Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

When leaders are successful, acolytes pour over their every word and deed in order to find hidden secrets.

This can be a little wearing.

When you're a leader, you do and utter many things that enter your head. Those things might leave your head just after you've said or done them. Permanently.

Still, I was moved by a story that's just emerged about the most perfect days of Apple.

Should you be old enough to remember that Microsoft was once a nasty monolith that forced businesses into buying its software, you might also remember that Apple mercilessly mocked the sheer asinine dullness of its rival.

In a series of ads called Get A Mac, Apple was potrayed by a young, only marginally hip actor called Justin Long. 

Microsoft, on the other hand, was represented by John Hodgman -- a pudgy, uptight, ill-dressed nerd who didn't look entirely dissimilar to Bill Gates.

The campaign was so successful that it went on for several years and consisted of more than 60 ads.

60 ads that aired, that is.

He revealed that, although almost 300 of the ads were made, there was one criterion that separated those that aired from those that didn't.

In Long's view, "some of the funniest ones never aired." He explained: 

One in particular, I remember, Zach Galifianakis played, like, a drunken Santa Claus. And [Apple] said, basically, that Steve Jobs preferred when they weren't super funny.

What's wrong with being funny? After all, aren't the funniest Super Bowl ads the ones that people actually remember?

For that matter, aren't the funniest salespeople the ones you remember?

Jobs didn't think so. According to Long: 

He thought it would detract from the point of the commercial. He thought if people were too focused on the humor in it, they would lose sight of the product.

This is a troubled debate, one that has infected advertising and marketing circles for many a decade.

There are those who insist that the funny and the message can somehow be separated and should be presented in a balance of 20 percent for the former and 80 percent for the latter.

Equally, there are those who say it's the funny that makes the ad memorable, which will make the message memorable too.

Neither side is right, of course.

Every decision about how to sell involves a certain level of risk. 

So many times, ad campaigns have become famous far beyond the imaginations of those who created them or those who approved them for airing.

It's always a question of judgment and, when it came to ads, Jobs exercised his judgment with the same vigor that he exercised many other parts of his leadership.

In the end, you see, who's to say which ad is funnier than the next?

Actors might think something is extremely funny. The audience might have very different preferences. (This happens often.)

Why, ask actors about their favorite movies and see how much this makes you frown.

Of course selling involves making sure your message gets through in the most effective way.

How you do it, however, doesn't have to follow strict rules.

Personally, I think the Get A Mac campaign was one the greatest of all time.

Because it was the best sort of funny. The sort of funny that's true.

Published on: Jun 2, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.