Marketing Insight: Using “Funny” In Your Advertising

There is a reason companies pay the million-dollar-plus premium to reserve ad space during the Super Bowl: Brand recognition. But in a day and age when ad agencies are creating as many creative hits as they are nonsensical misses, the question must be asked: In marketing, when does using “quirky” and “funny” actually make sense?

One of the more challenging issues in blanket marketing is recognizing your audience—or, rather, marketing to all audiences. This is made even more challenging by the simple fact that what’s funny or quirky to a 14-year-old (namely, bathroom humor) is going to be different than what’s funny or quirky to a fiftysomething (aging humor, incontinence, etc).

The solution? Know thy audience. And tread carefully with the funny.

Now, I concede that “funny” is subjective. But that’s the point—your funny, quirky and creative new marketing or advertising campaign will work best if you can do two things: make it intuitive to viewers and get to the punch line quickly. The less your readers have to think or try to make sense of what you’re saying, the better.

In 2006, in an effort to further its foray into resurrecting classic trends, the Gap made what was in my opinion a fatal marketing mistake with a simple and honest pair of pants. Their product, the newest rendition of the “new” black peg-leg flat-front pant, was sure to be a worldwide hit. Classic? Overwhelmingly, yes! I have a pair, my mother has a pair and so does my grandmother. Unfortunately, the Gap ad team also decided to resurrect one of the most sacred icons of fashion, the late, great Audrey Hepburn, and dub her dancing over the also-sacred AC/DC rock ballad “Back in Black.” Even worse? It was all in the form of iPod-wannabe animation, voiced over with lines from Hepburn’s classic, “Funny Face”:

By trying to revive a classic that could, by most individual definitions, transcend generational trends, the Gap ad team managed to (in a failed attempt at quirky) make three fatal marketing mistakes: First, they corrupted a graceful film icon in a classic film (“Funny Girl”); second, they shamed a classic wardrobe staple; and third, they perverted a monster-ballad by rock legend AC/DC. And all in one minute and five seconds.

Now here is a refreshingly good and memorable example of funny, quirky, stick-to-your-ribs marketing and a personal all-time favorite: Tide’s “Tide To Go Stain Remover” Super Bowl commercial.

The Tide marketing team has an edge because of their product: Who doesn’t spill on their clothes? Their product is easily marketed to everyone including busy moms, suited working professionals, yearbook-picture-taking high schoolers and people of all ages who care about their appearance. This ad seals the deal by associating a relatable situation—an uncomfortable job interview—with their product.

Here are three suggestions to market yourself using humor (carefully, now):

1. Be only as funny as you need to be:

Coming up with a game is a great way to get viral with your marketing. A favorite are the monkeys from CareerBuilder. I still send my friends, family and colleagues talking monkey e-cards. Perhaps I’m the only one who thinks they are funny. Why? Because monkeys don’t talk, and when you dub a female British voice over a video of a male monkey chewing gum and wearing a fruit basket on its head and send it to your friend, it’s just plain funny.

2. Don’t take yourself too seriously (but beware the limits)

In the ever-stuffy environments of insurance, banking and office supplies, who can forget the dancing elves from Office Max, or the naked bank executives from Washington Mutual?

3. Funny and quirky are almost always applicable

Particularly when involving something that isn’t traditionally funny. Axe body wash/spray is a great example. Is body odor funny? Only if you’re a 10-year-old boy, and it’s not your own. Otherwise it’s embarrassing. But the commercials are quirky and mostly funny because they make light of the idea that women will flock to men that smell good. Proceed with caution here, as this is a narrow truth.

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