How Brands Can Use Humor To Connect

 I love to surround myself with friends who have a great sense of humor. The only downside to hanging out with people that make me laugh is when they make me laugh too hard. So now I just carry extra underwear when I'm going to see them.

The upside is that I’m constantly inspired by these friends -- and honestly, who wants to spend time with people who are boring or lack personality?

The same goes for advertising. There’s a ton of information on how to use humor in advertising and why and how it works, but brands rarely get it right. For one thing, it takes a deep understanding of audiences and some real insight to use humor well. When humor works the way it should, it’s typically magnifying a truth about the product, or magnifying a pain point. And it’s funny as hell.

But comedy can quickly turn to tragedy. Humor that misses the mark is cringeworthy and can damage your brand. Not understanding the audience, bad timing, and generally insulting the audience’s intelligence are all ways you can do a big nose-dive.



My advice: If funny isn't your thing, hire someone with a comedic track record as opposed to doing it yourself.

The Super Bowl this year was a perfect example of how cringeworthy ads can be when they’re not funny. I kept waiting for an ad to make me laugh, but most missed the mark and were a waste of money, time, and talent. Take T-Mobile’s ad with Bradley Cooper, for example. T-Mobile thought watching Bradley and his mother laugh was enough to make us laugh, but it fell almost as flat as Bradley’s hairdo. And as much as I hate to admit it, I’m a little less of a fan of him now.

If you can use common sense and not offend your audience, there are plenty of reasons to use humor in your messaging. Humor is linked to higher memory recall, making your message easier for your target audience to remember. Humor elicits emotional appeal, which in turn helps to build trust and have your brand be seen as more relatable.

It’s estimated that Americans are exposed to thousands of ads each day. At some point, we start screening what to engage with, and ignore what doesn’t personally interest us. But we’re still likely to pay attention to brands we feel “get” us.

As an advertiser, your focus should be on cutting through the clutter. Using humor to build a strategically provocative, yet tasteful, voice is one of the best ways to do just that. Otherwise, you’re just spending your money to put out another ad that’s most likely going to be ignored. Advertising that is ignored doesn’t sell your product or service, and can leave audiences being less of a fan -- and that’s not funny at all. 

2 comments about "How Brands Can Use Humor To Connect".
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  1. James Smith from J. R. Smith Group, March 29, 2023 at 8:11 p.m.

    Thank you Hilary for standing up for humor. There are numerous studies attesting to the value of humor and how much, if well executed, consumers like funny ads. But there seems to be a shortage of humor at the C-suite level.  Perhaps they take themselves far too seriously.

  2. Hilary Wolfe from HUb San Francisco, March 30, 2023 at 1:59 p.m.

    Completely agree! And if you consider how many brands people are exposed to on a daily basis—roughly between 4000-10k it's amazing that companies like to play it safe. 

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