1. You can’t go wrong with dogs. The two that tied for first place both featured dogs. In one, a guy teased a dog from behind a glass door, tempting it with a treat. It rushed the door, pushing it over and trapping the man under it; the other was about a man who asked his friend to dog-sit, saying the dogs will do anything he says, and then shows a party in progress with the dogs serving drinks and snacks, etc.
2. People like a story. Both of the examples above have a very simple story–more of a joke, really, but there is a beginning, middle and a surprise end. The third-place ad featured a little boy in a Darth Vader costume, trying in vain to use The Force to move objects, until finally he tries it on his father’s car and its engine springs to life, to the boy’s amazement. We see that his father has used his remote control to start the car. Very charming and a clear story.
3. Humor works only if it’s funny. One of the lowest-rated (by people who voted online) was a supposed satire of a game show, called “Cram It in the Boot,” featuring a contestant cramming a lot of stuff into the boot of a new Mini. I think cramming it in the boot was supposed to be a double entendre but it just wasn’t funny on any level. Also unfunny were a couple of talking baby ads and a couple featuring chimps in suits.
4. If you’re going to make jokes at peoples’ expense, choose people who deserve to be made fun of. One of the Groupon adverts features Timothy Hutton saying: “Mountainous Tibet–one of the most beautiful places in the world. This is Timothy Hutton. The people of Tibet are in trouble, their very culture in jeopardy.” Then he suddenly lightens up and continues, “But they still whip up an amazing fish curry. And since 200 of us bought on Groupon.com, we’re getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15.” OK, I like dark humor but this came off as unfeeling without actually being funny. Also, fish curry isn’t really a Tibetan dish…Did it get lots of attention for Groupon? Sure. Was it the good kind? Not so sure.
I’d say the main lesson, though, is if you tell a story people will pay attention and if the humour touches the heart (as it did in the little Darth Vader ad) the story becomes stronger.