Keep ‘em in Stitches

How to use humor to hook people on your brand.


We could all use a laugh now and then. But not everyone’s humor is the same. How can you utilize humor in your brand’s copywriting and design aesthetic in a way that will connect with your consumer and not puzzle them or drive them away? Bruce Duckworth, co-founder, Turner Duckworth, feels that humor is vital to advertising and marketing. He explains, “Wit is absolutely key to what we do. Wit provides depth and soul. It gives evidence of humanity.”

Want to try to bring a laugh or two to your consumer? Here’s what you should consider first.

“Take my wife. Please.”

It starts with knowing and connecting with your audience. Smart consumers like to think that they won’t be swayed to make a brand purchase simply because an ad or some packaging made them chuckle. That being said, people are drawn to brands that don’t take themselves too seriously and that display a certain level of humor in their design, packaging or marketing. After all, humans are by nature social and tribal, so our attraction to brands that we identify as witty taps into that.

As the king of one-liners, Henny Youngman would hit the stage for 15 to 20 minutes at most, firing off joke after joke in rapid succession. He was laser focused on simple situations that offered immediate gratification with a speedy punchline. He knew what his audiences wanted and expected, and he delivered the goods. Make sure that your advertising or marketing efforts do the same for your brand. 

“And what’s the deal with … ”

It can be easy to get so focused on the joke that you forget what you were trying to say. If you want to incorporate humor, you have to stay on message. While you may grab someone’s attention with a zany image or funny line, does it help them remember your brand or reinforce your business’s expertise in their minds? If not, you’ve let the punch line get away from you.

Think of it like the comedy of Jerry Seinfeld, who has been called the master of observational comedy. With long, meandering monologues about random, everyday topics, he rarely makes a true point or delivers a punch line. If your brand’s attempt at humor follows this model, you may get laughs, but you won’t stay top of mind.

“I’m a wild and crazy guy.”

It’s also possible for brands to over do it when they try to incorporate humor in their ads or branding. Dial it down, and resist the urge to go over the top, especially if your efforts are copy-centric. Some people love a good pun, while others cringe at the thought. Your best bet is to be selective in your use of clever word play of that vein to ensure you reach the broadest possible audience with your message.

In this regard, consider Steve Martin’s turn as one half of the Festrunk Brothers, aka Two Wild and Crazy Guys, as a cautionary tale. The famed Saturday Night Live sketches Martin did with Dan Aykroyd featured the obnoxious Czech brothers trying to attract women and failing, due to their annoying behavior. The vast majority of people will be turned off by marketing humor that is over the top.

“To the moon, Alice.”

Make someone laugh with your ad copy, and they will temporary forget that you are trying to get them to buy something. That’s why it is important to soften the hard sell, especially if you want to incorporate humor in your advertising. In fact, according to a study from Rimbaud University in the Netherlands, Those Who Laugh Are Defenseless: How Humor Breaks Resistance to Influence, “Humor prevented the formation of these negative brand associations … Additionally, the positive affect evoked by humor created new positive brand associations.”

There was never anything subtle about Jackie Gleason’s iconic Ralph Kramden character. He was known for his short temper and crazy schemes. Ralph’s threats were all hollow, however, which is certainly not the reputation you want to create with your ads. Keep the humor and the content focused on the goal of enticing your customer, not beating them over the head.