To appeal to an audience through humor is very popular with video advertising these days… I say video because advertising reaches many types of devices, not just tv these days… But I think it’s safe to say that it started in the era when the tv was the sole provider of video advertising.
When exactly was humor first injected into television ads?
I know little about TV history, but it seems likely that humor was in TV ads from the very beginning, since they were written by the same ad agencies that wrote radio ads for decades before that, and someone must have noticed that humor was an effective way to make an ad memorable.
Pretty much everything prior to Freberg was very tame or very small scale (secondary brands or regional ad coverage). He blew the lid off national-scale, big-name product comedy advertising, especially the genre where the ad pokes fun at the product or maker itself.
Not only that, but many of the same entertainers who poked good natured fun at their sponsors (Bob Hope, Arthur Godfrey, etc.) moved their shtick directly to TV, so humor was in the ads from the very beginning.
Also, since a huge amount of early TV commercials were done live, there were inevitably screwupsthat had audiences howling. Advertisers quickly caught on to the concept that humor worked to their benefit.
My impression is that a new form of TV commercial humor – smarter, more surprising, more laugh-out-loud funny – emerged as a common device in various European countries (including the UK) maybe around the early 1980s, and influenced a portion of the US media industry by about the late 1990s, but is still more common in Europe to this day.
Humor was already in use on radio when television started. Radio comedians were great pitchmen. There was a kind of gradual change in use of humor through the 60s. In the late 60s an Alka-Seltzer commercial about meatballsbecame phenomena. There were a variety of humours shaving cream commercials that would be parodied on television shows. The level of humor, and sometimes the sophistication was increasing.
As for how funny the funny commercials are, it’s hard to pass judgement on something like that. The pointless stupid ones don’t stay around long. The advertisers may tone down the humor to avoid offending their target market, and to avoid taking the attention off their product. But we do seem to have a lot of commercials probably intended to be humorous, but are actually just discordant. They are effective though, the intent was to get viewers to pay attention, and it’s an alternative to starting an ad with a foghorn.