Humour Is Human: Make It Work

Humour is the currency of the human condition. Injecting a bit of funny into any conversation can lighten the mood, put others at ease, diffuse tension, and establish common ground. Expressing humour is essential for defining your personality. So it’s only natural that humour has been at the center of marketing since the first hand written poster.


In today’s landscape, social media acts as the defining venue for constant conversation between brands and their consumers, and humour has become an even more important and ubiquitous part of any brand’s content mix.

At the same time, as more brands become publishers, and competition for consumers’ attention grows more fierce, humour cuts through, and drives sharing. Brands’ desire to connect with conversations and top-of-mind topics in real-time

But bringing humour into the conversation can be a challenge for many brands, often steeped in years of narrowly focused command and control communications.

Understand Your Personality

To determine the role of humour in your social content mix, start with your brand’s personality, and dig deeper: What would your brand be like over dinner? On a date? Or chatting in a bar? What characteristics would make it stand out? What characteristics do you need to make sure you avoid? What sort of humour will work in that context? Can the brand be witty? Slapstick?

Bruce Daisley, Twitter’s EMEA MD, suggests the following model for brands thinking about their personality:


It’s a simple, but effective way of determining how much funny you can introduce without undermining your brand.

And don’t be afraid to adapt your personality. Charmin and Old Spice have both done so to great affect in recent years in order to establish their relevance with audiences who they were previously missing.

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Lego is a naturally fun brand, but it has put humour at the heart of its personality. Doing so has, over time, earned it the opportunity to play right at the edges of real-time and really tap into what’s happening online. For example…



Reflect on Your Ideas

Now turn your attention to the specific piece of content you’re considering. Is it pointless? Is it tasteless? Does it offend? Is it funny at the expense of some person or group? Does it make fun of your customers? Does it antagonize anyone? Then it’s probably not right for your brand.

Consider this post from Luton Airport, poking fun at a plane crash. Not exactly the kind of perspective anyone wants from an airport, especially if you’re already a nervous flyer. And made worse when you learn that a child died in the crash they’re using as their punchline.



And remember that all social media is global, especially for global brands. What might be funny or topical in one country may be deeply problematic in another. For example, this World Cup post from Pepsi’s team in Sweden poking fun at Portuguese star Ronaldo before an impending match probably made sense in Stockholm, but in Portugal, it attracted a backlash from more than 100,000 Pepsi consumers.



Don’t Be Lame

It’s crucial to remember that humour is subjective, and what’s funny to one person may be a clanger with someone else. So brands will have to accept that attempts at humour will occasionally fail. But there’s a not-so-fine line between making a good effort and just being lame.

Lame usually starts with trying too hard. And in a marketing context, trying too hard often means making the most of a tenuous or non-existent link between your product and the topic you’re aiming to comment about. For example…



We’ve all been on a date with someone who just wants to talk about themselves the whole time, right? The experience is dreadful. This sort of post is the marketing equivalent. Don’t force your consumer to climb out of a bathroom window to avoid your lame content. If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it.

Embrace the Essential

It’s become conventional wisdom that the Web’s most shared content almost always involves some aspect of humour or entertainment. And the opportunity for brands to contribute to the online conversation in real-time is significant. So deciding what role humour should play for your brand is essential.

First Appeared on Adweek Social Club

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