Using Humour to Sell? Don’t Fumble the Punchline!

Humour in marketing

Humour is a great way to sell. It catches people’s attention, engages them, and injects an element of humanity into otherwise static information. People love to be entertained, and if you can keep them amused while promoting your products or services, then all the better (nice job, Old Spice). What’s more, humour can be a great way to distinguish yourself from the competition (take a bow, Groupon).

But selling through humour isn’t easy. Even if your target market finds you funny, it might not translate into sales. Every time you put that arrow through your head and play the banjo, you risk ignoring or alienating part of the market. Humour is culturally, socially, even gender specific, so you need to get it right.

Four Tips for Using Humour to Sell

1. Know your target market. True for most things in marketing, but especially critical when using humour to sell: you need to know your target market. What do they find funny? What not? What special knowledge or experiences do they share?

If you know your target market very well (and have a good read on who is not your target market) you can risk ignoring and maybe even offending everyone else. The marketers of Axe hair, body and shower products have run with this approach. Judging from their advertising, their target market is males age 16-25. With this narrow niche, they don’t concern themselves with others not getting (or liking) the joke.

2. Don’t let humour get in the way. It’s one thing to be funny but another to have it benefit your business. Remember those funny ads with the sensitive cavemen? Remember what company it was for? Neither did we. (We looked it up: it was GEICO.)

How can you make sure humour doesn’t get in the way of the product? Either keep the humour subtle or make sure your product is front and centre.

For example, we recently wrote web copy for UrbanBound, a relocation service serving the Chicago area. We added little shots of humour throughout the copy — just enough to keep it light, engaging and fun to read. Humour is a subtle side note.

When humour is more upfront, you need to keep your product or service in focus. Toyota did this brilliantly in promotional videos for the Sienna wagon. Here, humour doesn’t get in the way of the product because the product is central to the story.

3. Make sure humour is appropriate for your product or service. Humour doesn’t suit all products or services. Should City Funeral Service play for laughs? (They’re not, unless “welcome veterans” is supposed to be funny.)

For some companies, humour is a natural fit. Naked Pizza, one of the fastest growing franchises in the U.S., has nice splashes of irreverent humour throughout its web copy. And with a name like Naked Pizza, humour is a great fit. In fact, without humour the name would seem pretty creepy.

Also, if you’re seeking world domination, be especially careful when considering humour as a marketing ingredient. What might be hilarious to a New Yorker might upset people in different states or countries.

4. When humour is over-the-top, limit where you use it. When your humour is controversial or over-the-top, you might not want to apply it everywhere. Domain name and web hosting service Go Daddy gets a lot of attention for their TV and print ads, featuring underdressed, over-bosomy babes. But their web copy is straight-ahead — all business. Injecting the same humour into their web copy wouldn’t inspire confidence in their services. The no-jokes copy might also help those not enamoured with Go Daddy’s approach to hold their noses and sign up anyway.

By doing a little bit of research and carefully considering your approach, humour may bring new life to your marketing and help you stand out from stodgy competitors. Now all you have to do is make us laugh.

What tips do you have for using humour to sell? Who’s doing it well? Who’s not?

One response to “Using Humour to Sell? Don’t Fumble the Punchline!”

  1. Jessica Oman says:

    This is great stuff! We just wrote about humour on our blog too:

    These are important tips for would-be witty entrepreneurs :)

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