It's been said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. But, as Christopher Walken once said in Hairspray, "the way to a man's heart is through his funny bone." Comedy builds connections, and in advertising, it has the ability to make or break them. The video production and storytelling agency Workhouse Creative has just signed two major directors whose work has driven over 82 million views on Funny or Die starring Will Ferrell. Principal and Founder of Workhouse Creative Keith Rivers, and Film Directors at Workhouse Creative Tamara Bick and Drew Antzis, discuss the emotional impact that humor has on their advertising, why it's successful and upcoming projects that are in the works right now.
ProductionHUB: How does comedy resonate with viewers / consumers (from your perspective) and why do you think it's successful/unsuccessful?
Drew/Tamara: Comedy, like any content, is most successful when a viewer connects with it, relates to it and shares it with others. Laughing is a wonderful physical release. It feels good and those who share funny content laugh about it together, which furthers a connection and makes it memorable. And being memorable is very important for advertising.
PH: Do you take a targeted approach when it comes to humor? (Because viewers may have differing senses of humor)
Drew/Tamara: We honor our own funny bone. We hope if something makes us laugh, others will laugh as well.
PH: Have you seen more social engagement and sharing come from humorous advertising?
Drew/Tamara: Yes, absolutely. It’s a fantastic feeling to share something you think is funny; it gives you a certain feeling of ownership. "Look at this funny thing I discovered… you're welcome.”
PH: Are there lines you have to draw? What are they?
Drew/Tamara: We won't engage in anything that is mean spirited. We sure do make pointed fun of things (ourselves for example) or use observational humor, but our comedy should start from a place of humanity and respect. In advertising, the lines are usually drawn by the client with which we’ll always comply.
PH: Because you deal with a lot of different brands, how do you deliver content that suits each specifically? (Consumers are different for each brand.)
Keith: A lot of our thinking is empathetic to the consumers’ impression of that particular brand, and we assign different directors to brands based on the brand identity. We work with brands directly to dig into problems and find creative solutions together to better suit their audiences and specific needs. We try not to make assumptions about how people feel about a specific brand, but rather focus on that inner child inkling of humor inside ourselves to create the most spontaneous laugh.
Drew/Tamara: That's where the beauty of collaboration comes into play. First, we really listen to what the client wants; they know their product best. That usually inspires us and then a dialogue of ideas begins. And always, we hope, the best idea wins.
PH: What approach should one take before adding humor into their advertising?
Keith: Making sure the audience will respond to comedy is key. Comedy is a strong tool, but only if it’s used correctly. The audience you are targeting should understand the jokes and not feel victimized, unless you want them to feel that way. Humor is dictated by occupation, age, subculture, gender, religion, etc. Humor should come from a positive state of mind, from the heart and in a safe place where the client and the director are building off one another. There is a fine line when dealing with social context of humor and when you hit it correctly it is gold, but it’s also easy to miss.
Drew/Tamara: Make sure it speaks to the demographic that's being targeted. The right humor can work almost anywhere at any time when done properly. Humor should also be inherent in the concept – as opposed to adding it in at some point, which can feel contrived. It also depends on the client and whether they're a fan of comedy or not. If comedy doesn't resonate with a client, then move on and find an approach that does.
PH: How do you think humor in advertising compares to heartfelt emotion? Which is more successful, if either, and why?
Keith: For me, it depends on my mood at any given moment in time. If I'm with a group of friends watching the Super Bowl or the Oscars and I see a comedic spot, I'm more likely to want to laugh, similarly to when I go out to a comedy show. Humor and heartfelt emotion can both cause a visceral memorable response for the audience. All in all, an audience’s intentions should match the medium.
Drew/Tamara: Both serve a purpose and can be equally successful. To achieve a real emotional connection, no matter what the tone is, should always be the goal.
PH: How has adding two really successful directors into the mix really changed the game for Workhouse Creative?
