When it comes to over-the-top humor, look no further than Thai advertising.
Few advertising in the world is as outrageous and bizarre as found in Thailand (well, OK, maybe Japan). From the Bangkok Insurance spot from a few years ago showing hilarious scenarios like a house being blown away by a tornado that suddenly fixes itself, to last year's Merit winner from Jeh United for Sylvania featuring grisly ghosts and a transvestite, Thai humor can only be described as "unique" through western eyes. Many print campaigns from Thailand also feature visual jokes and clever humor like Creative Juice's Silver Pencil-winning work for Tamiya. We spoke with Thirasak Tanapatanakul, worldwide chairman at Creative Juice in Bangkok, about the Thai style of advertising and the country's love of offbeat humor.
Thai humor is often called outrageous and over-the-top compared to other countries. Why do you think that Thai advertising has a reputation for being so extreme?
Is Thai advertising considered extreme? It's not if you think about the Thai lifestyle. For example, take a look at our foods. Other countries may start the day with cereal and milk, but Thais start the day with rice and extremely hot curry for breakfast. Hot and spicy Thai breakfasts always wake people up and make them ready to do exciting things during the rest of the day. Maybe that's one of the reasons why our ads are so extreme.
How would you describe Thai humor?
When we call it Thai humor, it's really a reflection of our culture. We don't try to create humorous work for the sake of advertising awards shows. We create work that is funny because Thai consumers love to see things that way.
Talk about some of the funny ads that you've created. How did you figure out what will work and what doesn't?
This is the true story. 13 years ago, I went to visit a Buddhist monk and asked for a New Year's blessing. He asked me, "What do you do for a living?" And I said, "I work in advertising." He said, "If you are creating advertising, you've got to entertain people. The world has too many sad stories and desperate things; therefore, ads should make people laugh and be happy."
Even a Thai Buddhist monk told me to do this. How could I refuse?
What are some of your favorite ads that you've created?
The Bangkok Insurance campaign is one of my favorites because it can grab people's attention by how funny it is. (Not only because of the script, but also the fun line: "Probability = 0.00000001%.")
The Bangkok Life Assurance commercial, "Salesman," and D7 Coffee's "Wake Up Thailand," also grabs people's attention with their humor. And the Tamiya campaign grabs people's attention by its impact. (It makes people want to assemble things.)
What type of humor works best for the Thai audience?
Extremely funny ones, like our foods, which are extremely hot.
Are there certain categories that are expected to be funny?
No, there isn't any specific category. Everything can be funny. We are unique and different in our tastes.
Is advertising in Thailand becoming more like Western advertising or will it always have its own distinct flavor?
We have our own way of laughing like no other culture in the world. So we appreciate it when people all over the world say that they love our style of humor.
But actually, a funny advertisement is only one of the many ways to grab a consumer's attention. We also consider other aspects of their lives to make an impact through advertising.