When I was in college my advertising professor espoused this gem: “Never distort the human face in an ad…it freaks people out and won’t do anything good for your brand.”
I like to believe this was a lesson hard learned from years of agencies using clowns in their ads. Thinking they were employing a light-hearted, fun mascot to sell their products, instead the Admen found they were spooking their would-be clients!
I see the discovery playing out like this:
“Say, Hank, our new ads aren’t working as well as as we predicted. Do you have any thoughts on this?”
There isn’t any use in denying it, clowns freak folks out. But why?
Once again, the crack research team at Aunt Mary Industries was on the case.*
Turns out, our discomfort could be thanks to everyone’s favorite “I’m trying to sound smart” topic of conversation: the uncanny valley. The theory of the uncanny valley is objects that appear to look human, but just miss the mark, create an uneasy feeling in people. It turns out we are really good at sussing out tiny, non-verbal signals and if something we are beholding is not quite right, it results in a eerie, uncomfortable vibe. This is typically noted in human-like robots and early motion capture animation. You know how every Christmas you shrink back from the odd faces of Polar Express? That’s uncanny valley!
While clowns are (supposedly) human, the unchanging, made-up expression is likely what gives us the heebie-jeebies. As humans heavily rely on our vision for information about our environment, we glean a lot of clues from the facial expressions of those we interact with. The baked-in smile of a clown unnerves us as something not quite on the up and up.
Now that we know the why, let’s get some more of the what: (I was going to make a clown car reference here, but I’m trying to be above such things)
Everyone’s favorite clown is a drunk clown! Nobody’s favorite clown is one who just realized he’s out of booze. “When you’re out of Schlitz, you’re out of beer…and when you’re out of beer, Jingles gets very mean.”
Kool-Aid Man’s usually welcoming and friendly wink takes on a slightly sinister tone in this ad. “Oh NO! This masked and apparently unhinged person didn’t put anything into your beverage. No, I’m not sweating…(wink)”
Hey there, sexy clown man! Was Camel testing the idea that anyone looks cooler when smoking?
This ad alone could create a mandela effect that Ted Bundy went to clown college.
When ICP’s Management team checks in while touring. Nothing like the open road to make you rethink your life’s choices, huh, Frank?
*Research Team is me + google