Funny Or Die: Using Humor To Connect

Most marketers are eager to engage teens and win them over for years to come. Many, however, are baffled when it comes to using humor to connect with this coveted audience of tech-savvy, multiscreen-using consumers.

How to make sure teens are laughing with marketers and not at them? Here are five rules of the road: 

Rule #1: Ditch niche humor.

When a marketer tries to target humor to certain groups of young people, it is likely to miss the mark. When it comes to who’s funny, what’s funny, and where teens go for funny, all teens are pretty much the same. 

Surprising? Youth-focused research firms and some creative agencies tell clients that groups of teens have vastly different sensibilities. While perhaps once true, the Internet, the great equalizer, makes teens more alike than not. Sure, living on a coast has several advantages in the “cool” department but, culturally, kids in Chillicothe, Ohio, have equal access to chuckle-worthy news and videos on BuzzFeed and Crack!vid and watch them just like big-city teens do.



In fact, having conducted many humor-exploratory research studies for some beloved brands, we know there are few differences by gender in terms of what makes young people laugh. So marketers shouldn’t junior-size or pink-think when it comes to humor in advertising.

Rule #2: Lurk before leaping. 

Marketers must be familiar with their target’s go-to sources for humor. That means checking out their favorite YouTube celebs. Among them: Jenna Marbles, Tyler Oakley, Kingsely, Travie Williams or Andrew Hales. These people have almost 25 million subscribers collectively. Beware: many of these comedic commentaries are not suitable for work (NSFW).

Interestingly, teens don’t notice if humorous content is branding or not. Funny is funny, no matter who or what is in the hashtag. And when it comes to how they consume humorous content it’s often based on their free time. When they’re at home and have half an hour to kill, it’s common for them to spend time clicking around YouTube, CollegeHumor, Tumblr and streaming comedy on Netflix or Hulu. For on-the-go funny, apps iFunny, theCHIVE, Vine, GifBin, and 9GAG are popular.

Rule #3: If it can’t be shared, it won’t be remembered. 

Sharing branded content is a form of self-expression and identification. When teens post content, they are sharing insights about themselves and their values. Most are fans of what we call “up-cycled humor,” or taking existing assets and adding and unexpected headline, caption or comedic voice to give it new meaning.

Humorous TV ads and videos are still king (no reading required!), but teens also love and find all’s fair in social battles between well-known brands. Not long ago Oreo asked its followers on Twitter if they had ever snuck in their own cookies into a movie theater. AMC Theaters’ response? “NOT COOL, COOKIE.” 

Based on the conversations we’ve had, the formula for branded content to really light up social channels seems to be: Topical + Timely + Tension = #Trending. 

Rule #4: Mean humor doesn’t fly. 

To casual observers, teens may seem all-knowing and world weary, but they optimists who like inclusiveness. The New York Times recently called this group, raised hearing about the damaging effects of bullying, “Generation Nice.” 

Better: young folks easily recognize and appreciate when a brand successfully hits on a universal insight that articulates a problem and then demonstrates how the brand is the best solution. “It’s funny because it’s TRUE!”

Humor is a great approach for increasing awareness among and making a brand more likable to teens. But, as savvy marketers know, the joke’s on them when comedic content doesn’t resonate or persuade younger consumers to action.

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