Using humour in marketing can help you stand out from your competition. It can connect you with your audience and take your relationship with them up a notch. You can go viral on social media. You can be the hero who made everyone laugh.

Or it can fall flat. At best you’ll get strange looks from your clients. At worst you can upset and offend people.

There is undoubtedly a place for humour in marketing but tread carefully!

When Humour in Marketing Goes Wrong …

When humour in marketing goes wrong, it tends to go very wrong. Like when you crack a joke that sounded so good inside your head and the room just goes silent. Yes, that feeling!

Do you remember Ryanair’s attempt at humour earlier this year? A British Airways flight had made the unfortunate error of taking its passengers to Edinburgh instead of Düsseldorf. Ryanair saw the chance to get a quick laugh at BA’s expense by tweeting them a photograph of a ‘Geography for Dummies’ book.

Unfortunately for Ryanair, Twitter users came to BA’s defence, suggesting that Ryanair should look at ‘Customer Service for Dummies’ and ‘Employment Law for Dummies’ – digs at Ryanair’s poor reputation. Everyone got a laugh but at Ryanair’s expense in the end!

Dr Pepper also got it wrong back in 2011 with their “not for women” campaign. What they probably intended as an entertaining tongue in cheek campaign ended up alienating a large part of their audience with its sexist stereotyping. There was even a petition set up to get rid of the commercials!

And When It Goes Well

Happily, there are plenty of more examples where humour in marketing has been a great success.

Early last year KFC had a PR nightmare when problems with their suppliers meant many of their UK branches were without chicken – a fundamental part of their menu! After loads of negative publicity, a very clever ad campaign saved them from the brink. They published full-page apologies in the major press using a play on their usual branding with the KFC replaced by FCK.

Following Apple’s announcement of Apple Card, Revolut also went a bit tongue-in-cheek…

And what about the Old Spice ads featuring American actor and former American football player Terry Crews? Including such gems as “The man your man could smell like” these took the typical macho man aftershave ad format and turned it on its head proving that humour in digital marketing can really pay off when you get it right.

As a final example of successful humour in marketing, we’ll leave you with the hashtag for Amazon’s hit car show The Grand Tour, #amazonshitcarshow. Read that one as you will!

Humour in Marketing: Pros and Cons

On the plus side injecting a bit of humour into your marketing can:

  • Help you to stand out from the crowd
  • Inject new life into your branding and make people sit up and take notice if they have previously got used to a more serious approach
  • Make your marketing more shareable
  • Engage your audience and make your brand feel more approachable

But make sure you get it right because it can also:

  • Offend and alienate people if they feel like they are the brunt of your joke
  • Communicate the unintended message that your brand doesn’t take their business seriously
  • And even get you in trouble with the authorities if your messaging is deemed offensive

The Case for Using Humour in Digital Marketing

The rise of digital marketing has arguably led to a more personal approach to marketing and the opportunity to build closer relationships between brands and their audiences.

Using humour in digital marketing is an ideal tool for this less formal medium with the potential to align your brand more closely with your ideal audience and strengthen your rapport with them. It can also provide you with something memorable in the sea of information we all deal with online.

If you make people laugh and you get it right, they will share your posts. As long as it aligns with their values, people are looking for entertaining things that they can share with their friends.

That’s why most of our shortlisted OMB (One Minute Brief) entries made the cut. Because funny works.

But it isn’t always easy! If you’re going to use humour in your digital marketing, make sure you don’t end up being another example of what happens when it all goes wrong. And if you need help getting it right get in touch.