There are a lot of things to think about when it comes to your brand identity. Businesses have to decide if their content should be professional or relaxed, academic or casual, use formal language or internet slang, etc. One tool that your brand might also benefit from is humor.

Humor is a bit tricky to master – in the marketing world, it’s kind of like playing with fire. When used right, humor can draw in lots of new views and interest to your company, and with the right content on your page, you can sell them on your product or service. When done wrong, however, humor can alienate your ideal customer base and drive away clients.

So, how do you use humor in branding, and what makes funny content so volatile? Let’s get to the punchline.

What good humor looks like

Like any other piece of content you put out, good humor depends on your brand, your core demographics, where the content is published, and the purpose of using humor. A positive example of effective humor is Old Spice. Just mentioning the name, you probably thought of Terry Crews satirically yelling into the camera while the background changes from scene to outlandish scene. What do you think happens when customers see Old Spice in the store? Not only does humor make the product memorable, but it also tells potential customers what the product is, even though the marketing itself is satirical.

Humor works for Old Spice because it’s part of the brand itself. However, humor can be dangerous, especially for brands that aren’t based on funny marketing. A great example of this is when American fashion company Kenneth Cole joked that “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo” because they just saw KC’s “new spring collection.” Aside from being ridiculously insensitive to the Arab Spring, this tweet also demonstrates what not to do with humor:

  1. Don’t hijack something that isn’t relevant to you – in this case, the #Cairo tag
  2. Don’t use humor without substance – emphasize the product, not the joke
  3. Don’t pander – trying to gain sales from an audience by “speaking their language” will always backfire
  4. Don’t be controversial or insensitive

Why (good) humor works

Assuming you’ve landed the joke, good humor works because it draws positive attention to your brand! Humor increases interest and attracts more consumers, which is especially important if you are entering the industry and trying to gain more customers. The downside to this is that there’s a tradeoff between humor and substance: in order to actually gain sales, you need your humorous content to draw customers in while also having enough marketing material to actually sell your product. 

The drawbacks of being funny

Humor without substance is just empty advertising. You might get thousands of retweets or a Buzzfeed mention, but if your content doesn’t also list the benefits of your product or the reason customers should prefer your business, then you’ll only go down as a short-lived meme.

Companies must also be wary of the Vampire Effect. The Vampire Effect is when funny advertisements are a distraction to the audience. A great example of this is during the 2016 Super Bowl, when Mountain Dew aired that really bizarre commercial of the “Puppy Monkey Baby.” Years later, Super Bowl fans probably remember the odd creature with no recollection of the business that made it. (This ad is also a great example of pandering and substanceless humor). Your humor must be intertwined with your brand, like with Old Spice, not just an afterthought to your brand identity.

Humor is a risk

Even jokes that are funny, relevant, and germane to your brand don’t always stick. Everyone has a different sense of humor, and you never know what will latch on, but the key is to make sure your content doesn’t alienate your potential customers or make them cringe at your products.

Thinking of incorporating humor into your brand? Need help with branding and marketing materials? CAST Design can help! We’re experts in branding and visual storytelling, and we know how to create brands that draw customers in and make them laugh. Contact us for a free assessment and we’ll get you started on crafting some funny business.

Let us show you how we can help, ask questions, and make sure the synergy is there.