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Sales Copy: Make Them Laugh? Or Make Them Buy?

by Barry Densa  |  
November 22, 2011

In this article, you'll learn...

  • When you should and shouldn't use humor in sales letters
  • Whether it's better for your sales letters to be smart or funny

A raging debate has been burning up the bits and bytes on a popular copywriting forum: Should humor be included in sales copy?

Some forum members argue that humor can be a disarming and refreshing alternative to the caveman approach to copywriting—i.e., bludgeoning the reader into shock and submission with exclamation points. Drop the hard sell and take a more friendly and convivial approach, they say. Be sociable, be charming, be funny!

Makes sense. In this economy, in this political environment, who doesn't need a good laugh?

Others go further and suggest that sales copy must have personality. And right they are. But methinks they may be confusing personality with humor. Having a personality doesn't automatically equate to being funny.

Advertising greats David Ogilvy, John Caples, and Claude Hopkins each had distinctive personalities and imbued their sales copy with plenty of the same, but I don't think anyone would accuse them or their copy of being funny.

Then comes this refrain from other forum posters: Sales letters all sound the same these days. And they go on to cite letters that open with an over-the-top benefit, an unbelievable offer, or a rags-to-riches, failure-to-hero story.

They make a valid point. The marketer, via the copywriter, must differentiate himself—and his product. But do you do that by making 'em laugh? Here's the problem...

Laughter is serious business

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Barry A. Densa is a freelance marketing and sales copywriter at Writing With Personality. For more, visit his blog Marketing Wit & Wisdom.

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  • by Janet Tue Nov 22, 2011 via web

    I think there's a difference in using humor throughout as opposed to *bada-bing*, *rimshot* -- tossing a joke in. A joke popping up out of the blue would be annoying, IMHO. On the other hand, a social coupon group locally and Woot (to name two that come up top of mind) use humor as an integral part of the sell, and it seems to work quite well for them.

    Also, you have to know your audience, and consider WHAT you're selling. Humor shouldn't be written off -- as with any other sales approach, it's a matter of using it judiciously.

  • by Kathy Klotz-Guest Tue Nov 22, 2011 via web

    Thanks for the post! I absolutely agree that funny is not the same as having fun. You have to make a human connection to make a sale. Humor can be part of that; however, some humorous copy I have seen gets caught up in the humor without focusing on the "why should my customer buy?" part. I know from my work that funny copy CAN work if it also really addresses a critical human need that the prospect has. The good news here as you allude to is that you don't need to be funny per se to have an impact. People want personality and they want a human connection. Whether it's fun or funny, the most important thing is to create that emotional connection and answer the "why." Funny or fun without touching on a deeper prospect need won't get the results you're looking for. Great reminder post!

  • by Meredith Blevins Tue Nov 22, 2011 via web

    Writing funny is one of the most difficult things that a writer can accomplish. (And accomplish is the word.) There are a few rare people who are naturally funny, and can translate that onto paper.

    Everyone has something that is a strong personality point they can bring to their writing--the ability to seduce, to make setting real, to create pathos. This strength is called voice.

    What I see that people/clients/customers want is a real person. They do not want meat-grinder, robotic messages. Be yourself and represent your business. Don't write the same way you speak--it's a different medium. Use a voice that reflects your business. And, of course the obvious, a funeral home is not going to have the same voice as an ice cream parlor. (Unless you're a genius and can make them both work with the same voice.)

    Get outside the box, and be real. That's what buyers want.

  • by Derek Dujardin Tue Nov 22, 2011 via web

    I think this article is good but dances around the main point in whether or not to use humor: Relevance. Remember the old phrase, "It's funny because it's true?" That's the sweet spot. A joke that is relevant to the underlying truth or consequence of not buying something (or buying the wrong thing) can do punch more power into two sentences than three paragraphs of copy.

    Case in point:

    Here are three examples of jewelry ads I wrote that won some awards. These actually stirred up some controversy on radio talk show that end up resulting in more sales for my client. While not long copy in sales letter, any of these could have been paragraph starters or clinchers.

    Divorce lawyers charge $400 an hour.
    (And you thought jewelry was expensive.)


    "Never mind honey. My next husband will buy it for me."


    Jewelry is lavish, extravagant and frivolous.
    (That's the point, dummy.)

    Are they funny? Are they true? Are they both? It depends on your audience. I think most men (and women) can relate to above headlines and get the truth and funny behind them, even if they don't believe them.

    Finally, humor needs to be fast in long copy. No long set ups or stories. It needs to be Benny Youngman. Set up. Punchline. Then make your point, using the joke as jumping off point for benefits.

    To learn more about funny copy that sells, visit

  • by Meredith Blevins Tue Nov 22, 2011 via web

    I don't think there's any dancing around the real point at all.

    You're a funny guy and you can get it on paper. Which is a terrific thing!

    But, not everyone is Henny Youngman, so don't go there if you're not. That being said, the e-mails we send out with the highest click rates have a punch. Correction: Have a punch and key words. Another sweet spot!

  • by Meredith Blevins Tue Nov 22, 2011 via web

    PS: Love the schtick about jewelry -- it's great.

  • by Barry Densa Wed Nov 23, 2011 via web

    Ha! Even here the debate continues.

    Derek, in short copy (i.e., small space ads) humor can be extremely powerful and effective (if of course the writer is a master at wielding that double-edged sword) -- because the 'punchline' is basically the whole ad, so it immediately grabs attention, and doesn't require thoughtful consideration.

    And that's the whole point. The humor doesn't sell -- it grabs attention and may even increase interest.

    But in my article I was addressing the use of humor in long form copy.

    So, yes,you are correct, humor in long and short copy are basically two different animals -- and therefore need to be handled differently, and, most of all, carefully.

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