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Do puns have a place in advertising?

Jonathan Wilcock

So What If Ltd

PRO

If you’re an Art Director or Copywriter, like me you probably have a few puns up your sleeve.

Collins defines a pun as:

‘…a clever and amusing use of a word or phrase with two meanings, or of words with the same sound but different meanings. For example, if someone says ‘The peasants are revolting’, this is a pun because it can be interpreted as meaning either that the peasants are fighting against authority, or that they are disgusting.’

‘Clever and amusing’, surely that can’t be a bad thing, can it? However, when I was a design student, I was told to give puns a wide berth.

When touting my book around, trying to land my first job, I was told that puns were crass and that no self-respecting Art Director or Copywriter would use them.

When I landed that first job, senior creatives kept telling me to avoid puns like they were junior account handlers with bad breath.

Puns, after sarcasm, are the lowest form of wit

They’re not sophisticated or clever, but come on, admit it – they’re irresistible. They catch our attention, make us smile (or groan if they’re really bad) and have a down-to-earth approachability about them.

They’re everywhere: on the high street – ‘The Rock and Sole Plaice’ (a chippy, obviously); in the daily paper – ‘ANT AND DECKED’ (The Sun, even more obviously) and definitely in the advertising of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s – perhaps the Godfather of all punnery, Collett Dickenson Pearce’s Wall’s sausages poster – ‘Porky and Best’.

But do they really have any place in the portfolio of today’s Art Director or Copywriter? Here are a few guidelines that will help you decide whether or not you should venture forth into the pundergrowth.

1) Is it gratuitous? If it’s slapped into the middle of a slug of nicely crafted, on-brand copy and throws everything off balance, then it probably doesn’t belong.

2) Is it causing a pile-up? If your 25-word sentence has grown to 50 (it’s become a bit pun-wieldy), it may need culling.

3) Are you over-egging it? If a cake’s too eggy, no one wants to eat it. If a headline or a paragraph’s too cheesy… let’s put it this way, you can have too much of a good thing.

4) Does it confuse the reader? If it’s funny, but it throws the viewer off the scent of the intended communication, bin it.

5) Does it add magic? A well-timed bit of wordplay can bring sparkle and warmth to the page. It can wake a reader up. It can be rewarding, witty and make your brand seem more human – just the sort of magic any writer strives for.

Used scattergun fashion, you definitely won’t come across as an intellectual, but I’ve come to the conclusion that when used at the right time, in the right place, puns are perfectly valid.

Welcome to the pungle

Be it verbal or visual, it’s not often I get to use a really juicy pun in my day job, but it seems a shame to confine them to a dusty shelf in my mental library.

So, love ’em or loathe ’em, I’ve created the perfect outlet for every visual pun that I can muster. I call it my #badphotoshop of the day and you’ll find it posted on Twitter and Facebook.

Yes, they’re stinking rotten puns, but they get likes and retweets, so I guess I’m not the only one who orders the cheeseboard.

Ladies and gentlemen, get your punderpants on and enter the punderdome

If they tickle you in any way, please follow me on Twitter, where you’ll find answers to these riddles, many more visual puns and other ventures into the wonderful world of words.

  • Jonathan Wilcock's visual puns

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