Keith: Although Workhouse has grown significantly by adding Bick/Antzis and Matty Brown to our roster, we still treat ourselves as young and eager, always proving ourselves one creative challenge at a time. Seattle is a serene place to work, build an innovative company, and avoid the limelight. Instead, we focus on creating work that's engaging and influential.
PH: What are you looking forward to bringing to the table for Workhouse Creative?
Drew/Tamara: We'd like to be part of Workhouse Creative becoming a go-to production company for comedy. We love working, collaborating and shooting fun content. We want to be considered the top directing team for comedy at Workhouse.
PH: What are some upcoming projects you have up your sleeve?
KEITH: Drew and Tamara are re-packaging their web series Settle This Thing. In addition to the topic they debate on their couch, the two want to include an Amy Schumer-type interview on the streets to further discuss the theme of the episode and include real people's perspective on the topic at hand. This re-tooling will also include exploration of the “science” of relationships – “The Masters and Disasters” of relationships. Who has mastered marriage and how do they do it? And look at those disasters! How can we avoid that?!
About Workhouse Creative
Workhouse Creative is a production company and digital storytelling agency focused on creating authentic, engaging and influential ideas that change perspectives and move audiences. We conceptualize, produce and finish content for brands and partners that seek authenticity and honest relationships with audiences. We use unique aesthetics to create an impact and our work sparks global conversations that attract brand engagement and long-term loyalty. Working hand-in-hand with clients around the globe — including Microsoft, Ford, McDonald’s, Intel, Delta Airlines and Google — Workhouse captures the intrinsic moments that shape a brand’s identity, bridging meaningful connections between them and their customers. For additional information, please visit: http://www.workhousecreative.com/.
About Keith Rivers
Keith Rivers is a filmmaker who grew up in North Bend, WA, surrounded by the Cascade Mountains with a family infiltrated in the entertainment industry. His father Bob Rivers is an iconic radio talk show host, multi-gold record producer and parody songwriter, and his brother is a stand-up comic. Keith, on the other hand, prefers the director’s chair behind the camera, working closely with actors, crafting story inside the edit room, and composing music in his recording studio tucked deep in the North Bend woods.
In only a few years, Keith has built a portfolio that most do over an entire career: working for brands, such as Microsoft, Chevrolet, Ulta Beauty, Alaska Airlines, Tesla, Hershey’s, McDonalds, and Volvo; inadvertently starting a digital storytelling agency in Seattle, Workhouse Creative, representing a core group of talented directors; conceptualizing a 350 million dollar global marketing campaign for Internet Explorer, and executing a music synchronization deal for Alex Clare that begot triple platinum record sales. Keith also created Microsoft’s instantly viral Surface video, which received 8 million views and won a Gold ADDY award.
When Keith is not working on innovative marketing campaigns or purpose-driven content, he’s traveling with non-profit organizations to places like Zambia, Bangladesh, the Amazon and Senegal, delving into humanitarian stories focused on improving education, children and impoverished villages. Keith is a singer and songwriter on the side, having released three albums. His debut feature film, Impact, A Boxer’s Story, is currently in development.
About Drew Antzis and Tamara Bick
Tamara Bick and Drew Antzis are a husband and wife directing team with an outstanding sense of humor. Their work history includes acting, stand-up, improvising, shooting, directing, editing, and producing. Having been on both sides of the camera, the pair has an intimate knowledge of what it takes to develop a character and tell a great story. Drew is best known as the first in-house director at Funny or Die, where he launched the site with Will Ferrell’s “The Landlord.” Their body of work includes over 70 other videos at Funny or Die as well as directing, producing and editing multiple web series for major brands such as Whole Foods, which was featured as Ad of The Day in ADWEEK. Most recently they've worked with brands including McDonalds, Visa and Zurich Insurance for whom they shot a series of spots called Golf Love Tests. The content was shot for web use, but was so successful it has since aired on Golf Chanel, ESPN, CNN, and CBS.