Any content that prompts some kind of emotion is valuable, but if you can make people laugh you've got a really good chance of being liked as a brand.  

Being funny is a fine art, however, and in the world of marketing the thin line between comedy genius and cringe-inducement can be a dangerous one to tread. 

KFC’s recent re-enactment of pro surfer Mike Fanning’s shark attack prompted so much backlash from his family that the brand was forced to take it down. 

Perhaps the Manning family is simply devoid of fun, but there is every chance that KFC did indeed overstep the mark this time. 

I’ll leave that up to you to decide, but in the meantime I thought it would be useful to look at some brands that have definitely got the balance right when it comes to using humour in marketing. 

Poo-Pourri

This is the Holy Grail against which all humorous video content should be benchmarked. 

Not that it’s necessarily the funniest, but with more than 34m views for a new and previously unknown brand, it is a ridiculously successful piece of content. 

It succeeded because Poo-Pourri understands exactly who its target audience is and where humour fits in with its brand.

Okay, perhaps it had a bit of an open goal on the humour side considering what its product is for, but still...

Old Spice

‘The man your man could smell like’ is slogan-writing gold, and Old Spice has rekindled its appeal to men under 85 by creating a memorable comedy character in the form of the world's most perfectly charming man.

The Old Spice guy appears across all of the brand’s channels, including some fine efforts using Instagram video

Who wouldn’t be convinced to buy a brand of aftershave after watching two men clubbing each other to death with bottles of it held in giant hands on the back of a horse and a motorbike?

Old Spice instagram

Paddy Power

If Poo-Pourri sets the benchmark for funny video content, Paddy Power takes the title on Twitter. 

And its antics make headlines, like the time it got a text from a bloke who thought he was messaging a girl he’d met on a night out. 

Paddy Power played along and pranked the poor fellow, resulting in masses of media coverage.

Here's the whole conversation:

Paddy power text prank on twitter

Paddy Power also has this banner ad on its site. 

Paddy power banner add

Again, it gets away with this stuff because it understands its target audience and knows what kind of humour they find acceptable. I’d love to see a political party try the same ad.

Dollar Shave Club

Thanks to being a bootstrapped startup with limited money for hiring Old-Spice-guy-equivalents, Dollar Shave Club’s very own CEO stepped in to be the funny man and declare on YouTube that its blades are ‘f***ing great’. 

This is always a risky move because – and not that I’m stereotyping here – most CEOs probably aren’t as funny as a professional comedy actor. 

Thankfully, almost 21m people thought this guy was. 

Charmin

Another example from Twitter, Charmin’s #tweetfromtheseat hashtag is kind of disgusting but seems to be fairly popular with toilet paper fans online. 

Charmin also likes to do a bit of hashtag hijacking on national coffee day...

And it isn’t afraid to jump on trending news stories and make a toilet paper-related joke either..

What makes these brands successfully funny?

Humour is subjective. Some of the above examples I wouldn’t exactly call comedy gold, but I included them because they received a profoundly positive response from their intended audience. 

On that basis, here are the things I think are key to being funny in marketing:

  • Truly understand your target audience and what would be funny to them. 
  • Be tasteful. Again, your audience will dictate what qualifies as ‘tasteful’.
  • Keep your overall image in mind. Don’t just be funny for the sake of it if it doesn’t make sense within the context of your brand.
  • On that note: be consistent. If you’re going to be a ‘funny’ brand then that tone needs to be present across all channels. 
  • If you do something that people find funny, do it again. But keep it fresh, or you’ll be like that annoying friend who always tells the same jokes and everyone has to keep fake laughing so as not to hurt his feelings.
  • Bear in mind that trying to be funny and failing is always worse than not trying to be funny at all.

On that last note, I can feel another post coming on: ’10 times brands tried to be funny and weren’t.' If you can think of any examples let me know. 

Jack Simpson

Published 28 October, 2015 by Jack Simpson

Jack Simpson is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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