May 17, 2023 — Article
What is it about holidays that inspire the worst of wordplay from our most trusted brands? Alex Moore investigates.
Easter puns. They’re everywhere. In stores, on social, even emblazoned across craft beer cans. They’re not original — literally, every Easter pun that could exist does exist. They’re not very funny. And they’re not even that clever (hop to it? come on).
And yet, they get resurrected year after year. Why?
I had to find out.
The problem with puns
When it comes to puns you either put up with them or vehemently despise them. Outside of seasonal holidays, they’re universally panned. Left behind for good. Hidden inside Christmas bonbons for your cringy uncles to recite at family dinners.
Using puns in your brand’s overall marketing feels risky at best. I’m not convinced the tiny benefit (a couple of snorts) outweighs the consequences (a collective groan from your customer base). Probably not the best strategy.
And I’ve not seen a single brand voice guideline that welcomes them. In fact, it’s almost always the opposite. Although Bakers Delight have been an outlier as long as I can remember. Who recalls their #HotCrossPuns campaign?
Finding comfort in the cliché
We know that retailers love to play with the codes and conventions of our yearly rituals. Bobbing along with the rhythm of our lives through tried-and-tested summer sales, DIY tips, and winter warmer cooking ideas.
There’s a simple rationale for it. Humans love the safety and security of the predictable. We get solace from sameness. We like our years to act like all the years before them. And we’re constantly seeking reassurance that the typical progression of time is on track. That everything is ‘normal’.
It’s an easy role for retailers to play. Don’t rock the boat. Colour between the lines. Stick to the codes. No wonder businesses like Bunnings, Kmart, Coles, and Woolworths constantly feature in our most trusted brands lists.
There’s never much originality in seasonal sales. Everyone just follows everyone else, dusting off the clichés they know that work. It’s why brands spend their budgets espousing the virtues of springing into spring. It’s consistent and comforting. Like McDonald’s when you have a hangover.
Clichés, though, are one thing. Puns are another.
And when Easter rolls around, out they come. Like little sweet treats.
Why Easter eggs-actly?
Religious holidays are notoriously punny in retail. (Christmas is just as prolific — ‘Sleigh Christmas’ was all over my local shopping centre last year.)
No surprises really. Brands want to celebrate these holidays, but not too religiously. So the lines to colour in with creativity get tighter. There’s even less boat rocking, and more cliché dusting. Which inevitably leads us to the safe harbour of Puntown.
You present them enough years in a row, and Easter puns become more than just lazy wordplay. They become a code for retailers to obey. An integral part of the holiday’s whimsical, innocent, and magical vibe. Just as synonymous with Easter as too much chocolate, too early in the morning egg hunts, and the way too early release of hot cross buns on supermarket shelves.
Does that mean a line like ‘egg-cellent savings’ makes us feel good?
Unfortunately, probably, yes. Not so much the message and copy itself. More, what the line represents — a cheerful reminder that the break we’ve been waiting for since our first day back at work is finally here. That the year is living up to its promise.
The pun-free zone
Of course, there are events in the retail seasonal calendar that are off-limits for puns.
Anzac Day is a big one. A lesson that Woolworths learnt the hard way back in 2015.
Tensions around January 26 mean Australia Day puns don’t really fly for brands these days either. A sign of how retailers are becoming adept at mirroring the social consciousness. Or, at least trying their best to.
You’d also be hard-pressed to find a retailer that digs into their bottom draw of puns for an apology piece. Although this classic KFC spot from the UK when they ran out of chicken is inspired punnery.
It’s clear that retail puns and cliches are here to stay.
Used fleetingly, in the right moments, they transcend the actual words and become a ubiquitous storytelling device. Something we use as humans to highlight the seasons and moments that matter in our lives. As retailers are seasonal creatures, it makes sense they’d tap into these cultural norms and rituals. And it makes us feel right at home.
Think about it. Can you imagine an Easter without brand puns? It just wouldn’t feel the same — like an important ingredient is missing. Sure, I’d still happily take the days off. Eat the chocolate. Drink the pun-less beer. But there’d be a sense of unease that the comforting, whimsical nature of the holiday wasn’t there.
So while I may not be the biggest fan of puns (what writer is?), I’m a big fan of the Easter holidays. And if I have to put up with puns to fully enjoy it, then I’m hoppy to.
Alex Moore is a Senior Writer at Principals brand voice studio, XXVI.
This article first appeared in Inside Retail.
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