Humor In Marketing: Why It Works, A Harsh Reality, And How To Do It Right

By February 6, 2013June 28th, 2015Writing & Content Marketing
Humor In Marketing: Why It Works, A Harsh Reality, And How To Do It Right

One of the best and most valuable talents a human being can have is saying, writing or producing something that makes people laugh. It’s memorable, influential, fun and inspiring. It’s a talent that ranks right up there with the ability to hit a curveball.

Every day, businesses and organizations incorporate humor into their marketing content. Many do it effectively and reap the rewards. Many more fail and waste money.

Failure is usually the result of poor execution, but it’s also due to the fact that most people don’t understand why humor in marketing works in the first place.

Unless you dropped close to $4 million for one 30-second ad in the Super Bowl, the main goal and benefit of using humor is not to get people blathering on social media about how funny you, your business or your content is.

Actually, I think that’s a misguided approach for the Super Bowl, too – more on that later – because using humor is an effective marketing tactic for a much different reason.

Humor In Marketing Is So Powerful Because It Gets People To Let Down Their Defenses

If you make us laugh, or say something that takes us back to a life experience that was funny, we’ll become less apprehensive and more likely to listen to what you have to say next.

Humor has the same effect as a strong headline that compels us to keep reading. It’s a hook. Because you got us to let down our defenses, or at least lower them a bit, we’re more open to finding out what you can do to educate us, solve a problem for us, or make life easier for us.

We like and trust you a little more than we did five minutes ago. And you might even make us laugh again. All of these factors put us a few steps closer to doing business with you. But before you start testing your best one-liners on staff, family and friends, you must come to terms with one harsh reality.

You’re Probably Not As Funny As You Think You Are

People who think they’re hysterical enough to have their own HBO special are the same kind of people who sing in the shower and think they can carry a tune like an opera singer. Both are wrong.

More wrong than fingernails on a chalkboard.

Not everyone can be Jimmy Fallon or Tina Fey. Most of us can’t even be Drew Carey. This doesn’t mean you can’t use humor in your marketing. It just means you should proceed with caution and use humor strategically instead of firing off a tweet or blog whenever you have a “funny” observation that you feel must be shared with the world. Here are a few tips that can help you do it right.

Humor Should Enhance Your Marketing Message

Unless you’re an entertainer or comedian, the sole purpose of your content should not be to entertain or amuse.

If the humor you’re using doesn’t reinforce your marketing message or do something – anything – to make someone more likely to do business with you, it’s just a fluff-filled and usually self-serving distraction.

This is why I think so many Super Bowl advertisers miss the mark. They’re more focused on creating a buzz than creating a sale. Or establishing trust. Or conveying some kind of value.

I remember the Super Bowl ad with the little kid in the Darth Vader costume trying to use “the force.” I thought it was hilarious. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the auto brand that was doing the advertising.

I hope those millions were worth the temporary buzz. I wonder if it actually moved any cars. Personally, I’d much rather have someone say “I want to hire you to write my website content and weekly blogs” than “you’re freakin’ hilarious!”

You Don’t Have To Turn Your Content Into A Stand-Up Routine

Stand-up comedians are under pressure to be funny every time they open their mouths, whether they’re setting up a joke or delivering the punch line. Your marketing content can use humor effectively without being a comedy show.

More often than not, setting up a single joke or funny scenario and delivering a single, funny punch line is the best way to go. It’s like when Jerry Seinfeld taught George Costanza about Vegas showmanship. When you hit the high note, you say “good night” and get off the stage. Leave them wanting more. Or in the case of marketing content, transition to the meat and bones of your message while you have them hooked.

Humor Doesn’t Have To Elicit A Big Belly Laugh To Be Effective

You have to be pretty darn funny to make someone laugh hysterically. If your material is funny enough to do that, fantastic. But nothing falls flatter than an attempt at big time humor that really isn’t very funny.

Picture the guy at the bar who tells a story with a big build up to what he thinks is a hilarious crescendo, only to end up laughing hysterically by himself.

Humor in marketing can be successful if it simply makes someone smile and nod without a sound.

That means your audience gets it. You don’t have to hit a home run every time because, like I said earlier, humor alone won’t deliver the end result you want to achieve. Sometimes you just need to use subtle humor to get you on base, and let the rest of your content bring you around to score. That score could be a like, a share, a registration or even a sale.

It’s Only Funny If Your Audience Thinks It’s Funny

Something that you and your employees laugh about in the lunch room may not be funny to your potential clients. Inside jokes are best kept inside.

Humor in your marketing should amuse your target audience, not yourself.

Just like every single aspect of any marketing program, humor should be relevant to your audience, or loosely connected to something relevant at the very least. Talk about funny scenarios and issues that people can relate to. One general comment about taste because I believe “good taste” is in the eye of the beholder – if  you’re on the fence about whether or not something is offensive, don’t include it in your marketing content. Certain types of businesses can push the envelope. Most can’t. And stay away from politics. Please. I defriended enough people last year.

What are the most effective examples of humor in marketing that you’ve seen?