Humor is a powerful asset. The purpose of humor in marketing is to make your brand and key value proposition stick in people’s minds like the hook of a catchy song. Over the top jokes–like musical hooks–have a very reinforcing quality. We get a dopamine hit just thinking about them!
There are only two hard and fast rules when answering the question of whether or not you use humor: ‘What is the nature of the brand, product, or service you represent?’ and ‘Can you pull it off?’
When it comes to advertising, television commercials in recent years have proven that just about any commercial organization can successfully employ tongue-in-cheek rhetorical techniques to promote a brand. Many companies have broken advertising norms by creating some surprisingly amusing ad spots.
Brands that Broke the Comedy Barrier
To prove comedy in advertising can be used anywhere, consider some recent, unexpected sources of comedy in advertising:
Geico employed a cartoon reptile to deliver humorous advertising claims in a dapper English accent. The campaign recently moved on to pinch McGruff the crime dog and actually found a way to work baby talk into an ad selling automobile insurance. The fact that Geico managed to navigate the staggering incongruity between car insurance and cartoon characters is proof positive that any company can use humor. Following in Geico’s footsteps, the Progressive and State Farm made their own attempts at comedy. To be frank, their ads are pretty amusing.
Not convinced? Consider the one brand of men’s hygiene products most associated with creepy uncles and smelly fishing boat captains… That’s right, we’re talking about Old Spice. Possibly owing something to Wes Anderson’s humorous take on Jacques Cousteau, The Life Aquatic, Old Spice made a series of commercials, like this one, that were progressively more ridiculous, painfully funny, and that actually respected their customer base. Owing to Old Spice, the musky smell of wax peppers, vanilla, and sharp cheese no longer connotes dubiously laundered flannel. Thanks, Old Spice!
How They Pulled it Off
Anyone who appreciates comedy and knows the first thing about sales understands that these companies ran a big risk by using such over the top comedy. But did they really take a risk? Perhaps not.
With the possible exception of Progressive, all of these companies had one thing in common: vast monetary resources. To produce the slapstick commercials these companies foisted on us, they hired teams of professional writers, focus groups, and test viewers–not to mention a handful of celebrities, professional directors, graphics teams and more. In short, they gave these ads the Six Million Dollar Man treatment. They had the technology, they could make them stronger, faster, better, more silly…
In short, if you’re going to take the leap from being in an ordinarily non-humorous industry to using over-the-top gags, you’d better have a world-class team (especially if you don’t have a heck of a lot of money!). You need a world-class comedic sensibility…or a writer with a world-class comedic sensibility!
Years ago, there was a local personal injury attorney who didn’t speak English very well. He was short, overweight, balding and underfunded. But he created an ad in which he stood out in a field with his arms outstretched while a voice-over of average quality made the claim, “He’s outstanding in his field.” It may have been luck, or it may have been talent, but those ads served him very well.
The Nitty Gritty Steering Committee
A 1993 Journal of Marketing study said humor in advertising enhances recall, retention, and trust in the brand. These are all things we want. But comedy comes with an element of risk. If you can deliver humor successfully, without turning your audience off- you should.
When considering whether or not to use humor in your content, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the concept funny? Does the idea make you laugh? Does it make your friends and spouse laugh?
- Does your audience want to laugh? An audience with no social component that is only looking after budgetary concerns does not need to laugh. Groups of people watching TV, for example, do.
- Can your product/service exist comfortably within a humorous context? If you sell cooling fans to IT acquisitions supervisors, tread lightly. Selling coffin liners? Maybe, just, don’t joke about that.
- Can you pull it off? Be honest: do you have the skill, personality, and talent to deliver an objectively funny joke?
If you answered yes to all of the above questions, joke writing may be in your future. If not, hiring a comedic writer may better suit your style!
DL M has 21 years of professional writing for print and online media and has 10+ years experience as a freelance fiction editor. He’s a content creator for major corporations covering all topics for a wide range of industries, specializing in white papers, research, news content. His specialty subjects include: current events, marketing, analytics, personal development, leveraging social media, SEO, business development, cloud computing, language, and politics.