How to use humour in content marketing

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Make’ em laugh and watch them buy.

Child playing in a cardboard box
This picture will make sense at the end of this article

Humour, it’s dangerous these days. Deployed incorrectly it can land brands in hot water, becoming victims of the ever-lurking cancel culture beast hiding in the jungles of social media.

But used wisely, timed well, and with the right dash of bravado and wit, well there’s nothing that sells a brand quite like it.  It gets people talking about your brand, identifying with it, wanting to become part of its community and feeling positive about it.  Not bad if you can pull it off.

Who can forget, the brilliant, big brand disrupting, brio of the Dollar ShaveClub ad back in 2012.

Any excuse to look at this again, so here it is:

Funny, engaging, disruptive and the results speak for themselves.  This video has currently been viewed over 26 million times on YouTube, it got The Dollar Shave Club 12,000 new subscribers in 24 hours, and made their CEO , Mike Dubin, a star.  Not bad, for a video shot in a warehouse in less than a day and which cost $4,500, and yup that’s right, I didn’t miss out a zero there folks.

And yet the video is just classic direct-action marketing, they set out the offer, the advantages of the offer, buyers logic, and finally a call to action BUT it's the dressing around that, the humour which sells the product and was the reason this video was shared so many times.

The humour comes from a hilarious script, and in this case, a CEO who has some real comedy acting chops.  But if you haven’t got a comedic CEO don't worry.

This advert is from McDonalds but, as in the previous example they use mocking the competition, in this case overpriced hipster coffee, as both a comedic device and a product differentiator.

Hipsters seem to be a regular source of mockery in ads, check out this one for Snickers (that still seems wrong, everyone knows it’s a marathon).

But it can go wrong…

Peleton Ad
Peleton advert when content goes bad

This Peleton Ad in 2019 sparked controversy last year because instead of telling the funny tale of a young woman who receives an amazing gift from her husband the Ad kind of looked like a young woman trapped in a relationship being forced to exercise.  Not what the ad agency had in mind I expect.  A social media furore followed and Peleton’s share price dipped 15%!  You can see the ad here and be your own judge.

Any playing on stereotype, such as the house wife getting into shape forher husband, is a dangerous game and dis-honourable mentions go here to H&M’s Coolest Monkey in the Jungle range of clothes and Dove’s six shapes of a woman campaign which featured containers in various shapes (pear,round, squat etc) each representing a woman's supposed body shape.

The key here, which I think was the failure in the above cases, is to try and remember you need to be punching up, not down, and to always be thinking of your audience.  Are they in on the joke or is it excluding them in some way?

Social Media Humour

It’s not just branded Ad content that can score big in the comedic sweepstakes.  Social media channels are a great way of showing the funny, human side of a brand and if you are quick on your feet, getting thousands/millions of eyes on your content quickly.

Yorkshire Tea are a great example of having a funny, sharply managed, social media account.  When the #dollypartonchallenge viral meme was doing the rounds  (quick explanation this evolved after Dolly Parton posted 4 images of her for each social media platform –Instagram, Linkedin, Facebook and Tinder) Yorkshire Tea were quick off the mark with their version.

Yorkshire Tea Content Triumph

Yorkshire Tea are kind of legends in their social media responses.  When they got dragged into a political twitter storm when the United Kingdom’s Chancellor of the Exchequer tweeted a picture of himself making a pot of Yorkshire Tea it could have blown up for them but with one deft response they pivoted, using humour to defuse the situation and to reinforce their homely, above the fray, branding.  Top work Yorkshire Tea media managers.

Yorkshire Tea Twitter

Pay attention this is the science bit.

In a 2019 study by Boston Digital  ‘HowBrands’ Social Media Impacts Consumers’ they found that  54% of consumers say are ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ likely to look at a company’s social presence while researching a product and more than half (51%) admitted they wouldn’t purchase  if a brand’s content was not relevant to them personally, and a third (34%) doing the same if the content was boring.  

"Don’t be boring is one of the key takeaways here.  And, one of the best ways not to be boring is to be funny.  Just don’t go destroying your brand by some misjudged political, social or just plain unfunny concept."

My top tips for designing humorous content that won’t get you fired or cancelled:

  • Who 3is your audience and what would be funny to them?   What makes your Grandfather laugh may not cut it with your Gen Z consumers.
  • Be mindful of offence but don’t let fear of it make your content bland.  Ask yourself, am I punching up (OK) or down (REVIEW).
  • Does funny work with your brand?  Gucci tried funny with mixed  results. Or, is it more appropriate to a particular channel e.g social media is good for quick, sharp, funny, disposable content but maybe your other  channels require content that is more fact rich or carries a more serious tone.
  • Finally, make sure your content is  funny i.e don’t let your boss’s bad cringe worthy script get made.  Draft your content and then get someone who doesn’t owe you a favour, report into you, have the hots for you, doesn’t care as long as you go away quickly without interrupting their browsing time, or who wants to borrow your peleton bike, give you an honest review before posting any content.

I'll leave you with a content marketing joke (er):

"Q: What’s a pirate’s favourite content format?
A: WebinARRR! Preferably one that’s B2Sea"

Why I thank you. I’m here all week.


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