Does Humor Help or Hurt as a Marketing Strategy?

Humor in marketing is worth thinking about seriously

Humor in marketing is worth taking seriously

People love to laugh. We want to laugh. We tell others about things we think are funny.  So, is it good to use humor in your marketing plan?

Laughter Can be Good for You, and Your Brand

Depending on who you ask, a zany or silly approach can either help or hurt your business.  In social media, humor can be a plus.  Marketing Sherpa’s 2010 benchmark report indicates a major reason why people friend or follow companies in social media is because the campaign was entertaining in some way.

A campaign seen as “Entertainment – funny or insightful” is a major driver for social “friend” or “follow” action.  Among metrics tracked in this study, “because it was funny” (my paraphrase) reason is given 35% of the time. This outranks the reason to learn more about “Company culture, environmental resp., workers policies, etc.,” given by 30% of the respondents in the study.  The data came from metrics collected by over 2,300 marketers participating in the benchmark report.

You can see the data on this chart: How Consumer Use Affects Relationships with Commercial Interests: Why we Friend and Follow Companies (page 8),

Warning: Humor Can be Hazardous to Your Brand’s Health

On the downside, Blogging Expert and Copyblogger founder Brian Clark warns against using humor in blogging.  The risk is too high that your humor won’t be understood.  What’s “funny” is too subjective, he says.

In “The Dangers of Humor”, Clark writes:

Every good copywriter will tell you to avoid trying to be funny in a written conversion situation, and that’s the gospel truth. No matter how funny you are (or think you are), you’ll hurt your conversions simply because some people won’t get it and they’ll be distracted from the path you’re trying to keep them on.

Blogging is different—there’s generally less on the line with any single post, and humor can actually help you if (and only if) your sense of humor connects with the vast majority of your target audience. Even then you’ll lose people, because a shockingly large percentage of the population is completely humorless, and other people will simply perceive “funny” differently than you do.

Clark’s conclusion: Most people won’t get your sense of humor, so as a way to get subscribers or followers, it’s likely to hurt you more than it helps.  If your main goal isn’t humor, ask if it’s really necessary. If the effort is for your ego’s sake rather than your audience, it’s too likely to misfire rather than work as intended.

Comic Relief has Real Value

As a consumer, I am biased in favor of humor as a marketing tool.  More pressure from life, the economy, world unrest, and a busy schedule calls for laughing at something — now — even for just for a moment’s relief.

The Automotive Digital Marketing professional community agrees that the marketing value of humor is worth taking seriously.  Ralph Paglia’s blog post, “Humor Can Be Your Best Targeted Marketing Strategy,” features the outrageous antics of the Moosejaw company. This outdoor clothing company’s marketing tactics make an interesting case study in the successful use of humor.  Their vision, which the company calls “The Madness” pushes campaigns to extremes of silliness, even inviting and promoting customer participation.

As a tactic to build a following, it appears to be working extremely well. In one example, MooseJaw invited its email catalog recipients to “Email a rendering of a crying tomato.”  Even though the invitation appeared in tiny 8 point type at the bottom of page 16 in one catalog, and again inside another, the company got over 300 creative entries, which it featured on its website, and made into a multi-channel marketing theme.  Moosejaw reports it boosts customer loyalty and engagement.  Of all customers who rate themselves as “Highly engaged,” 40% have placed 4 or more orders with the company.

Humor, used successfully, has several marketing advantages

Some of the many ways being funny helps people remember your brand:

  • It differentiates you from your competition
  • It engages customers quickly and easily
  • It promotes customer loyalty
  • In social media, it generates word-of-mouth advertising


The catch is to use humor appropriately and be true to your brand and your market.  MooseJaw’s marketing SVP shares the lesson this way: “We learned that if you come up with something that tweaks people’s interest and is not self-serving, people will respond and engage with you….If you try too hard and do something more self-serving, you’re probably going to miss the mark.”

Data shows that people take action to follow experiences them laugh.  So, humor isn’t bad for marketing, just because it’s humor.   Whether it works for your brand depends on your creative vision, your content, your success in feeling out where the funny bone sits in your target market, and your skill in triggering genuine laughs your people readily share.

Photo credit: “Think About It” by Brainloc on Stock Exchange

Trackbacks & Pings