Have you heard the one about the marketing team behind that incredibly witty campaign that went viral and made people love their brand forever? No? How about that incredibly boring campaign that made people nod off after two seconds of video? That’s probably more like it. Using humor in digital marketing is a tricky thing.
Let’s face it. Everyone likes to think that they’re funny: delivering the effortless anecdote at a cocktail party or the clever offhanded quip followed by appreciative laughter. If you’re looking to inject some humor and actual personality into your next marketing campaign, however, remember that your audience isn’t you. In other words, what makes you laugh may fall flat with consumers. Nevertheless, a healthy dose of self-deprecation is almost always appreciated. Who doesn’t like someone making fun of themselves? Pure gold.
According to humorist and professor Dr. James Barry, brands and the role of humor can be categorized by industry: red, yellow and white. Red campaigns involve luxury brands (think diamond rings and fancy things) that are typically looking to elicit emotional reactions. In that scenario, humor will likely seem out of place. The yellow category, on the other hand, applies to marketing beverages or snacks and can be pretty stale without at least a few punchlines. (See what I did there?)
The white category features B2B products, such as insurance. Hearing someone drone on about an essential product can be yawn inducing. Luckily this void was filled by such popular brand campaigns from GEICO (gecko), Progressive (Flo) and Aflac (quack).
To achieve a funny campaign that will keep people talking, there’s no need to be overtly hilarious. Be aware of trying too hard. Sometimes it’s enough to just make the consumer feel like they’re in on the joke. That said, engagement is a top priority, as is brand awareness. If you can master these two through a lighthearted approach (or if you have the money to hire the original Han Solo), you won’t seem like just another brand trying to sell something.
Are You Ready for Some Humor?
A prime example of using humor in digital marketing can be seen, naturally, in Super Bowl ads. Another perk to creating broader campaigns? Most of the big brands release at least snippets of their ads early over social media to generate some buzz.
Many brands design playful campaigns using humor and celebrity cameos. (Think Amazon’s Alexa commercial featuring Harrison Ford and his gravy-and-sausage craving dog.) These entertaining video spots work because they strike just the right tone.
That said, be cognizant of that thinnest of thin lines between funny and possibly offensive. First, there’s the generational divide between what’s entertaining and what’s not. What works for Gen Z, for example, may not work for Boomers, even if they are trying to appear cool.
Secondly, a big thing to avoid when creating a humorous campaign is stereotyping. While that may seem easy enough, times have changed and continue to change; many people are still playing catch-up when it comes to treating gender, race, and sexuality with sensitivity.
For example, a finalist for the coveted sexist ad campaign would have to be Peloton’s 2019 Super Bowl commercial which was panned across the board. It featured a skinny mom who receives a Peloton for Christmas from her thoughtful husband. She goes on to videotape herself on her bike throughout the year so that the next Christmas she can show it to her husband and tearfully thank him.
Peloton could have taken an entirely different approach by featuring the wife surprising her dad-bod husband and telling him that he has exactly one year to lose 30 pounds or she’ll leave him. Now that would have been funny. But nobody asked me.
Are You Not Entertained?
WP Engine’s study on Gen Z and marketing found that 65% of respondents access the internet for entertainment purposes, especially on YouTube). And more than half of Gen Zers share images and videos online. They’re stressed out from year(s) of Covid and, like everyone else, could use a good laugh. Put a clever hashtag on it and if your video resonates with them, they just might share it.
For example, through its #HelloMyPlaneIs hashtag and smart one-liners, JetBlue’s social campaign is all about making air travel fun again. JetBlue has received many accolades in the past for its inventive marketing, including its popular 2015 “Flight Etiquette” video series.
Another example is OREO’s Twitter feed, its alter-ego that connects directly with its followers, eliciting hundreds of likes and retweets. The brand also took full advantage of Facebook to launch its successful “Daily Twist” campaign.
Lastly, Wendy’s is the undisputed king on Twitter known for their casual and playful tweets, like when they’re roasting a top competitor over its rumored broken ice cream machines conspiracy. They also engage in clever exchanges with their (3.8M) followers.
The soft serve mystery became so viral that famed TikToker Dame Damian shared it with his 3.8M TikTok followers.
So what’s the best way to see if people think your YouTube videos are funny, not funny, or less funny than a Zoom office happy hour? Stay on top of your tracking metrics. The number of views is a good indicator of audience sentiment but watch time is even better since number of views can be superficial. Does your audience click play and then exit out of accelerating boredom, or do they stick around and marvel at this laugh riot of a video?
Video can take many forms—live, interactive, shorts, instructional—and each can easily contain an amusing component. On TikTok, for instance, video clips should be light and tongue-in-cheek. It’s not the right forum for, say, corporate FAQ. Leave that to your company intranet.
Leave ’em Laughing
Making your audience laugh is a great opportunity to demonstrate you’re not just another brand. You’re a brand with a great personality; you’re clever and witty and the kind of brand that people want to share a beer with.
In the end, be sure not to lose your message while overly focusing on humor. Your audience should come for the laughs, but stay for the brand.