How to Inject More Humor into Your Brand (and Why You Should or Shouldn’t)

How to Inject More Humor into Your Brand (and Why You Should or Shouldn’t)

Laughter, by no means a strictly human trait, is an integral part of human social structure. Not only does laughter improve your immune system, relieve pain, and increase your satisfaction, but it also strengthens our bonds with people. In a sense, laughter really is the best medicine. In this article we take a look at How to Inject More Humor into Your Brand (and Why You Should or Shouldn’t).

Since laughter is correlated with positive thoughts and feelings, marketers naturally use humor to set their brand apart. However, brands have to use humor carefully, or it could backfire. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at why humor works (and why it may not work for your brand) and some examples you can use to inject more laughter into your branding materials and content.

How Humor Works (and Why It Important to Know)

You’ve probably heard the phrase “humor is subjective,” and that’s true to a point. While what makes us laugh does differ somewhat, there’s a distinct science to humor. A University of Colorado study of humor coined the term “benign violation theory” to describe what we laugh at.

According to the theory, humor works on this formula: humor = tragedy + time and distance. 

Based on this theory, I could make a joke about a car accident if I wasn’t hurt. But, someone close to me couldn’t until a significant time had passed. At the same time, a person who isn’t connected to me could make a joke about the accident to someone else and still be funny. 

This is important as humor often comes from a dark place. The secret to humor is sorrow, not joy, but that can pose a problem. If your jokes are too dark, you’ll trigger negative emotions.

However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try, as humor can be incredibly profitable.

How Humor Can Work for Your Brand

Is investing in a humorous marketing department worth the trouble? 

Absolutely! Humor is one of the best ways to connect audiences with your brand, so it’s essential that you utilize it.

Humor Can Make You More Money

Humorous ads can make you more money in the long and short term. For example, you can make the tipping jar impossible to ignore by adding unique, funny slogans. A great campaign, on the other hand, can grab consumer attention and plant a seed that sticks with them forever.

Humor Can Build Trust in Your Brand

Brands are abstract and psychological, meaning something happens in your customer’s heads whenever they see your logo or product. If your brand makes people laugh, customers will associate it with trustworthiness, as humor often reveals the authentic people under the brand.

Humor Can Generate Word-of-Mouth

Old Spice’s viral ad “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” was incredibly successful because it was so quotable. Since humor builds an emotional connection to your brand, people are more likely to remember it and spread it around. A funny ad can even be a great conversation starter. 

Humor Can Make Light of the Negative

No one can deny that life is hard. A positive mindset can make you more resilient to hard times, and laughter is often the best way to put yourself in a better mood. If you’re able to make your customer’s day, they’ll remember that feeling whenever they look at your branding material.

Humor Can Trigger Creative Ideas

Humor encourages risk-taking, divergent thinking, creativity, playfulness, and problem-solving, all of which are emotions you want to trigger in a consumer. When a consumer feels more creative, they’re more likely to see your product or service as worthwhile and/or necessary. 

How Humor Can Backfire (and Potentially Ruin Your Brand)

There are so many good reasons to inject humor into your brand, but you have to be careful. 

Here are some ways humor can backfire on you and potentially ruin your brand’s reputation.

Humor Can Be Offensive

Burger King’s “Women belong in the kitchen” tweet (posted on International Women’s Day) was meant to poke fun at the misogynistic stereotype that a “woman’s place is in the kitchen.” 

This is evident from their next tweet in the thread that started with “If they want to, of course.” followed by statistics that women only make up 20% of chefs. However, the “Women belong in the kitchen” tweet was at the top of the thread, meaning its what audiences saw first (and only).

If Burger King had included the “If they want to, of course.” portion in their first tweet, it wouldn’t have been a clever way to bring attention to sexism in the workplace. Unfortunately, it fell flat.

Humor Can Miss the Mark

Have you ever had a friend recite a joke that probably would have been funny if the delivery was better? Or worse, have you ever heard someone tell a bad joke? How did it make you feel? 

