How to Use Humor in Your Marketing

Having a sense of humor can help your brand standout exponentially. Nothing delivers connection and meaning faster than making someone laugh. A recent Nielsen study found that 47% of global respondents said that humorous ads resonated the most. That said, embracing a sense of humor doesn’t come naturally for businesses and brands.

Why Humor Helps

For scrappy businesses, “humor can help you stand out in a crowded world,” says Tim Washer, Creative Director at Cisco. In this role, Washer produces hilarious videos for the B2B software brand including a popular ad introducing a new server as the ideal Valentine’s Day gift (“Nothing says I love you like like six times the mobile backhaul capacity”).

In rolling out their new mail-order service, Dollar Shave Club needed to cut through the clutter of the billion-dollar razor industry. They did so with a hilarious 90-second video that offers a mix of on-target product benefits conveyed in a distinct brand voice. Forty-eight hours after the video’s debut on YouTube, Dollar Shave Club was laughing all the way to the bank with 12,000 people signed up for their service.

There’s no limit to who can use humor. You aren’t bound by size, industry, budget, or any other constraint. So, how do you get started?

Start with the Right People

BarkBox has a lot of fun with their marketing. For an example, check out their posts on #HumpDay — which takes on new meaning when your business is dog products. So how do they do it?

“I don’t find myself to be the funniest person in the room. But because of that, I’ve only hired people on my team who are genuinely funny,” says Stacie Grissom, Bark & Co’s Editor in Chief. “Humor is something that needs to come naturally. And if it doesn’t come naturally to you — find someone to help you out.” Create a role like Cisco did or simply hire for humor.

Bottom line: surround yourself with the right people.

How to Tell Funny (Brand) Stories

Most comedy tells stories. As such, many of those same story elements are critical in telling a funny story for your brand.

  • PlotKurt Vonnegut famously called them “story shapes” but ultimately there are only a few different common plots out there. What kind of story are you trying to tell
  • Character — Your main character shouldn’t be your brand — it should be about your audience.
  • Conflict — Most comedy comes from pain. In many cases, your customers are in pain and you can help them. Humor allows you to explore this by casting pain in a comedic light. We weren’t laughing at the “Where’s the beef?” lady in the Wendy’s ads. We were laughing with her at the sad state of the fast-food hamburger.
  • Voice — Humor has to fit your brand voice. For years, Charmin embraced a family friendly voice in talking about bathroom business. That’s why they regularly use scatological puns and the hashtag #tweetfromtheseat to weigh in on current events and pop culture but still in a G-rated context.

“I don’t think there’s any brand that shouldn’t be funny,” says Eric Munn of Onion Labs, the content services division of the venerable comedy brand, The Onion, which works with brands like Audi, Bacardi, and Overstock to create engaging and humorous content on their platforms.

Surround yourself with funny people and use the tools of storytelling — archetypes, characters, conflict, and voice — to find a way of embracing humor that fits for your brand.

Go forth and be funny!