The serious business of wordplay

The power of puns is all too often overlooked in advertising, argues We Are Pi ECD Rick Chant, who points out that they can be political as well as amusing

Wordplay is seen as a bit of a joke in adland. The pun has been ridiculed in the halls of creative departments for decades. In the real world however, puns have long been a celebrated part of culture and today they are driving social revolution and free speech in a world of censorship. Let’s embrace the pun for what it is – an innovative art form at the heart of technological, cultural and social transformation.

Puns have been found in ancient Egypt, the Tanakh and in Mayan hieroglyphics. Alfred Hitchcock believed puns to be the highest form of literature and over 3,000 of them have been found in Shakespearean plays. Three hundred years ago, Henry Erskine countered the statement that “a pun is the lowest form of wit” by adding “and therefore the foundation of all”.

Puns are at the forefront of musical progress. John Lennon loved a bit of wordplay, changing the original ‘Beetles’ to ‘Beatles’ to reflect their beat group origins. The Dead Kennedys, the original pun(k) band, named themselves after the only Kennedy still alive at the time, and fired three minute satirical missiles into the mainstream. The Dandy Warhols outlived Andy’s predicted 15 minutes of fame, and Camper van Beethoven, Ringo Deathstaar, and Joy Orbison prove that wordplay is still a strong force spearheading today’s musical landscape.