Both scenarios can be uncomfortable in person, but you’re probably going to laugh anyway because you want your friend to feel better. Online, brands won’t receive such grace for two reasons: they know you’re doing this to make money, and you’re probably trying to be trendy.

Brands that want to connect with younger audiences should hire people who understand the humor you’re trying to use. Or, you’ll appear out of touch, which will hurt your bottom line.

Humor Can Be Immature 

Not all brands can pull off a humorous approach, and it has nothing to do with the people who write your jokes. If your brand has a professional “air” to it, it’s ill-advised to try and be funny.

For example, if you’re a health care company that deals with life and death situations, you could appear tone death to the people who use your services. If you use jokes that won’t connect with your audience (i.e., fart humor for a luxury brand), then they may not want to associate with you.

Being hilarious is difficult, but it’s still worth it if you can figure out the right formula. Once you find your funny bone, your brand’s ROI, reach, and relevancy will increase significantly.

How To Inject More Humor into Your Brand

Businesses can inject humor into their brand by applying certain comedy styles to their content and advertisements. 

Here are 5 ways you can make your brand memorable through humor.

1. Know Your Brand and Your Audience

To avoid any of the mistakes mentioned above, brands have to identify their brand voice, build a buyer’s persona, and review their brand’s values. Your findings will serve as an outline for what type of humor your audience will enjoy. You should review these findings every few months.

Why so soon? Trends happen quickly over the internet, and humor changes considerably based on age and location. What’s funny or marketable now will be considered old in a month or less.

One example of a brand doing this right is Lucky Charms, which noticed their main demographic wasn’t Millennial parents, but nostalgic Millennials who missed eating cereal. They even brought out a “Just Marshmallow” version to appeal to them (as they hate the oat-y parts of the cereal). 

2. Take the Irreverent Approach 

The irreverent approach is the hardest to get right but can be incredibly funny when successful. Brands are irreverent when they’re a bit weird, edgy, or speak in a way that’s seen as mean or unprofessional. Wendy’s primary Twitter channel is a great example of this type of humor.

However, Wendy’s could do this effortlessly because they’re familiar with viral marketing. Their “Where’s the Beef” campaign is marketing at its finest and is still quoted today. Fortunately, local businesses do well with this approach, as they can better engage with their community.

3. Use Memes and Trendy Topics

Memes are widely shared, making them the perfect viral marketing strategy. Unfortunately, they start to become stale very quickly, so you need to keep your finger on the pulse. If you’re lucky, your meme will stand the test of time, but that’s unlikely if multiple brands use the same ones.

Meme death happens when brands use something trendy unless the brand is relatable. For example, Netflix, who still retains its position as the “little guy” despite being a large company.

With that said, not every meme will relate to your brand or be accessible to every demographic, so brands need to know how and why every meme is different. Being trendy on the internet requires a team that knows what they’re doing, which is why young marketers are very valuable. 

4. Experiment with Meta Commentary

A piece of media that recognizes itself for what it is would be “meta.” Some examples of this type of humor include Oasis’s ad that had the caption: “It’s summer. You’re thirsty. We’ve got sales targets,” or the American sitcom “Community.” Both examples “break the fourth wall.”

Meta commentary often pokes fun at the absurdity of the situation. Consumers know that you’re selling a product to make money, and they appreciate your honesty every now and then. At the same time, meta-humor should be used sparingly, or your brand could come off as pretentious.

5. Be Satirical (aka, Parody Other Brands)

Satire offers brands a middle ground between positive and negative publicity. If your audience gets the joke, they’ll laugh with you, but there will always be people who think you’re stupid. If they get angry or proud enough, they may leave a comment about you missing the point.

While this type of humor doesn’t fly with everyone, it isn’t because you’re not funny. No one likes to be left out of the joke, so some forms of satire may upset others because they feel left out.

In the end, satirical humor is best received when the brand makes fun of itself. In 2019, Duolingo released an ad that poked fun at their passive-aggressive push notifications. This level of self-awareness is really refreshing to viewers who want their concerns heard.

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