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Why Humor in Marketing is Serious Business

Here at On Target, we haaaaaaate jokes. We think every business message should be suuuuuuper serious. That’s why you’ll never hear a joke from us. Ever. 

…OK, fine, you caught us. We love funny marketing, and for good reason! Marketing that elicits emotion moves people to action more than dry facts and figures. One of the easiest ways to do that without making people cry (unless you’re into that) is by making them laugh. Here’s how:

Why Use Humor?

Social media ads, influencers, email, telemarketers calling to ask about the extended warranty on your car — consumers receive a barrage of messages. You think about needing a new toaster once and BOOM toasters EVERYWHERE online.  With this onslaught of messaging, it’s important to be unique. Humor can make your message stand out in a crowded marketplace. If your customers are laughing, they’re listening (after they catch a breath). Consumers will start to associate laughter with your brand after they laugh (or groan) at a couple of your jokes. Laughing makes people happy, and it strengthens the trust between you and your customers. This, in turn, increases engagement with your brand.

Spiderman pointing at Spiderman meme
To meme or not to meme? Read on to find out. 

Types of Humor that Work

Different strokes (and jokes) for different folks. When crafting a humorous message, consider the audience. Think about whether they’d find the joke funny, and more importantly, whether it would be funny coming from you. We’ve seen some companies nail their brand of humor and others, well, let’s just say they weren’t asked back to the mic. 

With that in mind, here are a few types of jokes that generally land:

  • Irony: Americans love all kinds of irony. Verbal irony, stating something clearly false in a funny way, is the simplest way to convey an ironic message. Situational irony, when something turns out differently than what’s expected, can be a fun way to relate to your audience. Dramatic irony, where the audience knows something but the character does not, might be too complicated for a quick joke but could be great for a video series.
  • Hyperbole: Exaggeration can always be funny and wholesome. This is a rare type of joke that is almost always funny without being inappropriate. 
  • Topical Humor: This will probably be the most engaging if you’re able to get the message out in the moment. Memes are a format for these jokes, as they bring topical humor to the forefront with their ephemeral nature.
  • Puns: There’s always someone out there who will enjoy your punny messages. Puns don’t just make people laugh; they also make people feel smart when they “get” the joke!

Tweet from Burger King UK: Women belong in the kitchen.
On National Women’s Day in 2021, Burger King found out the hard way that Twitter makes it difficult to convey longer messages.

When to Avoid Humor

Before making a joke, you need to read the room. In some situations, joking around is just wrong. When approaching a serious topic, you should always tread lightly. Three main factors cause attempts at humor to flop: wrong audience, wrong topic and wrong time. There’s a fine line between a hilarious joke and one that offends, and it can be difficult to find that line without some help. 

Testing jokes before publishing them is a great way to avoid a fumble. If you’re worried that a joke might not land, try telling it to a diverse audience. If there’s no one around from a group you’re planning to joke about, it’s probably not your place to make that joke.

Audi Japan April Fool's ad for rice cooker
On April 1, 2015, Audi Japan announced that one of its nicest cars, the Audi A8, would feature a rice cooker.

Best Times to Incorporate Humor

In a fast-paced world, people may not feel like they have time to enjoy life. People can always use a laugh, with the only real exceptions being local, national or religious days of mourning. One day you’ll really want to showcase your brand’s sense of humor is April Fools’ Day. There’s a right and wrong way to do it, for sure, but it’s a great excuse to get a little silly. 

Holidays make people smile and have built-in visuals you can use in a funny way, like Easter eggs or four-leaf clovers. If there are no big holidays on the horizon, take a look at the National Day Calendar. You’ll be amazed by how many National Days there are in a year, each with its own opportunity to tell a wholesome joke. Our personal favorites are National Margarita Day, National Beer Day, National Bourbon Day, and National Wine Day. No, there’s totally not a theme there, why do you ask?

At the very least, turn on a comedian whose humor fits with the vibe of your audience. That could be the quick wit of Bo Burnham. It could be the dry humor of Margaret Cho. It could even be the rambling punchlines of late, great Norm Macdonald. And if you don’t laugh at anyone or feel like the jokes have to be forced, it’s okay to bypass the comedy! Humor is a tool in good marketing, but it’s not a requirement. 

If you’re not sick of our jokes yet, and you could use some help with your content marketing efforts, give On Target a call at 407-830-4550 or contact us online.