Beyond the Boring Facts: Persuasion and Humor in Complex Subject Matter
If we’ve had one monster after another interfere with a hero’s goal to get home–and one of the dragons spits out funfetti frosting instead of fire–we call that break in tension comic relief. That funfetti frosting comes as a relief and surprise after the relentless drama. Comic relief balances out a story because it’s out-of-context humor that surprises and delights, jolting us back to reality, or rather, back to the story we’re watching, reading, absorbing.
Comic relief can not only be used with serious dramas, but also serious, complex, informative (and let’s face it, boring and fact-filled) content. Even instruction manuals, with their jargon, tips, and warnings could include a well-placed, out-of-context, funny bone-ticking reference that pulls us out of the doldrums. Just like the frosting over fire, this can jolt us back to focus and provide a much needed laugh after poring over dry text.
The Mask of Legal Jargon
Lawyers are trained to write in a way that covers clarity and intent with the mask of legal jargon and overly formal fat-filled steak. We often read and reread legal documents or “the fine print” and still feel overwhelmed or befuddled. Instead of admitting it, we sign our lives away. Lawyers could take classes in writing complicated subject matter in a more simplified, digestible manner but don’t. Why?
In a way, the mask of jargon and formality serves to protect them more than inform their readers. I’m suspicious of any writing that hides behind verbosity and refuses to expose itself more clearly to readers. If you’re a brand, you don’t want readers to understand what you’re saying and trust you. Humor in this case becomes not just dessert, but a side salad. (Especially necessary!) Can’t we all take a cue from the legalese and lighten up?
Allow Yourself To Be Seen
If you’re a business who wants to instill trust in your customers and fans, be authentic. Authenticity means allowing yourself to be seen, not hiding behind any mask. You may currently wear a know-it-all mask as a brand, thinking that being an authority builds confidence. And it does! To an extent. But a know-it-all who’s too certain, too sermonizing, and too serious isn’t authentic enough to lead us long-term. Charisma and persuasion in a leader, company, and brand leads us better than any laundry list of rational facts and figures.
Persuasion Relies On Emotions, Not Facts
As a brand, your aim is to be persuasive first. That’s what content marketing is, the study of persuasion. Unfortunately and perhaps fortunately, people are persuaded more by emotions than facts. People find facts that affirm what they already believe. That’s why coffee drinkers focus on articles that tell them coffee is healthy and disregard ones that warn against caffeine addiction. More on that later.
Confirmation bias isn’t just something that everyone else has. You have it! It’s a human tendency. So if you’re a brand that thinks you’ll persuade people by an onslaught of facts and complexity based on the rationale alone, you’re missing the mark. Psychologically, persuasion relies on clarity and authenticity before it relies on sermonizing and facts.
Don’t be discouraged that people (including YOU) aren’t persuaded by facts. All it means is that we’re far beyond trusting brands to present neutral objective facts without agenda. Everyone’s keen enough to know a brand’s facts are going to support buying their product first. There’s no delusion that a brand will go against its own self interest to inform customers. But at least if a brand persuades with clarity and simplicity instead of HIDING, you can wade through and decide for yourself rather than be intimidated into submission.
Break us out of the boredom! With a balance of clear-cut transparency and comic relief, you can simplify complex subject matter into smooth, digestible content. Even with a few dry facts tossed in for good measure.
The Coffee Story: The Perfect Persuasive Brew?
For example, let’s think about coffee brands and how they persuade us. We’re presented facts by the brands themselves. Usually these facts reassure us that we’re getting high quality, organic beans from an exotic place rather than a chemical farm. Whether it’s Starbucks or Coffee Bean or Peets or a local brand making these claims, there’s no way to verify them thoroughly. We take the brand’s word on them. We’re not going to go to Columbia to verify.
The brand is telling you a story and more than likely you want to hear that the bang-for-your-buck Starbucks cup is organic but sweet enough to hook you. These coffee stories are all just stories. An in-depth explanation of how the coffee is made may be what I CLAIM I want, but it’s really a story that affirms my current expectations and hopes for coffee that will make me buy that coffee. I want to hear it’s healthy but for it to taste like it’s not; I want it to be cheap but high-quality. I’m fooling myself in thinking I can fit all these contradictions into one coffee cup but the brand that tells me that story’s got my money.
In conclusion, persuasion and content marketing come down to instilling trust and distilling facts. Facts are only so persuasive and blending comic relief, straightforward language, and affirming a story tend to be the most effective content strategy. Your customers won’t admit it! But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who admits that they’re not rational or self-sabotaging in decision-making.
Samantha S writes direct, dynamic, digestible copy for any purpose and any medium. She has written for apps, games, websites, literary journals, trade magazines, newspapers, e-commerce brands and health//nutrition brands. Samantha’s most notable achievements are authoring a guidebook for College Prowler, interviewing Leonardo Dicaprio, Zac Efron, and Amy Sherman-Palladino for The Hollywood Reporter, reviewing books for Publishers Weekly, covering the World Series of Poker, teaching creative writing at Harvard-Westlake, and working as Editor-in-Chief of The Oval literary magazine.