Advertising & Marketing

Finding Your Funny: Learn the Subtle Science of Humor Marketing

Effective humor in marketing should be like a punch in the gut (in a good way!) It makes an impact, it’s hard to forget, and you feel it the rest of the day. But how do you pull off that kind of marketing magic as a small business? This is our guide to that mysterious science of humor marketing and how you can incorporate it into your marketing. 

What Are the Benefits of Humor in Marketing?

Humor is good for people, relieving stress and improving their day. But it’s also very good for brands. Besides being more fun for whoever is in charge of your marketing, here are a few ways humorous marketing helps your brand. 

  • Makes marketing easier to remember: Which are you going to remember, the brand that makes you laugh or the one that threw numbers at you? According to an article from Forbes.com, ads with humor are easier to recall than ads without.
  • Makes brand impressions better: When customers are interacting with your brand, how should they feel? Don’t let a bad day ruin your first impressions – adding humor ensures customers smile when they see you.
  • Customers like a brand that can make them laugh: Need some numbers? Marketing Dive cites multiple studies in their article about humorous marketing that show customers overwhelmingly prefer brands that are funny. That means if you aren’t adding humor to your marketing, you’re likely losing out to funnier competition.
  • Makes your brand more personable: Companies that can come off as willing to joke around can seem less intimidating to customers, making it easier to see your brand as friendly and inviting.

Tips to Avoid Humor Fails

One of the biggest reasons companies don’t add humor to their marketing is because they don’t want to mess it up. They’re worried the joke won’t land, or worse, it’ll get people up in arms. But with a few basic rules in mind, you can avoid the worst mistakes of humor marketing strategy. 

  • Don’t make jokes you don’t fully understand: While it’s tempting to grab onto new trends the moment they land, don’t take jokes from the internet that you don’t understand. You’ll probably use them wrong and end up as a sketch on SNL.
  • Keep a healthy balance: Don’t let your whole brand become a joke. Keep a healthy balance between serious and funny in order to maintain your credibility.
  • Remember your audience: Even if you’re using them right, modern memes are probably not going to land as well if your target audience is people over 60. Learn the humor culture for your audience, not just the internet.
  • Be mindful: While it’s easy to be funny by being mean (hello Wendy’s) or poking fun at different types of people, it’s easy to get yourself in trouble that way. In general, it’s best to stick to light-hearted jokes that aren’t targeted at people or groups.
  • Don’t overcomplicate: Don’t try to be a comedy genius just to make a sale. Small, simple types of humor are best for most companies who don’t want to make humor the focus of their brand, and that’s really all you need.
  • Stay relevant to your overall message: If you’re trying to be so funny that you’re wandering off message, you’re marketing isn’t going to be as effective. Remember, you’re marketing something, not launching a new career in innovative comedy.

What Makes Something Funny?

There are a lot of theories that cover the idea of what humor is at its core, and many seem to work for one type of humor, like puns, and not for another, like slapstick. One theory that covers a lot of ground is the “benign violation” theory, that humor happens in that overlap between wrong and right, between the dangerous and the safe. While understanding what humor is can be helpful when making a joke, the most effective way of learning how to actually be funny to your audience is to look at what your audience already finds funny. Here are some examples of popular types of humor you’ll find actively used in marketing today: 

  • Silly misunderstandings: Sure, your customers know you’re not supposed to bite the box their cookies come in, but when your packaging looks good enough to eat, the characters in your ad might give it a taste! Silly misunderstandings like these are becoming very popular in many modern ads.
  • Uncomfortable truths: For advertisements, you don’t want to make things weird (looking at you, Charmin’), but there are plenty of mildly weird truths you can reveal in your ads. For example, customers can stop pretending the dead window bugs don’t exist with your home cleaning service!
  • Puns and wordplay: Also known as dad jokes, these jokes are all about taking advantage of the way many words have double meanings to give a humorous twist to any statement. For example: Which days are the strongest? Saturday and Sunday. The rest are weekdays.
  • Contradictions that just work: Coined by the popular saying, nobody would suggest having a bull in a china shop. But if your kitchenware is advertised as extra durable, why not make that bull your mascot and show him running the china shop? Unexpected contradictions like these can quickly elevate boring branding into something that customers can’t help but smile at.
  • Harmless surprises: A touch of randomness can make your day, like finding a smiley face at the bottom of your cup, or a cartoon man living in your napkin. Jokes like these are all in the little details you put into your customer experience, and yet they can make all the difference.
  • Parody: Ever seen those super serious and overly dramatic perfume ads? What if someone did an ad like that, but for an at-home ball pit? When you take something well-known and give it a new an unexpected context, you’re sure to earn some laughs.
  • Cats: Technically, most animals have the ability to be hilarious, but cats in particular just have that ‘no-nonsense” appearance that becomes incredibly funny when they proceed to do… well, nonsense. If you’ve hit the bottom of your funny barrel and need some laughs, do like the internet and add a cat.

Easy Ways to Incorporate Humorous Marketing

These are the methods most companies can start using right away. Light, inexpensive, and fun, these options are perfect for small businesses who want to be more memorable with their messaging. 

  • Playful social media posts: Silly cat pictures or office fail photos with catchy taglines are a great way to get quick laughs, fast follows, and easy subscribes.
  • Animal mascots: A cat that’s all business or a duck that likes to play with your printer can generate shareable shenanigans and easy brand recognition.
  • Put a twist to your marketing campaign: Running a new line of trendy graphic tees? What if they were all modeled by grandmas? Adding a touch of the unexpected to your marketing can create a truly fun marketing experience.
  • Add some wordplay to your copy: A cute pun or a little alliteration can go a long way. For example, shoe companies can market how they “take the stink out of your step” with breathable running shoe designs.
  • Whimsical giveaways: Novelty pens with silly faces or llama puns on a mug give your customers the giggles and get people smiling about your brand.

Harder (But Worth It) Ways to Be Funny

These are a little harder for the average mom and pop shop to pull off, but if you have a good marketing budget to work with and you really want to hit some funny bones, these are some ways you can help your brand stand out with seriously humorous marketing. 

  • Create skit-comedy ads: This is hard to do right, and should be handled by a professional who also understands your brand goals well. Basically, have a good writer on your team.
  • Program something fun into your website: A quippy little chat bot or a clicker that leaves a trail of glitter on your screen can make your online branding experience so much more fun (as long as it doesn’t get in the way of using the actual site.)
  • Prank each other at work (and share the results): A prank war makes for great social media posts or a fun video series. It’s funny, it engages your audience, and as long as nobody is getting hurt, everyone has fun. Need ideas? Here are our ideas for great April Fools jokes to get you started!
  • Make light fun at your own expense: Ever had an activity in school where you throw pie at your principle? As a business owner, you can make yourself more personable to your community and earn some laughs by hosting a dump tank fundraiser, letting your employees prank you, etc. Just don’t let it get out of hand, coordinate everything in advance.

Customers want humor from their brands, and you don’t have to be a professional comedian to give it to them. A few puns, some whimsical social posts, and a cat video can earn your brand plenty of likes and laughs to keep you going. The science of humor isn’t an easy one to understand, but as long as you’re keeping it light and staying relevant to your message, you can find all sorts of fun ideas to bring out the funny in your marketing. 

Katie Yelisetti

From marketing tips to product recommendations, I’m here to help small businesses be their best.

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