What can this joke tell us about developing communication ideas?

A duck walks into a bar and asks the barman for a portion of fish and chips.

The barman responds that they don’t serve fish and chips and the duck leaves.

The following day the duck returns and makes the same request, again the barman states that they don’t serve fish and chips.

Each day after, the duck returns and the same scenario plays out.

Finally, in exasperation the barman tells the duck that if he asks for fish and chips one more time he’ll nail his beak to the bar.

The next day the duck walks into the bar and the barman says “what do you want?”.

The duck responds “have you got any nails?” to which the barman replies “no”.

“A portion of fish and chips please” says the duck.

Why is it funny?

I was at an event the other day watching Iain McGilchrist, (psychiatrist, philosopher and one of the world’s foremost authors on neuroscience and what makes us human) talking about his new book “The Matter with Things”. At one point John Cleese, another speaker, tells the above joke and gets a huge laugh, but why?

No part of the joke makes any sense alone, it blends the absurd and the surreal into the traditional “X walks into a pub” trope. And yet, holistically, it works. It’s also very memorable. Most of the audience would have been able to repeat that joke with all its main elements remembered. There’s the familiar “x walks into a bar… and the barman…” framework, and the absurd elements, the duck, the fish and chips and the nails.

This joke almost certainly existed this way since its creation.

At no point did anyone check if it would be funnier with a swan or a grebe, what if we switched screws for nails, should we modernise the setting – maybe a coffee shop, could it be a barista instead of a barman. What if some people don’t get it, how do we make it accessible for them?

The joke was conceived and told to an audience. Most of them laughed and this was the acid test – did the audience respond in the desired way?

Thanks to digital advertising options we are perfectly placed to do the same thing. We can conceive communication ideas (check them for gross errors/regulatory compliance) and expose audiences to them. We can then effectively gauge their reaction – did they do what we expected as a result?

If the answer is yes, then we have an effective idea. If we wish, we can optimise from there. If the answer is no then no amount of optimisation will make it effective. This is even more the case when we try to optimise an idea, often using iterative approaches, before audiences have even been exposed to the idea in a natural environment. How do we know if our starting point is any good?

Want to find out more?

If you are interested in rapid development and live testing of ideas, from overall brand concepts to interesting tactical executions, get in touch.

 


 

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