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Punchlines: What Marketing Can Learn From Comedy

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“Jokes are America’s contribution to literature,” according to business coach and comedian Tim Davis, the luncheon keynote speaker at the 2010 Small Business Tech Summit in New York. His presentation "Stand-Up Comedy Techniques to Increase Sales" was highlighted recently in The Wall Street Journal Online.

“In this economy, where most people are hesitant to buy, we still have to sell,” says Davis, who started doing seminars and coaching after he noticed a similarity between comedy and sales principles. “In both cases, the objective is to get a reaction from the audience.”

I asked Davis how these principles also could be applied to marketing and public relations. “Sales has an advantage in some ways because they can hear the person’s voice on the phone or read their body language in person. But if you understand how your audience thinks, you can anticipate how they will respond and set up your message just like a comedian would, complete with punch line or call to action. Copy should have rhythm and timing, and should be designed to get a reaction from the audience, just like a joke. Comedians design copy to make people laugh. Business copy should make people reach for the phone.”

Davis also advises us to try to make messages as entertaining as is practical. He says, “If it’s not entertaining, it’s just information.”


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Helena Bouchez is principal and owner of Helena B Communications (www.helenabcommunications.com). Reach her via helena@helenabcommunications.com or follow her on Twitter (@HelenaBouchez).

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  • by Marc Pickren Fri Mar 26, 2010 via blog

    I like this post mostly because of the end quote "If it’s not entertaining, it’s just information.” This is very true. Sometimes information is all that is needed but with most consumers they want a little bit more human, liveliness, comfortable interaction with the person trying to market to them. When a consumer feels more comfortable and less pressured they are more likely to buy the product than if they feel it's being pushed on them too hard with just information and statistics thrown at their face. Thanks Helana!

  • by Helena Bouchez Sat Mar 27, 2010 via blog

    Marc, Glad it resonated. Being entertaining and eliciting a reaction requires risk, and willingness to be different and even controversial. Meaning: interesting enough to warrant a response from the intended audience. So many are not willing to take any risk at all and wonder why nothing happens. To that end, one other thing Tim said at his presentation (parentheses=mine) was that "If someone doesn't laugh (read: respond) it doesn't mean they don't like you (your company), it means they don't like your joke (message). The key is to have a process in place that allows the messaging ("jokes") to be fined tuned or even reworked completely based on this feedback.

  • by Tim Davis Sun Mar 28, 2010 via blog

    Traditional preferences for selling have changed. Whereas it would be lovely if non-pressure
    tactics worked, but in this economy everyone is selling and few are buying.
    Skilled comedians and sales' professionals can commit to the joke or sale and not seem to be pressuring anyone. Selling is an art form and one gives a performance.

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