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How to Write Funny: Four Lessons in Marketing Humor From the Greatest Email Ever

by Ann Handley  |  
March 6, 2018

Not that long ago, the greatest marketing email ever written popped into my inbox from BARK, a New York-based company. Its BarkBox and BarkShop brands sell dog toys and treats to the dog-obsessed.

The subject line read, "Chew your vitamins, pup."

And the copy read, in part, "We all have needs. That's why we have just the right supplement treats."

None of that was particularly funny. But the funny part came in the "customer profiles" the email highlighted. Each describes a creature matched with hilariously human qualities, and BarkBox then matches those profile qualities with a dietary supplement it sells.

There's neurotic Maris, who seriously needs to chill. Can you feel the alarm in those anxious little button eyes?

BarkBox says she might benefit from treats that contain 9mg of a supplement called Colostrum Calming Complex.

Meet Paula: Organized, efficient, more prepared than a Boy Scout.

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Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules. Ann co-founded, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.

Twitter: @MarketingProfs and @AnnHandley.

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  • by Peter Altschuler Tue Mar 6, 2018 via web

    This is not funny. Not even a little. Not even to dog people. It's descriptions of people illustrated with dogs in drag. Dogs that can't escape from a six-year-old who has a step stool in mom's closet and knows how to use it.

    Dogs' views of their owners might have potential -- like Cleo on "The People's Choice" ( -- but this doesn't meet the sniff test that any dog would stop for.

    Carl, 72. Hates vets and will not get in the car. Ever. Again. Exercises as much as his owner, which would be never. Bites turtles (they're all he can catch).

  • by Ann Handley Tue Mar 6, 2018 via web

    Ah Peter... always nice to hear from you.

    I'm a dog person. And it's funny to me. So.

  • by Peter Altschuler Tue Mar 6, 2018 via web

    So... here's the thing, Ann. Funny can vary by country (which explains why the French like Jerry Lewis), but if something is only funny to dog people or cat people or Shriners, well... it's not following the rules. And one of those rules is that humor has to lead you in a comfortable direction and then take you somewhere unexpected. Ellen DeGeneres has mastered this.

    I've found myself on the loop-end of a leash multiple times, so I'm no stranger to the need for a steady supply of plastic bags because P&G doesn't make Pampers for Pooches or Gluvs (the quicker pooper upper). If you're going to highlight "humor from the greatest email ever," it should probably be something that isn't the greatest email for certain dog people ever.

    I'm just sayin'.

  • by Becky Tue Mar 6, 2018 via web

    Oh, my goodness, Ann, this is an hilarious take on what I agree must have been the funniest email, ever!

    And what great information you so humorously packed in there!

    I assume you guessed I am a dog person, too. haha


  • by Beth G Tue Mar 6, 2018 via web

    Loved this article! Not only informative, but funny in its own right. Thanks, Ann.

  • by Ann Handley Tue Mar 6, 2018 via web

    Becky: I can tell you're a dog person. :D

    Beth: Thank YOU!

  • by Nanc Tue Mar 6, 2018 via web

    Two thumbs up for canine-based marketing humor, info, and wisdom on behalf of my dog who has no thumbs, but did lick my tablet screen when I showed it to her which obviously means she liked it--or that I splashed soup on my tablet at lunch.

  • by Ann Handley Tue Mar 6, 2018 via web

    Nanc: I'm choosing to believe it was the wit and wisdom of the BarkShop campaign. And not the soup. :D

    Thanks for swinging by!

  • by Mark Armstrong Fri Mar 16, 2018 via web

    Brilliant gagwriting, and a great example of humor being marketing's best friend. Loved your very perceptive analysis which says that humor is all about shared humanity, and that's why it pulls people in. Tim Washer has said that "Comedy is the most powerful way to humanize a brand because it demonstrates empathy," and that "if you can make someone laugh, that is the most intimate connection you can make." I couldn't agree more. And I really liked "Minivan is funnier than car"-- so true: humor succeeds or falls flat depending on word choices and other specific details. Great post, thanks.

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