Be a Clown: Why Humour Will Help Your Marketing

Let’s begin with a story. I hope you’ve got a sense of humour. humour story

Here I am in 2017 sporting a rather mucky outfit, featuring one very granny-esque sports bra. I didn’t expect anyone to see it that day.

Why is my t-shirt tied around my crotch? Well. My friend asked me to take part in the Sheffield ‘Colour Run’ – essentially, a 5K obstacle course where volunteers chuck multi-coloured dye at you. So far so good.

Naturally, we were encouraged to wear all white. So muggins here pops to her local Primark and picks up the flimsiest pair of £4 white leggings you can imagine. Now, ladies, you all know that the #1 rule is to avoid VPL, so I paired these charming long johns with an equally elegant Primark white thong.

Right before the starting gun went off, I popped to the ladies’ and noticed, to my horror, a nice hole forming in the interior seam. Hey ho, I thought – nobody will notice.

By the first inflatable slide, the hole had grown to the size of a fist. By the second, a head. Now, not that my fellow runners wouldn’t love the sight of my peachy derrière, but for the sake of common decency, I tied my t-shirt around my waist and avoid the horrified stares of onlookers.

So, why am I telling you this story?

Trust me – humour works in marketing.

This #Write52 post has been bubbling for more or less most of 2020. Hence there is more inspiration every day to add to it. Quite a few things inspired this post, including:

  • The rise of corona-inspired content, my personal favourite being the revival of the 1999 Budweiser wasssssuuuup advert

  • Trying to be a little bolder with my own content.

If I may just expand a little on the last point, when I first created ‘Katie Lingo’, I was very cautious. I would litter my social media posts with ill-advised exclamation marks to portray a friendly, professional tone.

They got f**k all engagement.

Flipping the switch

Then a switch flipped. I can tell you pretty much when it happened. Full disclosure – I’ve been on anti-depressants since June 2019. My dad had died a few months before and I was getting overly stressed, so I was prescribed sertraline.

Now, medication isn’t for everyone. Though I’m surprised at how ubiquitous it is. Whenever it comes up in conversation (when I’m drunk), there’s almost always someone else who’s on it. Is this just living in 2020?

Anyway, one of the side effects, if you will, is a more relaxed attitude to risk-taking. I put out naughtier content. I used expletives. This one  sticks out in my head most.

From then on, I tried to take a less serious approach to my LinkedIn posts. The world doesn’t want a load of Gordon Gekkos. It’s 2020. It wants genuine people who aren’t afraid to show their vulnerabilities. Don’t believe me? Look at the science.

Humour is a defence mechanism.

A recent webinar with the Pimento team revealed that more and more of us are turning to humour during this sensitive period. Contrary to what we might think, we’re not all addicted to doom-mongering.

Instead, we’re making jokes. We’re using humour as a coping mechanism, revealing our imperfections, from home-schooling to lockdown gluttony. Never in our lifetimes has there been a situation that has united us like this. For better or for worse, it’s giving us a platform to show ourselves for who we really are. The age of Instagram filters is out. We’re here. We’re real. We’re vulnerable.

It’s also a great stress reliever. Behavioural studies tell us that laughter relaxes the muscles, increases hormones, and ups our antibody counts to fight off diseases. Laughter really is the best medicine!

Touching down on the funny bone

One fantastic case study on the effectiveness of humour is the Super Bowl. These disheartening NLP studies showed that humour in Super Bowl advertising had dropped by 25 per cent between 2013 and 2019, with the average “funny score” plateauing at a stale six out of 10.

So, what did advertisers do in 2020? They stuck two fingers up to the “political correctness gone mad” parade. They showed that you don’t have to be offensive to be funny.

Amazon’s #BeforeAlexa ad had more than 97.4 million views across top video platforms. It featured comedienne Ellen DeGeneres contemplating life before Alexa. It touched on some controversial issues like fake news and even poked fun at Richard Nixon. But it didn’t overstep the mark.

David Brent Wiki

“And which part are you?” “Probably the humour.”
Credit – Fictional Characters Wiki

We came, we saw, we kicked its ass! Bill Murray scratched our nostalgia itch in the equally hilarious Jeep Groundhog Day ad, which earned a very respectable second place for views. However, it had a winning 15.8 per cent share of voice, thanks to 169 million social impressions. Clearly, amusing content makes for shareable content.

Vulnerability is authenticity.

While there are many forms of humour, there’s something about self-deprecation that resonates with everyone. Even something as simple as a meme can touch a nerve.

Why? Because it’s real. Why else would I tell you that godawful thong story? When we show our listeners that we too have flaws, we show empathy. We don’t encourage them to follow some unattainable, summer beach body ideal. We tell them that we’ve all been there, and there’s no shame in being you.

It goes without saying, then, that humour plays a key part in brand authenticity. A 2015 study of humour and authenticity examined the link between these two concepts, analysing how we perceive ourselves and use humour to enhance our relationships with others.

If we can laugh at ourselves, we can engage other people. Gone are the days where brands would strive to be infallible. They acknowledge their f**k-ups, and in doing so, increase consumer loyalty. Case in point, KFC – well played.

KFC humour

Image credit: Ger Carroll.

In an age of fake followers, photoshopping and fake news, trust is critical. We can build this in myriad ways, from video testimonials to industry accreditations, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun.

Next time you’re producing content, try poking fun at yourself. Don’t brush your hair. Shun the filters.

Have a laugh, for Christ’s sake. We all need it right now.

Katie Lingo
by Katie Lingo
6th May 2020