover the best practices for brands to go from boring to interesting, stand-out in today's noisy world, and win over customers with humor

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