Black humour in British advertisement

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2004

13 Pages, Grade: 2,0 (B)


Table of contents


1. Black Humour and Black Comedy

2. Black people on television adverts

3. Humour under cultural and lawful aspects
3.1 Different attitudes towards humour
3.2 Terms and conditions of advertisement

4. Example: Levis – a television advert




As everyone knows does humour play a decisive role in conversations. Particularly in Great Britain black humour is used as the medium of communication.

People’s attitudes towards humour in advertisements are completely different. Naturally advertisement appears artificial and unreal. Due to the wittiness that is now to be used easily does an advert obtain its target more effectively.

After this brief introduction I want to show facts that are important to know about black humour and black comedy. It will be mentioned its development with the generations and its appearance in British advertisement. Another point will be to expose cultural and legitimate aspects concerning humour and advertisement.

At last there I want to attach an example of a British television spot of Levi’s 501 jeans with some reference to typical facts of British advertisement you will find in it.

1. Black humour and black comedy

Humour abolishes stress, supports creativity and in best cases loosens conflict situations. In spite of that humour can be hurting and lead to misunderstandings.

Humour is a form of entertainment and also a form of human communication, supposed to make people laugh and feel happy. The origins of this word lie in the lives of the ancient Greeks, who stated that a mixture of humours controlled human health and emotion.[1]

There are different types of humour which appeal to different sectors of humanity. Young children particularly favour situation comedy, also known as sitcom, while satires tend to appeal more to the older and better-educated society. A British situation comedy is produced in the United Kingdom. The genre can be difficult to classify as it covers a wide range of styles and situations. A common factor is the exploration of social aspects, often with satire. British comedies are typically produced in series of six episodes each.

Humour often varies by locality and is not easily transfered from one culture to another. The reason is that humour often relies on a context, and someone not understanding the context will usually not understand the humour.[2]

The Expression black comedy got its name from black humour, which is contained in it. It is a comedy with an obvious cynical character, exposing taboo topics and making fun of everything. It is used as a basis on television and has been internationally popular. British comedy is a very particular type of humour that is performed in Britain and exported around the world. Currently, most British comedy is broadcasted via television with sketch shows and stand-up comedy as being some of the most popular forms.

Examples of themes which underpin twentieth century British humour are disrespect to members of the establishment and authority, the absurdity and banality of everyday life, the w ar between parents or teachers and children, and the British class system.[3]

This kind of humour stands for a macabre, peculiar and grotesque shape with a bit of irony and sarcasm. Black humour is normally used in satires or glosses. People laugh at things that, in fact, are not funny, regardless ethic or sympathy for people concerned. Of course it is meant no harm. It is rather to take the terror from unpleasant things, as crimes, illnesses and particularly death, by laughing at it.

An example for a simple joke of this kind would be the following. An old man in a repair shop with the following demand: ‘I have a broken phonograph, is that yet worthwhile to be repaired?’ – ‘Well, I do not know. How old are you, though?’

There are special topics or things that are associated with black comedies or black humour. Common examples would be chopped parts of bodies, eating of unpopular people. Even topics like murder or death which are taboo are shown inoffensive. Nonsensical, paradoxical relations and situations can also be applied.[4]

Black humour in general and black comedy in particular are very popular in Great Britain. That is another reason why British humour is used as a synonym for black humour in common parlance.[5]

Another possibility of publishing black humour next to the already mentioned way is the caricature. It is a very old form of illustration which is preferable used in satire magazines. A caricature is not implicitly black, but it is easy to express rough humour without many words.

Many people are offended by black humour and do not like it very much due to its synonymous meaning for unsocial and inhumane behaviour. Especially an example like a chopped part of a body seems to underline this impression. For others it can not be rough enough, the crueler the better.

Between these two entirely different opinions is another one. There are people, who pay attention on the making and the conversion of the special film, which is to evoke a subjective opinion in their mind. The more a film is made sarcastic and ironical the more the relation to reality gets lost. While moral or ethic principles are hurt, the audience is directed to pay attention to such values.

2. Black people on television adverts

In the eighties it was rather unusual to see a black person on a television advert, because they did not count as potential customers at that time.

The breakthrough came a decade later in a cereal advert. A white boy using Positive Mental Attitude turned up at a school sports day to cheer on a black family, one of the first ever seen in a commercial. It was a simple idea and not a particularly good commercial, but it meant a lot to black people.

Nowadays things are different. Television adverts no longer look as if they were made for a segregated society. Some of these new adverts are clichéd and stereotypical, but they represent change.

Listening to black radio in past decades meant hearing a load of poor-quality adverts. These days, there is advertisement for products you have actually heard of. At last black consumers are being taken seriously and a whole lot of the change has come out of the success of black music.

In fact, the history of ethnic minorities in advertising is depressing. There are many offensive adverts throughout the 20th century. Black people were used in soap-powder advertisement aimed at selling it to the servants of white households. The crude sense of humour made fun of black people who were depicted in the advertisement as being washed by whites.[6]

It is hard to get certain brands to advertise in a black paper. People are often not prepared to advertise in such publications. They are happy to use the fact that black is fashionable but when it comes to putting money into that community they are not very enthusiastic.

For later generations the changes of the past decade are significant. Watching television and listening to the radio is no longer the alienating experience it once was. Until more ethnic minorities are involved in marketing and advertising campaigns, until companies realise that simply putting a hip hop soundtrack on a commercial is not enough, we still have some way to go.







Excerpt out of 13 pages


Black humour in British advertisement
College  (Intercultural Economic Communications)
Culture and Business UK
2,0 (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
482 KB
Black, British, Culture, Business
Quote paper
Claudia Felsch (Author), 2004, Black humour in British advertisement, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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