Plenty To Laugh About: How Humor Delivers Marketing Value

Plenty To Laugh About: How Humor Delivers Marketing Value

Humor has had a long history in advertising. 

Some of the best humorous ad examples were written by Stan Freberg, famous-comedian-turned-legendary-ad-man, more than 50 years ago. His work was weird. It was fun. And most importantly it was beloved. Somehow he was able to poke fun at advertising, pop culture, and the entire format of television, while still making people want to serve pizza rolls at their next party.

Freberg understood that advertising could be eagerly anticipated and a topic of discussion around the dinner table. His work, among others, led to the type of humorous campaigns that are now celebrated every year in the ultimate contest of funny ad champions: Super Bowl Sunday.

But outside of the Super Bowl, is the value of humor in advertising still as relevant today? Without a doubt. Artificial intelligence optimization for messaging and buying is doing the work of reducing media waste in our industry, but even if you deliver the perfectly messaged ad to the perfect target through the perfect Facebook midroll placement, it doesn’t mean someone will pay attention. And if your ad feels more like an interruption than a gift, it runs the risk of being ignored.

As consumption habits have become more fragmented and viewers have become ever more distracted, every opportunity to reach a customer becomes more precious—and humor delivers plenty of value just by getting the viewer’s attention. How so?

Humor Gets Shared

Aside from political commentary and puppies, humor dominates what is shared on social media. Comedy has the power to greatly extend an ad’s exposure. Take Geico. The company has been leveraging funny long before social media, but is now making the most of it. For example, a recent video featuring ice station inhabitants trapped with a karaoke machine has nearly 26 million views on YouTube. To put a cash value on that, that’s more than the number of eyeballs you would get by purchasing 30 seconds on Sunday Night Football. Over the course of a year, Geico generates millions of dollars in additional media exposure through sharing, which helps maintain its top-of-mind status in the insurance industry. 

Humor Gets Watched

According to a recent study, 52% of Gen Z are more likely to watch a video all the way through if it makes them laugh. However, this also means you must be thinking about entertainment first and selling second. This up-and-coming cohort has grown up with traditional advertising tropes and can quickly shut down if they feel something is trying “too hard” to sell.

As for all the people saying Gen Z doesn’t watch TV anymore, that’s not entirely true. They’re just watching far less than previous generations, in favor of viewing on their smartphones (to the tune of 3.4 hours of video per day). And according to a survey by Animoto, do you know what type of video content consumers are most probable to like and share? You guessed it: funny ones.

Humor Gets Respect

In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that being humorous routinely led to higher values of perceived confidence and competence, resulting in greater status. Their methodology used test groups who were exposed to straightforward testimonials as well as humorous ones. Overall, humor netted significantly better outcomes.

This is not to say that humor is the right tactic at all times. You have to know your audience. While humor provides the upside of shareability, there’s also the potential for polarization. In the same psychological study, a joke that missed its mark led to scores equal to or lower than the straight testimonial.

Using humor should also depend on the promise your brand delivers. If the goal is to make the customer feel more elegant, obviously a rainbow-pooping unicorn is not the answer. If you are trying to inspire empathy and understanding, a stunt that creatively uses X-rays to demonstrate how love should have no race, gender, or religion can create the right type of impact.

Much has changed since Freberg’s time, but the value of humor has remained constant. It’s still important to make sure your point is clear and a joy to hear. If you do that, people will reward you with their attention, their business, and a social share.

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