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That’s Not Funny…Or is It: Edgy vs Controversial Marketing Humor

edgy marketing
Let’s face it; sarcasm creates a connection. It’s the reason that comedians like George Carlin and Robin Williams were masters of comedy. That rancor was how they grabbed people’s attention and kept it. Every once in a while, though, sarcasm takes a surprising turn.



The marketers and writers of this campaign thought this was hilarious, no doubt – the rest of the world not so much, though.

It’s a chance you take when you introduce humor into your content. This ad for Kayak Stairlift took a little poke at the aging population and their kids. Surprisingly, the senior community didn’t appreciate it.

The question is how can you as a marketing genius tell the difference between edgy and controversial.

Draw a Line in the Creative Sand

Generally speaking, you are always going to be walking a tightrope when you make fun of anything. The mistake the Stairlift marketers made is they picked on a class of people – the elderly.

In fact, the line you draw should sit squarely in front of classes of people. Stay away from jokes that focus on:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Sexuality
  • Disabilities
  • Race

As a rule, if you are going to make fun of something, make it:

  • Your brand – You can poke fun at your brand because it won’t be offended.
  • A subjective concept – Who remembers the Geico Caveman commercials. Just in case you are missing the point, cavemen don’t exist in the modern world, which is why it’s funny. What doesn’t exist can’t get mad.
  • The competition – All’s fair in war and advertising.
  • Something that applies to everyone – Can you say bathroom humor? It’s has worked in the past. Timing is everything, though, I’m not sure this particular ad would be well received today.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. There are times when poorly thought out marketing humor pays off, but most of the time, all it gets is your brand flamed on social media. When creating content, consider the emotional impact and know who is likely to reach for the pitchforks.

If You Don’t Know, Ask

I’m sure that’s what the marketing firm that created this ad wished they had done:



There is this little thing in marketing known as a focus group. If you are creating ads that look like this, you need one. The focus group allows you to test out your humor on a random sampling of consumers and takes its temperature. It’s the marketing equivalent of asking your mother if something is okay.

Follow the Rules

The rules of content creation don’t change just because you are looking to add a little humor into the mix.

  • Start with the obvious: Consider your audience. Consider the culture that surrounds that audience. The Stairlift company failed here. After all, who buys their product? Families who love someone who is elderly or disabled and seniors themselves. It’s not a picture the audience will relate, too, so it backfired on them.
  • Play to the medium – In other words, create content that is specific to the channel. A three-minute video ad won’t work for Instagram and print media doesn’t get anyone’s attention on Facebook.
  • Don’t forget the brand – Your job is not to make people laugh. It’s to build a brand and help sell a product.

Now Tack on Some More Rules

Once you have the basics in hand, consider the rules that apply to marketing humor, too.

  • Most good humor happens by accident. If you sit down and try to write funny, you will overcompensate and probably end up with offensive. Don’t start with the humor, begin with the essential brand promotion and build from there. Humor is just the seasoning.
  • Make the humor fit the brand. The Girls Don’t Poop campaign was about a bathroom air freshener. All the dots connected. You can also focus on the personality of the brand. Geico is an established company that has a track record of being funny. People will get it.
  • Offensive is usually just offensive. Shock value has limited appeal in marketing. If you set out to be offensive, the campaign is probably doomed.
  • Keep it Real. Most people don’t have the perfect body. Think of all the potential buyers you make made when you assume they do. Enough said.

Use sex carefully. It has some appeal, and it certainly gets people’s attention, but it can backfire real fast.


No explanation is necessary.

Finally, trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. If you don’t have the knack for telling the difference between edgy and offensive, hire a writer that does get it.

Humor is a beautiful tool for marketers. It can make a campaign stand out in a world covered with them when done right. Edgy sells but offensive just gets your brand boycotted.

Darla F is a full-time freelance writer published internationally and an award-winning author. Over the last decade, she has ghostwritten memoirs for a successful entrepreneur and created byline pieces for USAToday, Jillian Michaels, USARiseUP, New York Times —, Multibrief, MedCity News, LiveStrong and AOL. Darla is known for her ability to take complex topics and make them clear to anyone.

Guest Author

By WriterAccess

Freelancer Darla F

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