Humor in hospitality advertising

With the end of U.S. television phenomenon “Mad Men,” I have been reflecting on my incalculable number of discussions with students on communications strategies, PR and advertising. Advertising that connects with consumers’ emotions is the most effective, and humor often makes a brand message memorable, but humor is a tricky thing. What is funny to one person or in one culture may not resonate with another.

One of my favorite campaigns to share with students the “Stay Smart” campaign from Holiday Inn Express a few years back. With the power of YouTube in the classroom, I can share my favorite spot from the campaign, “the Equation,” wherein a father solves a complex equation on a chalkboard (a la the film “Good Will Hunting”) while visiting his dance-major daughter at college. Sometimes I am the only one who laughs, but the topic also begets a conversation about hotel demand and segmentation in college and university towns, a subject of my Penn State School of Hospitality Management colleague Dr. John O’Neil’s recent research.

A few months ago Matteo, our friend and winemaker of Casa Sola, one of the more than 300 Chianti Classico producers in Tuscany, shared his YouTube video for his family’s wines and vacation apartments. It also uses storytelling and humor to help differentiate a brand in an extremely competitive destination. As good marketers do, Matteo has been tracking views and explained that he was surprised at how well the message and video is being received by viewers in China — exceeding expectations and established benchmarks. His approach was authentic as well as entertaining but not necessarily targeted to one travel or export market. I appreciate how the story works more each time I watch the video.

What do you think? What hospitality advertising makes you smile? What humor works across cultures and generations? And what do you think are the best lessons we should learn from “Mad Men”?