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Why Humor Belongs in Marketing (No Kidding!)

by Matthew Grant  |  
October 14, 2011

Tim Washer—who is teaching a class in our MarketingProfs University course, Video Marketing Made Simple—is a funny guy. His videos, such as this one in support of Cisco's Videoscape technology or this one promoting Cisco's ASR 9000 as the perfect Valentine's gift, have attracted thousands of views and demonstrated that one can even find humor in spec sheets for backend hardware.

The friendly folks at PJA Advertising + Marketing interviewed Tim in two recent episodes of This Week in Digital Media, during which he and the show's host, Mike O'Toole (who has made a funny video or two of his own), discussed how to "mine the absurdity" in order to come up with creative concepts, why "the truth is what's funny," and, of course, how to approach the question of humor's ROI.

On this last note, Tim made two interesting points. First, he encouraged people to keep expectations low by keeping the investment low and, rather than shooting for the moon in terms of viewership, looking for small wins like getting 4 or 5 influencers to mention your video in a blog post or a tweet.

Secondly, Tim reminds us that, no matter how many viewers we get, we don't actually know who is viewing our work and, more importantly, we don't know exactly how the experience affected them. For this reason, he recommends approaching your video with the goal of "entertaining people and generating a little good will."

In other words, video, humorous or otherwise, can help you connect emotionally with your audience.

But is this emotional connection what most companies are really after?

In the MarketingProfs "How 2" segment that we contributed to Part II of the Washer series, I refer to an ANA survey which pointed out that, while most companies say they want to connect emotionally, most of their messaging sticks to a rational/functional script that leaves emotion entirely out of the picture.

The lesson here: If you really want to emotionally connect with your audience, you really have to want to emotionally connect with your audience!

The other thing I emphasize is that you need to have staff who are truly focused on creating and maintaining these types of connections with your customers. Danny Meyer, creator of the acclaimed Union Square Café and Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan, understands the importance of people-driven experience marketing and that's why he hires people who "derive pleasure from giving pleasure, those who watch, listen, and proactively respond to what customers are saying during the entire process, ensuring a consistent, topnotch eating experience."

Are those the kind of people you're hiring?

If you'd like to read more about building strong emotional connections with your customers, we recommend the following articles from our archives:

Note: This Week in Digital Media airs every Thursday. On some of those Thursdays, we add a "How 2" segment: two minutes of practical advice taking from the pages of MarketingProfs. The topics we have covered so far are "Social Media ROI" and "Getting the Most out of LinkedIn." Check out PJA Radio and watch for a new How 2 in the coming weeks!

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My name is Matthew T. Grant, PhD. I'm Managing Editor here at MarketingProfs. I divide my time between designing courses for MarketingProfs University and hosting/producing our podcast, Marketing Smarts. You can follow me on Twitter (@MatttGrant) or read my personal musings on my blog here.

If you'd like to get in touch with me about being a guest on Marketing Smarts or teaching as part of MarketingProfs University or, frankly, anything else at all, drop me a line.

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  • by Elaine Fogel Fri Oct 14, 2011 via blog

    Matthew, I've always had a strong affinity for using humor in marketing. Of course, it depends on the product, service or mission an organization markets, but, in my experience, it has worked well. Sometimes, it works even better when you least expect it.

    In the days before online videos, I worked with the late actor, Leslie Nielsen, on radio and TV spots promoting a nonprofit's fundraising campaign. With the mission focused on physical disabilities, everyone thought we were nuts to use humor. Disabilities aren't funny, they said. Even Leslie questioned our rationale. That's when I started to have doubts myself.

    But, when he arrived on the set, the actress who was in the spot with him, addressed his concerns. Peering up from her wheelchair, she said indignantly, "People with disabilities have a sense of humor, you know."

    So, we did a typical 'Leslie Nielsen" slapstick routine. And it was cute. And it got frequent PSA placement. And we received calls. Most people thought it was very creative, while some thought it was disrespectful. The fact created an emotional response. And as Martha says, "That's a good thing." :)

  • by Matthew T. Grant Fri Oct 14, 2011 via blog

    That's a great story, Elaine. I think you're right that humor doesn't always work (as the folks at Groupon found out after the Super Bowl - - ) but, as you also discovered, it's not always easy to figure out ahead of time what will and won't work.

    I think the uncertainty shouldn't stop people from trying, but it should remind them to be prepared if the joke falls flat (or worse!)

  • by Emma Fri Oct 14, 2011 via blog

    Humor definitely sets a brand ahead of the others. Of course, it can be tricky to find that gray area between what's appropriate and what isn't, and certainly some forms of humor doesn't always translate to everyone who might be reading your content. But a generally funny and less stuffy voice is certainly messaging that anyone who wants to carve out some uniqueness should strive for,

  • by Kathy Klotz-Guest Mon Oct 17, 2011 via blog

    So true!

    Business doesn't happen between companies. It's always been and always will be about people. And humor is such a critical part of connecting at that human level. Human-centered communications means making them actually feel something (other than disdain!) when they engage with you. The hard part in my experience is that "humor" makes people incredibly risk-averse, so I tell prospects and clients - don't concentrate on "funny." Focus on having fun - that is the first and most important step that can really make a difference. Lighten Up and you'll experience a huge positive shift in how people react. People aren't robots and the world doesn't need more bad, dry, jargon-filled marketing!

  • by Matthew Grant Mon Oct 17, 2011 via blog

    Kathy -

    First of all, I like switching the focus from "funny" to "fun," because that will actually help you get to the funny.

    Second of all, I like that you dropped in "(other than disdain!)." That was funny!

  • by Jon Anscher Wed Oct 26, 2011 via blog

    I have been reading a lot lately about what exactly a "Like" from Facebook or a "Tweet" from Twitter means. I like the idea of focusing on getting a few solid quality retweets. If people share something that made them laugh, it's much more likely you'll get people exploring your site more than if you just shoot for people just "sharing" as a sign of loyalty. In other words, have something worth sharing.

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