Humour is one of the best human traits. It is the great unifier even when things seem very dark (load-shedding) or inexplicable (lockdown regulations, anyone?) A great number of brave souls have used jokes and humour to shark fin through the crowd noise and get their message beating a memorable rhythm on your funny bone. Others have perfected this style into an absolute artform. (No extra free drumsticks for guessing who that may be …) And we’ll bet you a brand-specific chicken meal that if you were to think of the ads you remember best, they will be funny ads.
Contrary to popular belief, humour is not an easy advertising strategy. Certainly, it is the more human way of catching the attention of your ideal audience – provided your ideal audience in fact has a sense of humour. This is not an insult to any audience, ideal or otherwise. It’s just that some things aren’t funny. These things are serious and should be treated seriously. Except when the extreme seriousness itself becomes funny, then by all means crack a joke. The sudden contradiction in messaging will make sure your brand sticks in the minds of the audience for possibly forever, as all the great jokes tends to do.
The benefits of humour in marketing are that it is potently attention-grabbing (a good thing in marketing … except when it isn’t.) It stands out from the monotonous tone around it because humour is naturally colourful and original. (If it were unoriginal, it would be old, and that wouldn’t be funny. It would also be lazy. But lazy could be funny … it depends really …) People (the normal ones with a sense of humour which we have found to be the majority of South Africans for sure) love to spread laughter around. So, if you are funny enough to be remembered, you will get lots of free word-of-mouth marketing because people will tell other people about your funny ad. And let’s be frank about this, who doesn’t love free marketing? If you are not a Frank, forget we mentioned anything.
The big thing is, though, that funny brands, brands that crack jokes, use humour, and communicate in a natural tone of voice are more relatable and are seen as more trustworthy and human. Human is good – even when human makes a colossal *bleep* … stuff-up of something but we can laugh about. And therein lies the trick and the pitfall – because as with all humour, it is only funny when it is funny. The wrong joke at the wrong time will not only make your brand look amateurish and unprofessional, but people may remember you as being … well … a certain part of the anatomy that everyone, in fact, has (just like an opinion) but when used in public (such as cracking an inappropriate joke) is very much not a good thing at all.
If people think that you are forcing humour and cracking jokes for the sole purpose of grabbing their attention, they’ll see you as exploitative and not funny. Which is a bit weird since the point of a funny ad is to grab their attention, but the trick is to not make it look like you are cracking a joke to grab their attention. It’s the kind of mental gymnastics only humans are capable of. (Human is still good though. Oddly contradictory, but good.) Just don’t be THAT brand: Bad humour, inappropriate jokes and truly offensive jokes can and will destroy your brand. And yes, we are aware of the continually shifting standards for what is offensive these days, so a good rule of thumb we use in the office is, if we are not sure we can make a comment or joke among the normal people outside the creative office, we probably shouldn’t use it in an ad. And we feel really badly about that, some of this stuff is hysterical …)
Humour should be used like your favourite condiment – salt, pepper, tabasco if you want to get spicy … If the work you are producing is valuable on its own, adding an extra dash of flavour by adding relatable humour is only going to make the work even more appealing and memorable. If you are sure you have a zinger of a joke in the barrel, just always remember to thoroughly test your ad through A/B testing before unleashing it the whole wide world. That way you can be sure the humour doesn’t cross some line and appeals to the audience you are targeting. (Think of it as the 3am joke test – we all know that things that are hysterically funny at 3 am in the morning is at best just “meh” at lunch the following day (after some sleep) and we have no idea why we were gasping for air just hours earlier over “that!”)
Consider the timing of your humorous posts or jokes, the difference between something being funny and something being in bad taste is timing. If you have ever heard a good joke told poorly because the person telling it just couldn’t get the timing right, you’ll know what we mean. (We all know someone who does that. And if we don’t, we should face the soul-destroying possibility that we are that person …) Timing in this sense means anything from trying to laugh your way out of a company PR crisis to joking about a looming disaster threatening the lives and livelihoods of people. (You’d think this has never happened. You’d be wrong. And the fact that you can’t remember the names of the guys who did that just proves the point.)
Finally, a pro-tip: Be really, truly, extremely careful of tagging an ad campaign onto a current running joke or meme on social media. The risk is very real that you may not fully understand the joke or its history and nuance. Many brands have crashed and burned at the altar of “the joke of the now.” Just don’t. But then on the other hand, if you do understand the full history and nuance of a current running joke or meme (and are fully aware of the backlash you will face if you get it wrong), by all means run after it and have a dance-off. Life is too short to miss an opportunity for a good laugh.
*To all those who got the title and expected a whole bunch of explosions and other high crimes, sorry. It’s a very good line though, isn’t it? To those who didn’t get the title, sorry. Some jokes aren’t funny if you explain them.