Monday, February 9, 2009

Business-Style Humor

Humor is risky because it is so personal.

What I consider a laugh riot, you may perceive as a sign of stupidity or, even worse, a reason to litigate. For this reason, companies tend to shy away from incorporating humor into their social media, marketing and promotional content.

This is a shame though because when done well humor has the unique ability to accelerate the impact of a program. It pushes content viral, leading to a dramatic increase in audience awareness and engagement.

Consider EA Sports and their “Tiger Woods: Walk on Water” video on YouTube. The company’s willingness to playfully poke fun at a glitch in the programming of their own game produced a promotional spot that has been viewed by more than 2.7 million viewers.

I am a self-proclaimed funny guy and I’ve spent more than 15 years peppering business discussions with humor as a relationship-building strategy. I’ve only had a handful of attempts fall completely flat because I recognize that comedy in a business setting delivers best when:

-You poke fun at yourself for something that is minor and insignificant. For instance, my Propecia-armed battle to maintain my thinning head of hair is typically a crowd pleaser.

-The comedic content is relevant to the audience targeted. Recently, a group of my colleagues at Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) produced a wonderfully entertaining video to present a set of tactics for our own public relations program. The video hit the mark because it plays on a series internal conversations we’ve had at the company, as well as gently pokes fun at the personalities involved.


Andrew Bryant said...

I agree humor is a powerful marketing tool when an add goes viral, but as a professional speaker who works in Asia, there are some rules that I think apply:
1. Self deprecate - but not too much
2. Never be vulgar
3. Consider culture - what is funny in one context is insulting in another
4. Underplay the humor if possible - subtle beats slap stick

Mike Brown said...

Marc - At my company, we've used humor on various occasions to help our message stand out and be more memorable with both internal and external audiences.

We use the formula: Personal Interest * Emtional Impact = Memorability.

Coupling humor (or other strong emotional triggers) with a tie to the audiences's personal interests can dramatically improve recall of a message. We did a funny video about poor customer services 12 years ago that people still recall and reference.

This link provides more info on using the formula:


Mike Brown

Dan Azzaro said...

This is what I do for companies; the issue is using humor that has no connection to the consumer and how they use/see your product. Humor is personal, and how consumers have built their relationship with you is a personal experience. Finding that intersection of those points is where you find humor that sells - too many times, people go for what is funny without thinking it through ( evidenced by the hundreds of commercials that are a "joke" versus a "funny story".)

Dan Azzaro
Marketing Humorist

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the time, many years ago, when I worked for a US company. One of my very humourous colleagues was taken aside by by one of the senior managers from the parent company and was told "Stephen, I would like you to know that humour gets in the way of communication"

Never felt the same way about the company after that

Ray Gulick said...

There's the zen story of the monk who asks the master, "In moments of levity, is it OK to joke around?"
The master replied, "It's OK if you want to lose trust."
As someone who enjoys humor, it bothers me that I would have to choose between it and trustworthiness (and I admit to using humor: can't help myself), but loss of trust is not a good result in advertising and messaging.

Davina said...

IME humor is a good ice breaker. I use humor when meeting with clients, as part of the pitching process, to showcase my creativity and personality; and on my blog, another way of letting clients and potential clients learn my personality, and if we'd work well together.

In fact, I just watched a blog about how a Hello & Handshake Tweet is an easy, less intimidating way of meeting someone. A clever or funny "Hello" could have more impact that the standard form letter or the elevator speech at a business card swap meet.

As mentioned in your blog, comedy works well as a marketing tool, particulaly with social networks like YouTube, MySpace and Twitter. Examples:

• The copy for is usually pretty funny, and I check it for a good read.
• Updates via Facebook and Twitter from , an enterprise dedicated to skewering business and social networking axioms with humor. Since humor is their business, their marketing has to be funny too.

The trick is finding the right match: client to product/service to pitch to humor to media to audience. And of course, bring the funny.

Anonymous said...

Strange I came across this posting, because after reading a recent article I was wondering what professionals perceived as humourous and how this impacts a brand and their business.

The article in question was on Virgin Air's new advert and how it had certain people up in arms about it being sexist. I've attached two links at the end of my comment for ads of Virgin Air that I feel continue to add to Richard Branson and the brand's growing equity.

Coming to the topic of humour in marketing. I attended an extremely interesting seminar not two years ago which focussed on emotional triggers in advertising and communications. Humour was one such trigger and without a doubt, humourous ads rake up the highest ratings on YouTube and not to mention high recall factor in viewers minds.

But- Do they add to a company's bottom line by translating into Sales or is the effort towards generating long term Equity and brand positioning?

Humour can be interpreted in many ways and chances are more than likely that it can be misconstrued and that is without even taking into consideration cross cultural differences. In sectors like real estate, humour has little to no place and can give the firm an impression of being flippant and 'not serious enough".

I'm quite certain that in most parts of the world, this is the primary hesitation especially for luxury or premium goods to stay away from adopting humour into communication.

Looking forward to your thoughts.

Here are the links to Virgin's adverts: - 25 Years and Still Red Hot - Cheating Death, Virgin

Craiger said...


As a long time reporter/anchor/editor, I have found it extremely valuable to use light humor and such to put subjects at ease, allow them to open up and gather information that may have been otherwise unreachable due to the stigma that sometimes comes with the media.

I am now venturing out on my own as a freelance PR rep. (that is if I don't find a PR or communications position somewhere first) and although I haven't come up with some concrete clients as of yet (I've just started), I have been able to find some possibilities that would have been otherwise unknown by getting people to open up and feel comfortable with me by getting them to smile and laugh.

At this point I have an advertising company reviewing my proposal for PR for their client (a Columbus, Ohio area non-profit) as well as volunteering to help the Small Business Network on Health Care get some media coverage. Things are slow, but that is the economy right now.

When in doubt, make'em'll at least have a contact for future endeavors.

Craig R. Simpson

West Coast & Island Crew said...

I think you will enjoy the parody of life as a business consultant at

CEO - The Consulting Bench