If you have ever met me, even for a split-second, you know I am someone who never takes anything too seriously. Life is just way too short not to laugh along the way. So needless to say I am a huge proponent of infusing humor into marketing and advertising. Humor breaks down walls, shows personality a.k.a. shows a brand’s human side. Oh yeah, read on to see what I consider to be one the funniest yet most effective TV spots ever.
What are some of the most memorable advertisements you’ve ever seen? I’d be willing to bet most of them stuck with you because they had some kind of humorous element. Super Bowl ads, for example, tend to get ambitious with their humor, and it’s resulted in highly creative ads that have lasted in our cultural consciousness; remember Terry Tate’s office linebacker ad for Reebok, or Bud Light’s slap-happy commercial from 2007?
You probably also recognize humor in other mediums as well. Local coffee shops are starting to write zingers or puns on their exterior signage as a way to drum up foot traffic—and they’re seeing great results. Wendy’s has earned a ton of attention for itself thanks to its edgy attempts to roast its own followers. And Dollar Shave Club’s intentionally humorous viral marketing campaign has gotten more than 25 million views since its launch a few years ago.
But even with all these successful, humor-laden marketing and advertising campaigns, humor isn’t a guaranteed way to make your campaign stick. So is it even a good idea to make the attempt?
The Benefits of Humor
Humor adds a handful of effective qualities to your marketing materials. At its best, humor is:
- Attention-grabbing. Humor often stands out from other marketing and advertising attempts because it’s naturally colorful and original.
- People love to spread laughter. Making your campaign humorous imbues it with more shareability.
- Funny brands are more relatable and are seen as more trustworthy and human.
- Humor is linked to higher recall, which means any message imbued with humor will be easier for your target demographics to remember.
The (Potential) Downside of Humor
However, at its worst, humor is:
- The wrong joke at the wrong time can make your brand look amateurish and unprofessional.
- If people think you’re cracking jokes for the sole purpose of getting more attention, you’ll be seen as exploitative rather than funny.
- Humor can cheapen certain ideas or make them be taken less seriously.
- In some cases, humor can be outright offensive.
Here are some of the key areas where humor can make your campaign more valuable:
- Accents to your valuable work. Humorous touches can almost always improve a piece that is already valuable on its own. For example, if you’re writing up an article or eBook that’s helping people understand a complex topic, making an occasional joke or writing with a more tongue-in-cheek voice is only going to make that work more appealing and memorable.
- Well-tested, effective ads. If you’re sure a joke is going to land, it can make an effective advertisement. Just make sure to AB test variations of the joke with a small audience first; that way, you can be sure the humor doesn’t cross a line and appeals to your target audience.
- Brand differentiation. You can also use a humorous voice to distinguish your brand. For example, Oreo has long differentiated itself by offering a quirky, tongue-in-cheek voice across its social media platforms. This is especially effective in dry, or otherwise “boring” industries.
- Personal branding. You can hedge the risks of humor by relegating it to personal brands associated with your company, rather than employing the jokes with your company brand directly. Elon Musk, for example, has separated himself from his companies Tesla and SpaceX by cracking jokes and roasting people on his own account.
You’ll also need to watch out for these key threats:
- Tasteless or offensive humor. Be careful not to cross a line by making a joke about a specific group of people or delving into a sensitive subject. For example, Kenneth Cole tried to make a joke about Egyptian rioting being related to their new spring collection back in 2012. It didn’t go over well.
- Bad timing. You’ll also want to carefully consider the timing of your posts. If your brand is undergoing a PR crisis, or if there’s a natural disaster about to hit your city, people aren’t going to want to read your jokes.
- Brand misalignment. If your brand is one that takes itself seriously or appeals to people who prefer stoicism to levity, you won’t be served by including more humor in your campaign. Think about the existing appeal of your brand before you go too far in your campaign.
- You can also face backlash if you try to use a running joke or meme without fully understanding it. There are too many examples to name here. Chances are, you can look up a random brand’s social media feed and find at least one awkward or cringe-worthy attempt to use a meme.
So should you incorporate more humor into your marketing campaign? That depends on your brand characteristics, how much risk you’re willing to take, and how much work you’re willing to put into the finished product. Humor can certainly add new dimensions to your campaign, and earn you better results—but only if it’s used appropriately.
And finally here’s what I consider to still be to this day one the funniest yet most effective TV spots ever.