Why Are Pirates Good at Marketing? Because They Arrrrrrrr

Humour can be a highly effective marketing tool when used appropriately. It’s a great way to break the ice with potential customers and it makes businesses come across as relatable and authentic. It makes a brand memorable and as people are compelled to share the joke, humourous content can easily go viral. However, it needs to be used in the right way so that it works in your favor and not against you. In this article, I’m going to talk about how – and how not to use humour in your marketing, whether that’s for B2C or B2B operations.

Why Are Jokes Effective in Marketing?

Using humour in marketing is a strategic approach that generates positive emotions in your audience, and increases engagement, conversions, and customer loyalty. It’s also a great way to grab people’s attention – opening an ad or piece of content with a joke is a great hook that will keep them watching or reading.  

Marketing with humour is known to increase engagement and brand recognition. In addition, the Happiness Report states that 90% of people are more likely to remember funny ads and 72% would choose a humourous brand over the competition.  

Humour also helps to create a sense of community. People like to feel like they’re part of something, and creating a sense of community around your product or brand is one of the best ways to do this. Another reason humour is a great way to help build community is because it gets people talking – the positive emotions we experience when something makes us laugh makes us want to share our experience with others. It also has a humanising effect – in other words, it shows personality, preventing businesses from being perceived as faceless corporations.  

However, if we’re not careful, using humour in marketing can go horribly wrong. It’s important to think carefully about the context, timing, audience, and other factors that could affect how your jokes are received. 

What NOT to Do

Always remember that humour is subjective; what works for one person might not work for another. Be careful with topics that could come across as offensive to specific groups, and steer clear of heated topics such as politics.  

You also need to consider how cultural and generational differences might affect how well your jokes are received – there’s no point in referencing something from the 80s if your primary target is Gen-Z. It can be easy to overlook this fact and assume that, just because we and everyone we know is familiar with something from popular culture, that others we are targeting will be as well – so, make sure you carefully consider what your audience can relate to.   

Even simple cultural differences can make your jokes fall flat. A simple misuse of an idiom or play on words that is common in the UK but not in the US will alienate your American audience, and vice versa.  

What about in B2B campaigns and other professional scenarios? Humour still has its place in this context, but it needs careful consideration and often requires more subtlety. This could mean telling a funny story, but one that still provides value for your audience; in other words, the main focus is not the jokes but they are still in there. Another option would be showcasing your company in a light-hearted manner. For interactions that take place in-person with potential clients, such as presenting your product at an expo, include appropriate humour in your presentation to help the audience warm to your brand.  On the other hand, if your company handles serious subject matter and its audience will not appreciate humour at all in that context, it’s best to avoid it.  

Timing is another critical factor in whether a joke will be successful. Consider whether any current events affecting your audience may render your joke inappropriate.  

Finally, consider the type of humour that your audience will appreciate. For example, dark humour is not for everyone, but if you know your audience well and know that it’s up their street, then it may pay off.  

The key point to always keep in mind when adding jokes into your marketing campaigns is to appeal to what the majority of your audience will find funny. There’s always some degree of risk when using humour in marketing, but keeping this in mind will always help to lower that risk. 

Examples of Humour in Marketing

The Dollar Shave Club commercial titled “Our Blades Are F***ing Great” has had more than 27 million views. The humour used appeals to a wide audience – sure it’s a little risky but it’s also surprising so it’s the delivery above all else that makes it funny.  

Now for a British example – the Cravendale “Cats with Thumbs” ad from 2011. It was a safe bet – how many funny videos of cats have gone viral? There was little chance of this one not being a success. The mild eccentricity that comes across through the narration combined with the humanisation of the cats, and the unexpected storyline (a gang of cats hunting down humans) is what makes this ad both funny and memorable. The product is placed at the climax of the story, making the brand stick in our minds.   

KFC used humour to turn around a bad PR situation with their FCK campaign. In 2018, the fast food giant was facing supply chain issues and many of their restaurants had to close. The term “chicken crisis” was coined and the media was all over the situation. KFC starting printing “FCK” on the side of their buckets, poking fun at the situation and showing their human side. They also issued a public apology and explained how the issue was being resolved. In the end, they managed to avoid any long-term reputation damage.  

How to Use Humour in Marketing

Harness the Unexpected

The crux of why something makes us laugh is that it’s unexpected. A good rule of thumb when creating jokes is to include something unexpected, whether that’s a clever play on words or something situational, as Cravendale did in the example above. To make your product or service memorable, it’s good practice to mention it at around the same time the punchline occurs; this ensures that people associate your product with the good-feeling emotions triggered by the joke.   

Another way to add an unexpected twist may be to use an unexpected product placement. There are many examples of this in film and television such as the Energizer Bunny appearing in a number of movies.  

Tell a Story

Humor is all about context, and telling a good story can be a great way to start using it in your marketing. If you’re advertising your business on social media, try to frame your message as a short story with a plot, characters, and a resolution of some sort. Stories are memorable and make people more interested in your brand, and if you can tie your product into the story, it can be a great way to introduce humour into your marketing efforts.

Using Jokes in Copywriting

Incorporating humour in your copy will help to differentiate your business, and there’s a lot of scope for how to include it. In your email marketing campaigns, use humour in the subject line – this will certainly attract attention. You could even start a joke in the subject line and deliver the punchline at the start of the body of the email text. Once you have made your reader laugh, there’s a good chance they’ll continue reading.  

You can use a bit of humour in headlines for any copy, whether that’s an article or social media post. A quick pun or funny word can add a bit of levity to your post, and when you’re creating a visual, use humour in the image or graphics. Even a silly stock photo accompanying a piece of text can make all the difference.  

If your content is serious, you can still intersperse some humour to lighten things up (providing it fits your brand, as I mentioned earlier). Think of the many serious films out there that contain funny moments to lighten the mood and keep the audience engaged – it works the same with copy.

Brand Personality

Some brands have made humour a central part of their identity. Take Innocent Drinks, for example – their whimsical and quirky sense of humour is not only featured in their ads, but on their product packaging as well. It gives their brand a very distinct and memorable personality – when customers are pouring their morning glass of orange juice, they may peruse the packaging and start the day on a lighter note – and who doesn’t want a reason to enjoy mornings more?   

For personal brands, the best way to get customers laughing is by being yourself. When you’re authentic and genuine, you won’t come off as inauthentic with an obvious attempt to use humour to sell.  

Humour has always been one of the most powerful yet most under-used marketing tactics. Businesses are afraid to take the risk, but when executed properly, it’s well worth it. Laughter is contagious, and the world certainly needs more laughter at the moment, so it’s the perfect opportunity to start experimenting with jokes in your marketing materials. Just remember to keep in mind what your audience will find funny (and not just what makes you laugh), and be authentic, making sure the humour aligns with your brand’s overall identity.  

If you need help with your marketing strategy, reach out to me here – my team and I will be happy to assist.  

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