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Unprofessional or genius? The dangers of humorous marketing

In today’s increasingly interconnected world, consumers now have more access to information and differing opinions in order make purchases. This has meant a change in marketing strategies that has led to companies having to turn to real time information in order to interact with customers. Social media is one of the vital tools for more regular marketing posts that are more likely to be seen by customers.

Twitter has taken off as a very popular platform for companies to announce news and also for customers to give their opinions on products. There have been instances now recently of companies taking to twitter to defend or interact with customers who have negatively tweeted about their company, however there is a fine line between humorous marketing interactions and plain old insults.

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Twitter allows brands to be more amiable and give them a personality that lets consumers feel more involved. However, there can be times where brands may be too relaxed, for instance in 2012 involving UK mobile network 02 and supermarket Tesco.

While the comments back and forth were quite lighthearted, there were comments such as ‘Pfft, please – we’re the Bantonio Banteras of twitter and ting. Innit blud!’ from 02 and ‘Oh blud! Don’t be up in my face! You know we’re the Daddy around here!’ from Tesco. Whilst understandably it can all be backed up as casual banter, to many it could look unprofessional and a bit juvenile. That to me as a consumer wouldn’t entirely fill me with confidence about if having service problems with those companies due to the lack of seriousness.

However the idea behind it I think is a step forward for companies; using humour and personal interaction can definitely leave a good impression for customers. Another supermarket, Sainsbury’s responded to a tweet which said my chicken ‘tastes like it was beaten to death by Hulk Hogan’ to which the Sainsbury’s PR twitter page promptly replied with “Really sorry it wasn’t up to scratch. We will replace Mr. Hogan with Ultimate Warrior on our production line immediately.”

This was backed up by a tweet from Sainsbury’s main twitter handle giving contact information for any further issues. This to me is spot on; it combines light, non-controversial humour with a more serious option for communication if needed.

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Monitoring social media sites and other such platforms online I believe are essential in the future of marketing and market research. Trying to gauge customer satisfaction has become a lot harder but if companies are able to monitor forums and other opinion based platforms then they can get real time knowledge of customer attitudes.

Interacting with customers who may have problems with a product or even those commenting to praise, can give the customer a sense of being personally looked after or apologised to by a brand. This I believe could increase customer loyalty; however making sure the social media can combine humour with genuine useful feedback is key. Humour within advertising and marketing is a tricky thing to get right, what could be deemed as funny to one person can be offensive to another. So is it worth continuing and toeing the line, or sticking to less hazardous strategies? That could be an important question in the future of creative marketing.


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  1. @tmetrokin

    Great perspective, thank you. If you work with a lot of B2B brands as I do, you may feel as if you’re banging your head against the wall when trying to infuse some humanity into the brand communications beyond the annual holiday announcements. As corporate brands warm up to engaging in conversations and the sharing paradigm, this will become a more common issue. I’ve found it helpful to be very specific about when and how the brand expresses its personality and dare I say it, sense of humor. List the channels you use, such as Twitter, and define the appropriate tone for that channel. Use examples, and whenever possible, a range of scenarios to clarify when/if it’s appropriate to utilize humor and what kind. Like snowflakes, there are countless different kinds of humor one can employ—witty, cheeky, jovial, etc.—so the perceptions around “humor” can cause a great deal of anxiety with company leaders. If you get push back, ask for a test period and share results. Experience shows that engagement is likely to increase with content that has a purpose AND some personality.

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