You don’t have to read any of the countless psychological studies explaining the benefits of humor and laughter. We know that laughter is good because it makes you feel good—pretty simple. Where it gets complicated is trying to harness the power of humor to win over an audience. Advertisers have been attempting this for generations, sometimes succeeding, sometimes crashing and burning.
It’s why every year during the Super Bowl, when so many eyeballs are glued to TV screens, commercials err on the side of humor above all else. But even with that, humor is still a relatively untapped resource in the marketing landscape because many advertisers are simply too skeptical to give it a shot. So they decide to play it safe instead.
Of course, the ultimate goal is still to reach your target audience and make a connection that not only results in likes or shares but delivers business value too. Sure, there’s an entire cottage industry devoted to producing adorable cat videos people like to spread around cyberspace.
But what else do people share?
The answer: anything that makes them laugh. The best part is you can inject humor into any facet of your marketing strategy, from content marketing and email campaigns to your explainer videos and online ads. Whether your marketing an enterprise cloud solution or cutting-edge new analytics tool, no technology is beyond incorporating humor in its sales pitch.
Check out how Intel grasped the concept of humor in one of their commercials last year:
Not everyone can operate at the level of Intel, at least not to begin with, there are some steps you can take when tapping into humor as a marketing tactic.
Know your audience
Your brand voice is one of the most important weapons in your marketing arsenal. It’s your calling card, and your identity in the consumer landscape. So you don’t want to alienate that audience by incorporating humor that will only fall flat. This is where it helps greatly to know who exactly it is you’re marketing too. Shock humor likely won’t work if your target audience is, say, new moms, or folks over 65 years old.
That said, take a look at this boundary-breaking ad from Dollar Shave Club.
By all accounts, this ad broke many rules of traditional marketing. It’s irreverent, bizarre and even borderline vulgar. It also went viral and got millions upon millions of views on YouTube. So why did Dollar Shave Club first decide to go full bizarre-o in their marketing? They didn’t have much of a choice. As a startup with a limited budget, the company’s CEO (and the video’s star) Michael Dubin explained his thinking. “When you’re launching a new business and sharing a new idea, if you can get people to remember it, there’s obviously a better chance at success.”
In the end, it turned out Dubin was right, and a simple razor seller became something no one expected: funny.
So if your target audience is men (especially young men), then you likely have more leeway to push the envelope to get your message across.
Understand the risks and rewards
Using humor in marketing can be a minefield because if you strike the wrong tone you risk alienating your audience. And if you commit the most egregious sin in comedy, and produce something that isn’t funny, it will be hard for your audience to take you seriously in the future.
But those companies that get it right enjoy wild success because they tap into some fundamental truths about humor. These can be broken down into three significant benefits:
- Social bonding—successful humor alleviates stress while bringing groups of people together.
- Brand boosting—if you use effective humor in your marketing, people will remember your brand.
- Shareability—the holy grail of digital marketing: likes, shares and upvotes. And humor can get you all those things.
So if you do humor right and appropriately, you’ll see these results.
Strike the right tone
But let’s say you’re marketing an enterprise solution, and your target audience is those in the corporate world. You probably don’t want to go full Monty Python-bizarre/R-rated Apatow-style. The solution is to find the sweet spot where you can use humor while striking the right tone.
Take this video from IT-Man, for example. The humor may not be groundbreaking, but it works because they made their ad visually funny. They wrapped their light-hearted message in a throwback animation whose low-tech, 8-bit style is not only humorous but evokes nostalgia as well.
Don’t sell your brand short
Some companies are too cautious to implement humor in their campaigns, while others think their brand is so beyond humor that there’s no point in even trying. But this isn’t always true.
Take State Farm Insurance, for example. There are few industries on earth more regarded as boring by the general public than insurance. It’s detail-oriented, costly and, let’s be honest, unexciting. But that doesn’t mean the marketing strategy of an insurance company has to be all those things.
State Farm realized this when they went through a rebranding process a few years ago. They wanted to appeal to that coveted younger demographic, and they figured humor was the best way to achieve it. Their risk paid off, and with wildly successful (and yes, funny) campaigns featuring the popular “Jake from State Farm,” they showed that they didn’t take themselves too seriously, which helped endear them to a new audience.
Whether you do or do not incorporate humor in your future marketing depends on the goals specific to your operation. That said, there are great untapped audiences out there just waiting to laugh. Do you have the ability to give them what they desire?