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Six Types of Humor to Lighten Up Your Marketing and Start Conversations

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Humor is human! Despite that, there haven't been many great examples of humor in B2B. I believe that is changing.

Moreover, according to a global Nielsen Survey of Trust in Advertising conducted in September 2013 of 58 countries, 47% of respondents said that humor resonates more than any content approach.

Laughter lowers the intellectual shield your busy prospects have up all day just to survive the messaging onslaught. Humor opens up a space for connecting because it disrupts the expected pattern.

Here are six types of humor that grab attention and generate conversation.

1. The Truth

The truth is funny and human. Talking about a truth (for example, a real problem) your audience recognizes shows that you get them and demonstrates empathy.

For example, relationships are funny. In 2012, I wrote about a supply-chain management software company called Kinaxis. It has a very funny video that parodies the "awkward" relationship between a vendor and customer by comparing it to a precarious dating one. And it is. The customer can dump a company at any time.

2. Extreme Exaggeration

Scofield Edit has a great video from 2009 parodying the client-vendor relationship much. I first wrote about this video back in 2009 when it was fresh. It still works! The company took a universal issue its customers can relate to—not being valued by some customers who want more for less—and took it to a humorous extreme. What if you went to your hair stylist and asked for a free haircut to "test drive?"

3. Incongruity and Contrast

Anthropomorphize your product. Now imagine a portable GPS, for example, with an identity crisis in the wake of competitive mobile apps! What if it was in a support group with dissimilar, equally obsolete products? What would it say?

Another great demonstration of comical contrasts is the Sprint commercial featuring actors Malcolm McDowell and James Earl Jones reading texts written by teens. Here are two award-winning actors doing dramatic readings of texts sent by teenage girls with a penchant for, well, teen-isms: "OMG. Adorbs…Totally Hottie McHotterson…"

Comedy is heightened by extreme contrasts.

4. Fun Eye Candy

Marketo did this successfully with The Big Marketing Activity Coloring Book. It featured 30 pages of pure, unadulterated marketing activity fun! And Kapost, a content marketing platform, has created a several great comic books (email registration required). They're great ways to generate conversation.

5. Real Stories

Real stories told in a fun way by real people get noticed. Leave the jargon-monoxide poisoning and "feature-speak" at home, however.

In this video series from December 2013 called Fast Innovation and The Slow Waiter, Cisco's Tim Washer (and the Cisco Voice of the Customer team) has fun conversations with real CIOs, including those from Safeway, Western Union, and Grupo Modelo.

Tim plays the slow and funny waiter who asks questions of the CIO over dinner about what they do and how Cisco technology helps them. By creating a fun, casual atmosphere for a real conversation, Tim and company allow the CIOs to shine.

The fun will come. Concentrate on having a human conversation that allows your customer to talk about how they make their clients look good. By doing so, you make your clients look good. Those conversations are something every B2B company can do.

6. Parody and Surprise

Recently, I had a credit union client needing to attract Millennials. The challenge: Many Millennials don't know about credit unions or have negative opinions of them.

To change perceptions, we created a campaign "When Millennials Rule the World!" We put twenty-somethings in bank VP roles and let them improvise how they would run a bank. We also asked Millennials to submit ideas online. The results were hysterical. This audience loves humor and the campaign successfully up-ended perceptions about this credit union being low-tech, boring, and old-school.

Parody surprises; it is a powerful weapon precisely because it can change expectations.

Start Small and Somewhere

"Safe" is the new risky. B2B marketing needs a human touch if it is to stand out. There is risk in any campaign. Rather than beginning with a large campaign, start with smaller content for internal consumption, vet it, and then re-purpose externally. In an age of increasing amounts and complexity of information, your audience is hungry for real connection. Show them that you are a different kind of company.

Be playful and start with fun. After all, you can't spell funny without it.

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Kathy Klotz-Guest, founder of Keeping It Human, helps companies turn marketing-speak into compelling human stories. A comic improviser and marketer, she also runs a marketing podcast. Reach her via

LinkedIn: Kathy Klotz-Guest

Twitter: @kathyklotzguest

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  • by Jenna Wed May 14, 2014 via web

    These are great to bring messaging to light through funny content. I like Adobe's videos as well.

  • by Kerry O'Shea Gorgone Wed May 14, 2014 via web

    Fantastic post, Kathy! Have you seen this one, from Cisco? It's one of my favorites!

  • by Chris Finnie Wed May 14, 2014 via web

    What most impresses me is that anybody actually got a B2B client to use humor. I have enough trouble just trying to get them to use natural language instead of their usual stiff corporate speak.

    Plus, on the few occasions when I've tried humor, it has not always gone well. Case in point. I used to do recruitment advertising. A client insisted they needed a quarter-page ad over a holiday weekend. I know I'm dating myself. But, yes, it was that long ago. And I'm talking a newspaper ad. Anyway, we tried to talk them out of the holiday placement. But they wouldn't budge. And they needed copy right away. So this wiseass young copywriter decided to really make it pop. They were adding hardware engineers, who were almost exclusively men in those days. And the company made 5-1/4" removable hard drives. So, after writing up the job descriptions and the stuff about what a wonderful place this was to work, I had 5 minutes to do the headline. The big pitch was that they were growing, so I wrote, "How do you make 5-14" bigger?" The account manager (a man) thought I'd lost my mind. But he sent it anyway because newspaper deadlines are unforgiving. The HR manger on the client side (a woman) almost had a meltdown. But she showed it to the engineers, and they thought it was funny. So she ran it. Another client whose ad ran on the same page called to complain. He said, "Next to that one, even I didn't notice my ad." And the owner's wife at the client company was highly offended. So, despite the fact that they placed 4 out of the 5 positions they advertised from that ad, they fired the agency.

    The lesson I took from all of this is that humor can work. But not everybody shares my sense of humor.

  • by Kathy Klotz-Guest Wed May 21, 2014 via web

    Hi Jenna,
    I love the Adobe vids, too. The BS buzzer one is my fave! Great example.

  • by Kathy Klotz-Guest Wed May 21, 2014 via web

    Hi Kerry,
    Yes, I have seen that one. A great vid. I've written about that one before. I look forward to more stuff from Tim and the group over there!

  • by Kathy Klotz-Guest Wed May 21, 2014 via web

    Hi Chris,

    That is a great story. Humor is a subjective thing in many ways. It's great that the organization took a chance because the target audience - the engineers - thought the ad was funny. That is a really important point - it's what your ideal audience thinks that matters. Humor by committee just doesn't work- unless it's a small committee. Everyone has a different sensibility and concerns will always flow to the greatest objection. HR in many companies is by its nature mostly conservative. Conservative folks will look for reasons not to do something most of the time. As I mentioned in the article, I do really think 'safe is the new risky.' If you play it so safe, you create unremarkable content. No one will have a meltdown; no one will watch it and share it, either!

    Love that story and I'm not surprised the headline did well. It's funny! The ad agency's job is to push the content envelope to get content noticed.

  • by Sarah Burke Thu Jul 10, 2014 via web

    I really enjoyed this! These videos are great examples of using humor to make your marketing strategy more accessible! I wrote about something similar recently, and came across some hilarious videos like the Internet Tendency's satirical promo video - hilarious! But most importantly, I won't forget it or the company who made it! You can check out the article I wrote on humor and marketing here:

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