Cringe Comedy and You: How to Make Your Audience Squirm With You a la ‘The Office,’ ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ ‘Peep Show,’ etc.

Cringe comedy, which is all the rage in popular culture, steadily continues to creep into brand development and marketing. We are bombarded with information, and companies who want to stick out in the big crowd (not stick it to their target audience) are pushing the envelope to get noticed and stay noticed, in a positive way, that is. Enter the cringe.

A Delicate Touch

So what is cringe comedy? According to our friends over at Merriam-Webster, it is “to feel disgust or embarrassment and often to show this feeling by a movement of your face or body.” This doesn’t sound so good; does it? Well, now, isn’t that the million-dollar question? And it’s the question that every company should be very careful when answering whether it’s worth it or not to push that cringeworthy hot topic to their marketing content. When used in marketing, cringe comedy must be used very carefully because it can be “the bomb” as our millennial audience likes to refer to something awesome or a “bomb,” which is what all audiences refer to as a big flopping failure.

This is where your target audience comes into play. Humor, as we all know, is very subjective, and what one person thinks is funny, another one thinks is not, especially in today’s world of diversity, political un-correctness and overall super-duper sensitivity. Marketing pros have to weigh their content wisely before walking the sky-high tightrope of trying to make them memorably cringe. As mentioned before, what our younger millennial audience might find really, really funny, our older baby boomers might find really, really insensitive, or not understand at all. This is called generational marketing, the process of dividing audiences into segments based on their age and a topic worthy of exploring.

We’ll Do It Live!

“Saturday Night Live” is “the bomb” when it comes to making its audience cringe. They push the envelope every Saturday night and use comedy and celebrity status to make their audience laugh, get grossed out or even cringe with happiness. It works because that is what is expected of this show, which probably should wear the granddaddy crown of cringe comedy. But, you don’t have to tune in if this isn’t your idea of a good time. The same goes for the long-running sitcom, “The Office,” which put the icing on the workplace cake when it comes to awkward characters and uncomfortable office situations.

Some find the content of this show hysterical, while others, you guessed it, find it a turn-off and consequently turn it off.  That is their choice. But it can get a bit trickier with content marketing. Consumers don’t have a choice to turn it off, and the last thing you want is that… to turn them off because it might result in turning a loyal or potential customer into one who boycotts your products based on one ad that bombs.

Cringe in Marketing

Take, for instance, this example of cringe comedy that worked and worked well. A company called Poo-pourri wanted to glamorize, if that is possible, something everyone does behind closed doors. Going “No. 2” in the bathroom can be a stinky situation in more ways than one. So, they used a touch of relatable humor and invited customers to “Join the Potty” to make their scent-sational point, if you will. Their point is that even beautiful people (in an ad, “Girls Don’t Poop,” a lovely lady sits on the commode, obviously doing her business) leave a nose-turning cringing odor in the bathroom, and their product Poo-pourri can come to the rescue. Their target audience, the younger generation, related positively to this, but chances are they offended a baby boomer whose idea of potty humor is reserved for a toddler.

Another company that in some circles rates on the edge of being too edgy is a billboard campaign by Sheetz, known for their easy-in, easy-out, made-to-order fast food kiosk system. How about, “Grab Lunch by the Meatballs” or “Crispy Frickin’ Chicken,” and better yet, “Put This in Your Pie Hole.” Pie Hole? Have you ever heard that word used in advertising before? It’s slang for a person’s mouth. I’d call this quite cringe-worthy content that is complemented by strategically placed photography that has a sexual overtone. But at the end of the funny or not-so-funny day, whatever side of the fence you’re on, Sheetz has done their market research, knows their audience and is now cringing successfully all the way to the bank.

So, the bottom line is that when it comes to cringe comedy or any comedy in content marketing, know your target audience, do your research, and keep tickling the funny bones and pie holes of audiences everywhere.

Susan W keeps her target audience in mind and writes a creative, clear, thoughtful piece. She has written hundreds of news articles, newsletters, informative letters, blog posts, emails, social media posts, magazine articles, news releases, executive speeches, promotional articles, catalog copy, web site copy, headlines and radio scripts. She researches and writes SEO friendly articles, using the best writing style for the article and audience. She has a “flair” for word combinations that promote and entertain. Whether the article is “short and sweet” or “long and lengthy” Susan’s style keeps the reader engaged and interested.


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