“Humor in advertising is like a gun in the hands of a child. You have to know how to use it. Otherwise, it can blow up on you.” (Miller, 1992)
I’m willing to admit a weakness: I am usually ready to forgive and look past almost any shortcomings or personality flaws if someone has just one characteristic—they have to be able to make me laugh.
For me—and for a lot of people—a good sense of humor holds a lot of currency. If someone can make us laugh, we find it hard not to like them and want to associate with them. We even subconsciously think they’re smart.
It follows, then, that the idea of a humorous marketing video would be a tempting one for a lot of businesses. Get potential customers to laugh, and you’ve got them on your side. Build a campaign out of it and it could translate into long term brand loyalty. And who knows—maybe that hilarious web video will even go viral! Clearly most of the big brands advertising during the Super Bowl think this is a smart route, why shouldn’t you follow suit?
It all sounds great in theory, but be careful. Humor in a marketing video can work for your brand, but there are a lot of ways it can work against it.
Things to Consider
Before you do anything, take a day to sleep on the whole idea. If you’re still convinced that you want to make a funny marketing video in the morning, consider the following things:
- Jokes don’t sell. For big businesses that are doing brand awareness campaigns and have hired proven funny writers based on methodical market research, funny commercials might very well be the smartest route. If you’re a small or medium-sized business trying to generate leads, however, relying on humor is almost definitely not your best bet. Yes, it can create memorable and lasting impressions on viewers if executed properly, but it will never convert like strong, compelling copy with a clear call to action. How often have you laughed at a commercial and then realized it had literally nothing to do with the product or service it was supposed to be selling? By focusing on making the video funny, you’re likely doing less to sell your product. If you really want to sell, think less humor and more direct response.
- Being funny is not easy. There’s an old saying: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” Just because you can crack up your friends doesn’t make you a comedy writer. Writing effective humor that’s actually funny is a specialty, and even working with a professional writer to develop your marketing video doesn’t guarantee a funny finished product. Needless to say, release a video that’s trying to be funny and fails has potential to do real damage to your brand and undermine any credibility you were hoping to establish.
- Humor is very, very subjective. Even if you successfully produce a funny marketing video, it’s only going to speak to the segment of viewers that shares your sense of humor. It’s an inherently exclusive approach and you’re immediately losing viewers who don’t get the joke, don’t like the joke, or aren’t in the mood to laugh the joke at that moment. If you aim too broad and try to appeal to everyone, you’ll end up with something so watered down that it makes nobody laugh.
- What’s funny today might not be funny tomorrow. Humor loses its edge pretty quick if it feels at all stale or dated—another potential pitfall for the funny marketing video. Furthermore, you might have them laughing the first time they see it, but they’ll undoubtedly be groaning the tenth time they see it.
The Case for Subtlety
While there are plenty of reasons for a small or medium sized business to rethink the idea of trying to make a funny marketing video, I also don’t want to make the case that humor should be avoided at all costs. Smart, tasteful, subtle humor can play very well and can help build a strong brand when used correctly in a marketing video. It’s the marketing videos that are centered on the idea of trying to be funny that I fear for.
Charlie Nadler is the marketing strategist for Video Parachute.