Types of Irony and Their Advantage in Advertising

“Isn’t it ironic?” asked Alanis Morisette in her chart-topping hit from the 90s.

The biggest irony, it turned out, was the debate it sparked about how most of the scenarios in the song were not ironic at all.

And the fact the song confused so many people shows that irony is a tricky concept to grasp.

Basically, irony is a technique used by storytellers to contrast expectations with reality, often in an amusing way. The word is derived from the ancient Greek stock character Eiron who pretended to be less intelligent than he actually was and used this tactic to bring down his opponent.

But is irony effective for crafting impactful stories and messages?

Well it can be, and we can find many examples of it in storytelling.

In Ratatouille, we have a rat working at a restaurant as the master chef. It doesn’t get more ironic than that.

Marketers and advertisers can also use irony in their messaging to make things interesting.

It’s a great way to grab customer attention; something that isn’t easy to do in today’s competitive attention economy.

Our CEO points this out too, take a gander:



So, if the goal is to create ads people will enjoy watching, irony can really help.


Irony in advertising

Ironic advertising gets the message across in a more engaging way.

In 2013, Belgium agency Buzz in a Box came up with a Halloween ad for Pepsi. It was a very bold but fun concept and went viral on social media!

The text on the image reads “We wish you a scary Halloween!”.


types of irony in ads - Pepsi Halloween ad

Related: Video Advertising: Your Essential Guide 


Here’s why irony in advertising works:

i.  It’s a great hook
ii.  Irony can create a compelling call-to-action
iii.  It can do a great job of getting the point across in a relatable way

Now let’s take a look at some examples categorized by the three main types of irony.


Types of irony

The three main types of irony are situational, verbal, and dramatic.

Let’s get into it!


1. Situational irony

It is a literary device that highlights moments when the expected result does not occur, or the opposite happens. Situational irony, often known as an irony of events, differs significantly from what was anticipated or considered appropriate. Whether tragic or humorous, the result is always unexpected.

One of the most common examples of Situational Irony is the traditional story of The Hare and the Tortoise.

Here’s a TED-Ed video explaining situational Irony. This video is part of a series of episodes on “Types of Irony” by Christopher Warner.



Situational irony in ads

Ikea, a Swedish homeware retailer used a very different way to promote its cribs. They wanted potential consumers to pee on its printed ad. Yep, you read it right.

The advertisements included a hidden pregnancy test strip and encouraged pregnant mothers to urinate on the ad and wait for the results. If the result was positive, they can then take the ad to their local Ikea and purchase a brand-new crib at a discounted price.



This is an example of situational irony in advertising because when you read the line “IKEA wants you to pee on its ad” you wouldn’t expect what’s coming. But when you watch the ad, you will realize something unexpected was incorporated.

Read more: 9 Tips on How to Make a Viral Video


2. Dramatic irony

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something that the main characters don’t. It is also sometimes referred to as tragic irony.

Dramatic irony is used in plenty of shows, plays, and films. Consider how Shakespeare employs dramatic irony in Romeo’s tragic death in Romeo and Juliet. Romeo commits suicide, believing Juliet is dead when we all know she is just sleeping.

Watch this video to learn more about dramatic irony.



One of the most iconic examples of dramatic irony can be taken from the TV show Community. It uses television tropes and overused storylines in an ironic way. Something completely unexpected can happen anytime. Take a look at this infinitely-memed clip from Troy’s timeline.



Dramatic irony in ads

Let’s take an example from Burger King.

The fast-food chain’s clever marketing team decided to educate customers about internet neutrality issues using Whoppers.

The advertisement depicts unsuspecting customers attempting to purchase a Whopper and being told by staff that if they are unwilling to pay more, they will have to wait longer for their food.

The customers question the staff on their unfair services based on wealth.

At the end of the ad, it is revealed that the Whoppers are actually used as a metaphor. Meanwhile, the objective was to educate the customers on “net neutrality”.



3. Verbal irony

Verbal irony is described as a statement in which the speaker’s words conflict with their intent. This creates a contrast.

Verbal irony can be found in literature and speeches. In Harry Potter and the order of the Phoenix, there is a scene where Harry says:

“Yeah, Quirrell was a great teacher. There was just that minor drawback of him having Voldemort sticking out of the back of his head!”

This is verbal irony at its best because the drawback mentioned here was not minor.

Verbal irony is by far the most accessible, far-reaching, and widely used form of irony. You can use it to great effect if you can nail the timing.


Verbal irony in ads

Metro Trains Melbourne launched this really catchy and effective video in 2012 as part of a campaign that aimed to reduce the number of accidents on its railway network.



The song is upbeat and runs through all the ridiculous and dark ways a person could die. It’s a cool way to make use of verbal irony.

Read more: 11 Types of Propaganda Techniques in Advertising (With Examples) 


Wrap up

Irony is definitely a unique way to get your message across because anything that creates a stark contrast is easily more memorable.

It has the ability to stir the audience and fill them with excitement, fear, and/or curiosity. So now that you know about how impactful the types of irony can be when it comes to ads, are you ready to give it a go yourself?

If you’d like to brainstorm ideas for your next video, reach out to us. Our team has years of experience creating animated videos for brands, and we’d love to help you, too! So, get in touch!

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Posted by Samra Tiwana

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