The Dos and Don’ts of Using Humor in Your Marketing
Building a strong emotional connection to your target audience is crucial for standing out from the competition. One effective approach is to use humor in marketing campaigns. It’s a great way to increase brand awareness and recall.
Even though humor in marketing can be a powerful tool, using this approach without thought or strategy is a surefire way to have it backfire. Let’s cover some key Dos and Don’ts of using humor in your marketing strategy.
DO: Know Your Target Audience
Before injecting humorous campaigns into your marketing plan or strategy, make sure you understand your target audience. Different people have different sensibilities and what’s funny to one person may not be funny to another. Conduct research, create buyer personas, and tailor your humor to match the preferences and characteristics of your audience.
Yeah, we know. Research sounds like a comedy-killer, but not as much as a joke that falls flat with your audience’s taste. Refer to your buyer persona, and find funny messaging that will not only gain attention but also create positive emotions with the consumers within your target audience.
DON’T: Use Humor in Marketing at the Expense of Others
We shouldn’t have to say this, but we do. Don’t make jokes at the expense of others, especially if it could come off as racist, sexist, or any other type of -ist. You don’t want to piss off a group of people, even those outside your target audience, by being tasteless or outright offensive. Having to run damage control will easily overshadow your message. And, long term, your brand will be tarnished. Is all that worth it for one “edgy,” headline-grabbing ad?
DO: Keep It Relevant
Your humor should be relevant to your brand, audience, or industry. You don’t want consumers scratching their heads because they didn’t get the joke or can’t connect it to your brand.
Sure, absurd humor can occasionally work, but it’s really difficult for companies to pull off. Geico has done a great job of creating offbeat ads with memorable characters. They know that car insurance isn’t the hottest of topics, so they’ve spent decades grabbing our attention with cavemen and camels before tacking on their tagline.
They’ve executed this marketing strategy well, but it’s not one that’s going to work for just any brand. For most businesses, relevant humor is the way to go.
Of course, consider whether your brand or industry lends itself to humor in the first place. If you’re in the funeral business, for example, pulling off an effective and tasteful campaign with humor would be pretty darn impressive. For most businesses in that industry, maybe just stick with somber and respectful.
DON’T: Overdo it
Don’t rely solely on humor, especially if it overshadows your message. How many times have you laughed at a commercial and seconds later forgot what company the spot was advertising?
Also, overuse of comedy can undermine your brand’s credibility and make it appear immature or unprofessional. Constantly evaluate whether you’ve crossed the line from “brand with a good sense of humor” to “brand hiding behind jokes.”
DO: Create a Unique and Memorable Marketing Campaign
One of the most significant advantages of using humor in your marketing is that it can make your brand more memorable. Don’t copy what others are doing. Be creative and come up with unique, humorous concepts that stand out from the competition.
Make sure your unique brand voice is all over the campaign. Remember, you’re not in the entertainment business. Making people laugh won’t do you much good if it doesn’t increase brand recall. When done right, however, using humor in marketing can create a lasting impression on your audience, strengthening your brand identity over time.
DON’T: Use Humorous Campaigns as a Miracle Cure to Increase Sales
Humor isn’t a guaranteed solution to improving your brand’s performance. Even the funniest ads require the right product, message, and consistency with the overall brand to be successful. Instead of using humor in your marketing to create unrealistic expectations, use it intelligently to build trust, likability and brand awareness.
Here are a few brands that have effectively used humor in their marketing campaigns, sometimes even finding themselves a solid spot in pop culture:
Old Spice launched its “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” marketing campaign in 2010, featuring actor Isaiah Mustafa. In a series of humorous commercials, Mustafa depicted an attractive and confident man while mocking typical gender stereotypes. It’s a great example of using humor in marketing in a way that grabs attention while tying the comedy to the product itself.
Dollar Shave Club
Shaving subscription service Dollar Shave Club’s “Our Blades Are F***ing Great” campaign launched in 2012 with a humorous and irreverent video featuring founder Michael Dubin. The video went viral, and the brand’s witty and playful tone of voice has been a staple in its marketing ever since.
One of the most memorable Super Bowl ads of all time wasn’t even planned in advance. Oreo’s tweet in 2013 was witty, clever, and some of the fastest thinking ever deployed in advertising. After the power went out during the game, Oreo quickly tweeted out an instant viral hit: an image of their cookie on a dark background with the tagline “You can still dunk in the dark.”
Insurance company GEICO’s series of “Hump Day” commercials featuring a talkative camel wandering around an office became incredibly popular (even if, now it’s kind of annoying when that one co-worker mimics the camel every Wednesday morning). GEICO’s lighthearted, humorous approach to marketing has paid off with increased brand recognition and customer loyalty.
Budweiser has long been known for its humorous marketing campaigns. One of their most memorable was the “Whassup” campaign in 2000, featuring four friends chanting the phrase as a greeting. The campaign resonated with people across the globe and won several awards, including a Cannes Grand Prix.
Of course, as with the GEICO camel, this is a great example of how a mainstream joke can soon grow old. As “Whassup!” went from pop culture phenomenon to overused and annoying, it was essential for Budweiser to continue innovating in its marketing campaigns.