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Why making your audience laugh is risky (but worth it)

How would you describe your brand characteristics? Is your brand sincere and sweet? Witty with a lil bit o’ cheek? Or, are you the funny one in the feed? 

Humour can be a powerful marketing tool when used correctly. And plenty of brands are (and have been) using this tactic to their advantage by making it one of the brand characteristics they’re best known for. 

Whether your brand is silly, absurd or enjoys a good pun, humour can help break down walls with your audience, personalise your brand and build better customer connections. 

But, it’s not for the faint of heart. Being funny is a minefield (but the wins can be BIG). Allow me to explain:

The pros and cons of using humour as one of your brand characteristics 

Have you heard of the humour effect? It’s a cognitive bias humans have, which means we pay close attention to humorous things, and therefore, better remember the information we find funny. 

So, when it comes to using humour in your marketing efforts – should you? Let’s break down the pros and the cons. 

Pros 

  • Humorous marketing can be attention-grabbing and impactful (because it’s naturally entertaining and colourful) 
  • People love finding and sharing funny content with their friends 
  • Comedic brands are viewed as more relatable and trustworthy 
  • As mentioned above, our brains have a higher recall for funny things


Cons 

  • If you’re not strategic, you may alienate your audience with humour they don’t find relatable or amusing (or worse find offensive or insensitive)
  • If the timing for your posts is off, it could backfire on your brand
  • Jumping on a viral piece of content (like a meme) and not fully understanding it #cringe 
  • If humour isn’t part of (or relevant to) your brand identity then trying to be funny is only going to cause confusion and brand misalignment 


Examples of humour as a brand characteristic 

ANZ’s new “simpler” home loan offering

Starting in the middle of a deserted, mist-filled street, we first see a man in a white suit, wearing some kind of high-fashion bird mask. He encounters a stag, removes his mask and something similar to Zoolander’s “blue steel” ensues. 

We keep cutting to scene after scene of our leading man in situations you’d likely associate with a glamorous perfume commercial: one moment he’s floating mid-air, then he’s meditating, before finally meeting a beautiful woman at a ball (with some kind of bird of prey on his arm – because, why not?). 

The humour comes into play when the director (ANZ staffer, Pete) calls cut and we get a glimpse behind the scenes. Pete tries to explain to the very-serious and trope-obsessed leading man that it’s, “all a bit much, maybe we just say we’ve simplified our home loans…”

Pete goes back and forth with the actor (and thus the audience), spelling out exactly how the ANZ home loans have changed. It’s a clever tactic to communicate with the viewer, using humour to illustrate how over-the-top and intimidating home loan policies can be. 

And ANZ? They’re anything but that. At least, not anymore. They’re appealing to the everyman, who doesn’t need anything fancy, just something simple and sturdy. And what better way to communicate it than juxtaposing opulence (and making it seem absurd) with straightforward candour? 

Paris Hilton joins the Australia Zoo family in Uber Eats 

The Irwin family are Aussie icons – so poaching them for an Uber Eats marketing campaign would’ve been memorable enough. Cutting from shots of Bindi, Robert and Terri, all giving their signature smiles and showing off various animal enclosures, the camera then lands on Paris Hilton (outside her chihuahua enclosure). 

Paris plays a caricature of herself; leaning into the ditzy blonde who can’t do anything right (and definitely doesn’t have a clue about life down under). 

While the endorsement of Aussie Zoo royalty certainly adds to Uber Eat’s appeal, what the ad is really going for above all else is memorability. 

Which, the ad achieves, with the unlikely addition of Paris Hilton in her all-pink Barbie getup and the visual of a snake digesting one of her unfortunate furry companions. 

Tips for using humour in your small biz branding


So, what can we take away from these big ads? 

Let’s break down how you can effectively weave humour as a brand characteristic into your marketing efforts:

1. Stay true to your brand 


Don’t lose sight of your brand in the pursuit of being funny. Is the humour you’re using in line with your brand voice? Is it recognisably “you”? Would people be confused if they saw a meme or quip on your page that was edgier than your brand image portrays you to be? 

If it feels “off”, your audience could perceive your attempt as being inauthentic or like you’re trying too hard. Or, without thinking a post through, you might be inadvertently sidelining or offending your wider audience. 

2. Make it relevant to your audience


What you find funny or entertaining might not correlate with the kind of humour your audience favours. 

When you’re planning your marketing content, everything comes back to whether it’s actually relevant to your audience. Is it something they would engage with and find value/entertainment in? You can ask the same questions when you’re considering if the humour you’re infusing will land (or not). 

3. Keep it fresh (the same jokes get old)


When a meme or tweet goes viral, many brands like to jump on board. Sometimes the result is exactly what you want – you keep the laughter going. And other times, when a brand doesn’t have its finger on the social-media-pulse and they’re late to the party, it could be seen as “cringe” or “lame”. 

The same goes with your own content – if a joke lands well the first few times, know when it’s time to move on and create something new. Don’t be like Hollywood and keep flogging a dead horse. People like shiny new things to look at – jokes included. 

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