Sean McBride: Is It OK to Be Funny Right Now?

What we lost when brands got so serious

Sean McBride in Muse, by Clio

As a creator of funny—or, on bad days, funny adjacent—advertising, this is the big question people are asking me right now.

And I get why. I get the magnitude of what has happened, and what continues to happen, in our world. And I get that this question is ultimately asked out of respect. Respect for people who have lost loved ones. Respect for people who are spending their days in harm’s way. Respect for people who have lost their livelihood. Put simply, those things are no joke, and nobody wants to diminish them.

But on another level, I find the question frustrating. Or at the very least, indicative of a larger, ongoing shortcoming. What bothers me is not that we’re asking it now, but that times like these are the only time we ever bother to ask it.

To me, we haven’t cared if our audience has wanted humor or not for the last decade—why do we suddenly care now?

Brands have never taken themselves more seriously—a trend we all know began long before Covid-19. Our industry is dominated by the discourse of purpose-driven brands. From our award shows to our industry talks, we have adopted and trumpeted the notion that brands are the new agents of positive social change. Based on all that, you’d expect we’d be exceptionally well-positioned to respond to Covid-19. We’ve endured a decade where microwave popcorn brands are doing campaigns about domestic violence and whitening strips have an opinion on global poverty—we should be well-equipped to address a moment so universally relevant that virtually every brand has a right/responsibility to have a POV on it.


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