Think about some of your favorite advertising campaigns. Chances are, the majority of them are comedy gold – the kind of marketing that had you laughing more than most Hollywood movies do these days. You’re not alone, either.
Advertising is a tricky thing. You’re trying to sell a consumer base a product, but the consumers are fully aware of your tactic. Advertising isn’t anything new, and sometimes it seems downright sneaky. Humor is one of the most effective ways around that – and it works perfectly with promotional products. Here’s why:
Why humor works
Inc.com recently cited a Journal of Marketing study from the ’90s that looked at the multinational effects humor had on advertising. As the news source noted, not much has changed over the years with regard to humor and advertising. The study’s conclusion is so basic and accurate, and it still stands today:
“Humor is more likely to enhance recall, evaluation and purchase intention when the humorous message coincides with ad objectives, is well-integrated with those objectives and is viewed as appropriate for the product category. Under such circumstances, humorous advertising is more likely to secure audience attention, increase memorability, overcome sales resistance and enhance message persuasiveness.”
As Inc.com noted, humor has always worked like this, and it continues to do so. Ask most people who were driving across the country in the mid-20th century whether they remember Burma-Shave’s comedic roadside rhyming ads and they’ll tell you “Of course!” That’s an example of humor in advertising lasting more than half a century.
Curious about the styles of humor you could employ? Consider these three highlighted examples:
Michael Cornnell, associate editor at Promo Marketing Magazine, wrote a brief blog post about the impact that irony can have with promotional products. As he pointed out, going too far down the sarcasm path can be problematic, although you should always consider your demographic. If you’re catering to hipsters in the mid-20s, for instance, heavy “irony” could be handy.
For the majority of folks, however, some light irony is usually an excellent advertising tactic. It acknowledges that the company and the consumer are both aware of the promotional exchange: You’re trying to sell something, and you hope that they will buy it. By saying this in a humorous way, you can get past skepticism.
But, defining irony has always been tough. Cornnell put it this way on his blog: “It’s that weird mix of kitsch, mockery of modern culture and self-effacing joke …”
Cornnell is speaking specifically about a set of promotional pencils handed out on a cruise to a friend of his. The pencils are jokingly inscribed as “commemorative” cruise pencils, although there’s nothing particularly special about them. It’s a little in-joke with the cruise guests about the need for “commemorative” items, while also being actual items – those that anyone could use.
And this is the benefit of promotional items generally. A funny joke on TV comes and goes. A promotional pencil can be used on a daily basis.
On the other side from irony is goofball humor. While irony shows your willingness to wink at the customer, this kind of humor in marketing is all about showing your company’s willingness to be silly.
Goofball humor doesn’t work for just any company, granted. Successful iterations of it can be seen all the time nonetheless. Budweiser made a giant campaign of it with its frogs and talking iguanas. Candy company Skittles has also made a habit of getting as weird and goofy as possible, with near-hallucinogenic ads.
Generally, if you want to get goofy, you need to be willing to have your promotional product marketing feel out of left field. Don’t be afraid to get weird with your custom tote bags, for instance. Take a page from Trader Joe’s book and illustrate your promotional items with public domain illustrations from the late 19th century, then caption them with pertinent and goofy slogans. Use your marketing department’s creativity!
Curious what defines goofiness? It can be hard to describe, but check out this AdWeek collection of 2012’s weirdest, freakiest and often funniest ads. It’s a good place to start.
3. Celebrations of humor
Rather than providing the irony or goofiness yourself, you can always show your appreciation of humor with promotional products. Celebrate April Fool’s Day – or just celebrate April, since it’s National Humor Month, according to The Huffington Post. Put together some promotional products to celebrate a favorite comedian’s birthday, or consider the role laughing plays in healing for National Public Health Week.
Using humor across marketing platforms
It’s important to note that, as Inc.com pointed out, humor shouldn’t consume your marketing strategy. It’s a tool rather than the focus of your advertising, so make sure that you spend time and money on traditional ads as well. This is particularly important when you’re selling a product or service that needs to have specific information spelled out.
That being said, there’s no reason not to utilize humor equally across all your marketing platforms. A pithy slogan or ironic logo on promotional products is just the start. Feel free to get funny on Facebook and Twitter. Did your company put together an advertisement for TV? Why not feature a gag reel of outtakes on your website?
The challenge humor poses
As Inc.com wisely observed, being funny isn’t always easy, though. And it’s easy to identify ads where humor missed the mark.
“There are two big mistakes that you often see in the campaigns that fail,” Tim Washer, a senior social media and marketing manager for Cisco Systems and comedy writer, told Inc.com “The first, and easily the biggest mistake, is trying to include too much product messaging. As soon as you start doing that, you lose the audience. It’s important to fight the urge to burden a comedy with product information. The second mistake I see is companies that simply are not willing to take a risk by being a little bit edgy. If you are safe, your results will be average. But it’s when you take a chance that something can become really big.”
Of course, carefully consider your audience before going too “edgy.” Retirees, stay-at-home parents and college kids are all going to have different tastes for what qualifies.