In defense of puns

Ah, puns. The copywriter’s equivalent of the dad joke. Harmless, chuckleworthy, eye-rollingly good plays on words that make us expel air out of our noses at a rate faster than normal for at least one breath.

I will admit I love a good pun and even kind of like a ‘bad’ pun. Good on them for having a go, I’ll think to myself. See, when you’re coming up with headlines for things, you try to find ways to highlight the stuff you’ve been told to highlight. You need to make a connection between the product and the potential consumer. Why not draw on common ground with a few well-placed words that have a smile-inducing double meaning?

But I’m not in the majority here. Some people hate puns, or deride them as ‘cheap’ and ‘easy’. They say ‘there’s no such thing as a good pun’ and spend inordinate amounts of time attempting to create a gem before reverting to a tried and true “more than just a…”, “we’re for…” or new favourite “welcome to…”.

As such, advertisers of a certain chip colour have been reticent to deploy puns in their mass-market communications. This week, a few would argue we’ve all been witness to front row seats as to why.

Woolworth’s ‘Fresh in our memories’ campaign drew a strong reaction, and deservedly so. The internet responded as the internet does and amongst the swathes of digital disbelief and virtual hand-wringing someone somewhere pointed out that one of the worst things about this misguided use of the word ‘fresh’ was that is was a pun.

Great, I thought. Another thousand lashes for the fly-ridden dead horse of pun hate. But as a staunch defender of the play-on-word, I feel a need to intervene.

‘Fresh in our memories’ was not a pun. I appreciate that this makes as much sense as saying water is not a liquid, but lets look at the actual facts. Yes, it has a double meaning, but only because of the association the Woolworths brand has with the word ‘fresh’. If it was a true pun, the fresh would refer to the people in our memories being either crisp like a spritzed iceberg lettuce or somehow dressed like the Price of Bel Air. It’s also neither smile-inducing nor giggle-worthy in any way. And the only air that would be expelled from one’s nostrils upon reading it for the first time would be from indignant anger, not some beige variety of pleasure.

Not a true play on words. Not funny. No nostril air.

Three strikes you’re out = Not a pun.

The internet will move on by the end of the week. But brands will be more cautious as a result. Knuckles will be rapped and contracts will be reviewed. And standing in the line-up with the guilty parties will be the pun. A case of mistaken identity in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfairly judged for a crime it did not commit and I for one feel sorry for them. So now it’s not so much that every pun is a bad pun, they’re all just poor puns.

Sorry. I couldn’t help it.