Using humor in advertising

Does humor in advertising help sell more?

Does using humor in advertising and marketing help you sell more? Or should it be avoided?

John Caples, author of one of the most famous advertising headlines – ”They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano but When I Started to Play!” said:

Avoid humor. You can entertain a million people and not sell one of them. There is not a single humorous line in two of the most influential books in the world, namely, the Bible and the Sears Roebuck catalog.

The grandfather of modern advertising, Claude Hopkins, said:

Don’t treat your subject lightly. Don’t lessen respect for your self or your article by any attempt at frivolity. People do not patronize a clown. There are two things about which men should not joke. One is business, one is home. An eccentric picture may do you serious damage. One may gain attention by wearing a fools cap. But he would ruin his selling prospects.

But then check and you will see this:

Ignore those snobs who say humor has no place in sales and marketing, that prospects don’t buy from clowns, or you should never poke fun at your own brand. They do not understand the likeability factor of humor.

In his Ted talk, Dan Dennett, an American philosopher, writer and cognitive scientist, shares why people get attracted to these 4 things: cute, sexy, sweet and… funny. He describes how evolution wired us to search and respond to these 4 triggers.

Using humor in advertisement and marketing

Using humor in advertisement and marketing make your offer seem more “human” and builds relationship with your audience

The reason why many advertising and marketing experts suggest you do use humor, is because it’s fundamental to forming positive relationships. We buy from people we like, and humor is the easiest and fastest way to get there.

Any campaign you work on has the objective of selling. But if you break down the process, sales never come first. You have a list of steps your prospects need to go through before they are ready to see the offer. And every step has a different objective. It can be to engage prospects by asking them questions, increase social interaction with social media share buttons and comments, or evoke particular emotions. Here is when you want to focus on humor. And all these steps indirectly prepare your prospects to eventually buy your product.

If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect.
-Ben Franklin

Here are some examples of how various brands have been using humor in advertising with much success:

1. Dollar Shave Club

Dollar Shave Club had two main challenges. Firstly, they were selling a product which would hardly be considered fun by anybody. Secondly, they were going against market giants, namely Gillette and Wilkinson.

The strategy Dollar Shave Club decided to go for was… humor. It’s a great example of how using humor can differentiate you among competition, and how to turn a pretty dull product into something people can fall in love with.

Did it work? 10 mln views says something.

2. Gillette – Mow The Lawn

Speaking of razors, what is the best way to promote a product for a little bit more of a touchy subject, like… bikini razors? Most companies go for a serious tone in their advertisement,  being quite neutral in their voice so that they offend anybody. Gillette took a different approach and created this viral video to promote its razors for women. In no place does the video mention the product, yet it’s pretty obvious what it’s all about.

3. Groupon – Unicorn Riding

Groupon is a company that built its success on a revolutionary business model: very good deals for avery limited time. Offers include dinners, spa treatments, travelling, shopping, and many more. And recently Groupon decided to broaden that offer adding… Unicorn riding! It’s a truly hilarious idea that definitely adds to Groupon’s brand and makes it more fun and human. Now I don’t know if anybody decided to take up this offer, but if they did – I’m sure they had a time of their life :)


4. Dumb Ways To Die

Before you watch it, a little warning: it’s quite cruel and harsh.

This campaign is actually a social cause campaign created to make people aware of safely when taking a train – so that people are more aware of stupid ways they can die by not paying attention to easy safety regulations. It’s been declared one of the best campaign of this year and won 5 Grand Prix Awards at Cannes Lions 2013.

5. Apple – Get a Mac

You’ve probably seen this one (if not – where have you been??), but it’s a classic and a very interesting way to differentiate your offer from competitors.

Apple confronted their product against a concrete competitor. In some countries, it is legal to negatively picture other brands. But in those where the law allows this kind of comparison advertisement, it still remains a bit tricky. Nobody likes to those who point at others. So Apple’s idea was indeed ingenious. They didn’t insult PCs, instead using humor they pointed differences between two products. The message is clear: Macs don’t have all the features PCs do, but they are way cooler.

Here is a compilation of the ads rolled out by Apple:

6. Bodyform

Bodyform is a British femcare products brand, selling pads and liners.
They created an amazing video with over 4 mln views, in response to one person’s comment. This person was a man, and he wrote:

Hi , as a man I must ask why you have lied to us for all these years . As a child I watched your advertisements with interest as to how at this wonderful time of the month that the female gets to enjoy so many things ,I felt a little jealous. I mean bike riding , rollercoasters, dancing, parachuting, why couldn’t I get to enjoy this time of joy and ‘blue water’ and wings !! Dam my penis!! Then I got a girlfriend, was so happy and couldn’t wait for this joyous adventurous time of the month to happen … lied !! There was no joy , no extreme sports , no blue water spilling over wings and no rocking soundtrack oh no no no. Instead I had to fight against every male urge I had to resist screaming wooaaahhhhh bodddyyyyyyfooorrrmmm bodyformed for youuuuuuu as my lady changed from the loving , gentle, normal skin coloured lady to the little girl from the exorcist with added venom and extra 360 degree head spin. Thanks for setting me up for a fall bodyform , you crafty bugger

Now, Bodyform could have deleted the comment, get offended and all serious, or.. they could get creative. And that’s what they did. In response to this man’s comment, the following video was produced:

7. Nespresso – What Else

A few years back Nespresso launched a great campaign for its coffee, featuring George Clooney. Using celebrity endorsement has its advantages which are not related to humor but  what definitely adds to this campaign is that the celebrity chosen is quite famous for ‘not taking himself all that seriously’. If you want to use celebrity combining it with humor, make sure you pick somebody who is funny.

I personally love this campaign, and it can definitely be attributed to George Clooney and John Malkovich who joined too (and who is one of my favorite actors). On top of that, I simply feel sentimental, as the campaign was shot in Milan at the time while I was living there.

Here is one of the ads from a series of commercials:

8. McAfee – How To Uninstall McAfee Antivirus

John McAfee, a computer programmer and founder of McAfee, Inc, is surely one of the most controversial entrepreneurs. In this video not only is he actually making fun of himself, he is doing the same of his product. It is risky, and will definitely putt of some people, but at the same time, with those who will find that video funny, McAfee is efficiently creating a strong and personal relationship.


Now back to you.

What is your favorite funny viral video or commercial? Share them below.

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    Reply Reply February 4, 2020

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