Should You Use Humor In Your Marketing?

Have you tried using humor in your marketing?

They’ve been many occasions I’ve sat starting at my computer screen. I've agonized over whether to use a witty headline or go for clarity and say exactly what I mean.

Sometimes it’s a genuinely funny one-liner. But more often than not it’s a lame play on words. The type that you roll your eyes at when you see them with nauseating predictability in newspaper headlines.

“Telecom Giant Rings In Record Profits”

“Mining Company Digs Itself Out Of Trouble”


Sometimes we just can’t help ourselves even when we know how bad it is. Yet it’s not limited to bad puns, it can also be visual humor in the form of pictures or videos.

Using Humor in Your Marketing To Make Your Ad Go Viral

We embed humor into our advertising because we hope the ad will go “viral.”  So people start spreading it for its comedic value.

While this can and does happen, the chance of achieving this is very low. Even if it does happen, the commercial benefit of this is dubious. Yes, funny gets attention but the question is attention on what?

I’m always surprised by companies who tolerate ads from their high priced agencies where clearly the entire objective is to win some creative award. It's all about bringing attention to the agency rather than the product or service they're advertising.

Whether or not the ad generated any sales seems secondary. Sometimes you even struggle to figure out what product they’re actually advertising.

But great headlines are only the start. You need  to create a winning campaign. And you need an unmissable offer and great copy to create a winning campaign.

6 Questions To Consider Before Using Humor In Your Marketing

The question I like to ask myself when writing ad copy is: Do I want to be funny and famous? Or do I want to be a business success? Does it add to or detract from the message?

These are one and the same if you are John Cleese or Ricky Gervais. But for most other business owners these are generally going to be mutually exclusive.

Here are some important questions when considering adding humor to your marketing:

  1. Does it add to or detract from the message?
  2. Will it send the reader/listener/viewer on a tangent trying to figure it out?
  3. Could it frustrate and alienate readers/listeners/viewers who don’t understand the humor or reference?
  4. Is it offensive to anyone in my target market?
  5. Does it distract from the flow of the ad?
  6. Will some people reading it not bother trying to figure it out?

The answer to one or more of the above questions is usually yes, which is why I often recommend steering clear of humor in marketing.

Humor varies wildly between people of different race, age, demographic, education and cultural background. And this is why it can be extremely difficult to pull off.

My advice is usually: choose clarity over cleverness.

It’s hard enough to get a message read, understood then acted upon without adding potential confusion into the mix.

Is There Ever A Time To Use Humor In Marketing?

As with most rules, there are exceptions. There are certain situations where using humor can strengthen your marketing message.

Take Nando's. This brand has nailed humorous marketing. It's what their customers expect.

You can build rapport by using “insider” humor.

For example, if you're targeting a very narrow market that have a similar demographic profile (e.g. doctors, mechanics, florists) and they're likely to understand your references.

Positioning yourself as an industry “insider” is a powerful way to build credibility and authority in your niche.

Existing customers are another exception. At least with existing customers, the stakes are lower if they fail to understand your message.

Using humor with existing customers can help with retention. It can position you as the “fun” or “irreverent” alternative to your stodgy competition.

In Closing

Using humor in your marketing really depends on your customers. It depends on the product or service you sell and who you sell it to.

Humor can either bring significant goodwill to your brand or break it.

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