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Ask most industry professionals about effectively using humor in marketing, and their answer will turn gravely serious: don’t do it. Humor, they’ll opine, is risky business; then they’ll spout the oft-quoted Claude Hopkins: “People don’t buy from clowns.” Historically, that might true, but a recent report from Marketing Sherpa suggests a little laughter goes a long way in attracting the almighty friends, fans and followers. According to the study, while more than 60% of social media users connect with brands to learn about new products, features and services, 35% of respondents respond well to campaigns seen as entertaining, funny or insightful, where less than 30% are drawn to campaigns focused on company culture, environmental responsibility and boring things like company policies. With recent surveys revealing more than half of all social media users take their Facebook, Twitter and Google+ habits with them on vacation, numbers like these prove to be no laughing matter. The challenge for marketers is that humor, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder. And while some will argue that effective humor is attention-getting, engaging and creates word-of-mouth, one bad joke can alienate an entire demographic. That’s seriously funny business, indeed.
Maybe I’m just blogging out loud, but it seems like marketing laughter is a medicine best served O.T.C. — that’s off the cuff, but not out of control.
We often see bold, edgy and totally spot-on campaigns that employ humor to attract consumers. A recent Jose Cuervo campaign made me and my Vertical Marketing Network coworkers chuckle. Through the brand’s Facebook page, consumers are challenged to admit they “suck at making margaritas” to receive a coupon for the brand’s pre-made margarita mix. Users start by clicking the “OK, I admit it” tab, a sort of self-deprecating resignation that likely inspires many a tequila drinker to LOL at the ad and, perhaps, themselves. It reminded me of a Vertical Marketing Network campaign from years ago, in which the agency literally steamrolled hundreds of that most-dreaded of holiday treats — the fruitcake — in a humorous and buzz-worthy promotional effort for client Kahlua to announce the brand’s own holiday baked good and gift with purchase, the Kahlua brownie. Writing independently about marketing to the Hispanic/Latino consumer, an industry insider writes about an effective radio spot in which humor was used to get the listener’s attention but ultimately, and more importantly, built brand loyalty by making an emotional connection with the target demographic. Humor, it seems, is more versatile than thought. Keeping this in mind, some rules of engagement:
1. Know your audience, and don’t offend them. This is the umbrella rule for being politically correct and socially sensitive. Not all humor needs a specific target, and the best jokes often don’t.
2. Keep it light, keep it bright. This could be the reason jokesters thrive on social media forums such as Twitter, where brevity and wit are celebrated.
3. Remember your point. It’s the brand, and/or product, that ultimately needs to benefit from any funny business. If the message is not first true to them, and second not appealing to your target audience, there’s little appeal. And that’s no joke.