How to use humor in ads smartly and successfully

3 min read

Humor in ads — use it well, and it grabs attention, is memorable, and promotes sharing. Use it poorly, and your business’s product or service could become the object of much derision – or worse: your company could become the pariah of the web.

And that’s no laughing matter.

First, some context

Humor in ads: a man reading a funny script to a woman colleague
Image: Envato

Obviously, the objective of using humor in ads is to make your customers (or potential customers) laugh. Not at you, but with you. A forewarning: doing that can be more difficult than it sounds. Not that they’re likely to laugh at you, just that it can sometimes be hard to be funny.

It’s like asking someone to be funny. How can you just suddenly be funny on the spot? It takes some careful thinking and strategy. Care is required, because poorly-executed humor can be downright offensive.

Strategy is required, because the humor has to be styled to your target audience. Humor is one of those things that’s easy to point out, but hard to explain. That’s why there’s a TED Talk for that kind of thing – and yes: it’s worth watching.

We’ll wait.

Now that you’re back, let’s unravel humor and see just how it can help your business when used smartly and successfully.

What is humor?

Remember when we said it’s hard to explain? Good. Then you’ll forgive us if we botch this!

That was a bad attempt at self-deprecating humor. There are many types of humor, but it’s hard to point out exactly when something becomes funny. However, we can say it’s when two ideas are unexpectedly connected.

The simplest example would be a knock-knock joke. Knock knock. Who’s there? Robin. Robin who? Robbin’ you – now hand over the cash!

For some reason, it’s funny when the expectation of hearing a last name after ‘Robin’, is defied by the outlandish idea that you’re being robbed.

So, the first step in using humor is to defy expectations. Just like this Superbowl ad for Sodastream. It’s a real turn-around at the end.

How to use humor

Now that we know that humor is generally surprising people and defying expectations, you can start to come up with humorous ideas.

Humor in ads: image of a man watching a funny ad on television
Image: Envato

There’s no real formula for making something funny, it’s something that comes up naturally. Instead, you can focus on how you want your audience to feel. Superb scriptwriting matters.

A study shows that humor enhances attention, name retention, and mood. So it’s good to remember that whatever you’re joking about, you’re also making it more noticeable, memorable, and more likely to be viewed in a positive way.

It’s best to put your product or brand at the funniest moments, perhaps as a grand reveal, or something that goes through an entertaining series of events. That Sodastream video we linked above does both of that.

Be careful

It’s important now to make sure your audience isn’t offended by your humor. If you’re teasing a personality type or caricature of a person, there’s a fine line between acceptable teasing, and being offensive.

It’s probably best to avoid any sort of antagonizing in your humor, especially with the modern, socially-conscious audiences. So avoid cultural stereotypes and portraying people in derogatory ways!

Also, be careful with sarcasm. It can come across as arrogant and contemptuous.

When to use humor

Humor often doesn’t mix with seriousness. Like a mission statement of your business. It’s probably not best to joke about an important cause.

Otherwise, as long as your brand isn’t 100% a joke, humor can find a place in your content.

You’re. not restricted to using humor in ads. Consider using humor in your email marketing. People get tons and tons of emails every day. A touch of humor can go a long way to make an email stand out, and make it more memorable.

You can also use humor with chatbots. Customer service with a chatbot doesn’t usually have a good reputation. But a chatbot with a personality and a sense of humor can provide the humanity that is sought after in customer service.

Video marketing is also a good place for humor. These days, it can be a struggle to get an audience’s attention with video content. But humor can be the edge that pulls your content through the noise.

Successful humor

It’s helpful to remember that successful humor relies on catching the audience off-guard. Fulfilling that core of humor can make up for most of humor’s success.

Humor in ads: image of two young women laughing at funny videos on a smartphone
Image: Envato

Also, when one type of humor fails, it’s not game over. You can try another. It may take some time to figure out what kind of humor is successful with your audience. 

Finally, it may sound counterintuitive, but successful humor takes itself seriously. It’s more believable when the joke stays in character, or takes its funny reality very seriously.

There’s either humor in the irony, or humor in the outrageousness of the reality. Also do remember that we have a whole host of some of the world’s finest professional voice actors to voice your brilliantly funny script!

And, as a final word, that’s our serious lesson on humor! We hope it’s stirred the pot and got some ideas rolling. And we hope you get a hearty ha-ha from your audience because you not only use humor in ads, but use it well!

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