It seems like everyone is trying to be funny in their marketing these days, but why? Well, it works. Humor is a way to sell your brand without outwardly selling something, and consumers certainly don’t want to feel like you’re taking money right out of their pockets. By appealing to a consumer’s emotions you’re able to engage them and make them remember you.
You do have to be careful when using humor though; I don’t think we want to revisit the DiGiorno scandal around the #WhyIStayed campaign. It’s important to make sure that you understand your audience and how they are likely to respond so that nothing is taken offensively.
This doesn’t mean that we should kill a campaign just because it’s edgy or potentially controversial. You probably remember the “I Shipped My Pants” TV ad by Kmart last year. The goal of the ad was to bring people to Kmart’s website to take advantage of free shipping, but it did get some heat. With the pronunciation of “shipped” sounding awfully similar to a certain expletive, the ad was received with mixed feelings. Some people thought it was hilarious and a great way to make Kmart a little edgier and modern, while others thought it was offensive that they were alluding to vulgarity. Ultimately, this campaign was very successful for the struggling retailer and improved its website traffic.
So does humor work best for a specific type of company or can anyone do it? If done appropriately, I think most companies can take part. Businesses with highly-specialized or expensive products can take advantage by appealing to all audiences. Someone who interacts with your marketing may not be your target customer, but they could very well share your information with someone who is. It’s all about brand awareness.
Humor can also lend itself to companies in highly-competitive or saturated industries. What better way to stand out from those that sell a product or service of similar quality and price than by letting your company’s personality shine?
I think the most remarkable thing about using humor in marketing is how companies with seemingly ordinary products can make you feel like theirs is the most exciting one out there. Oftentimes it’s a product we all need, one that really isn’t much different from brand-to-brand, and one that doesn’t have much price variation. Yet, we are fascinated by its commercials and social media presence.
When it comes to humor, it’s all about authenticity. The brands that make humor work are authentic; they know their persona and they run with it. The companies below sell arguably “boring” products, but using humor in their marketing has transformed the way consumers perceive them.
1) Dollar Shave Club
If there is a company out there that embodies the effectiveness of using humor in marketing, it’s Dollar Shave Club. This is a company that a few years ago consisted of about 10 employees, just trying to find a way to compete in an industry filled with iconic, long-time brands. How did they expect to be able to compete with such big names as Gillette and Bic? The only way they knew how, by taking to social media to share their story.
You could probably call it the “ad seen around the world,” with over 17.5 million views on YouTube. If you haven’t seen it, you need to. Trust me.
Being a small company, they couldn’t afford a production crew, ad space on TV, or anything glamorous right off the bat. So they took to good-old YouTube with their CEO as the main character to talk about why their blades are “f***ing great.” In an interview with the New York Times, CEO Michael Dubin expressed his firm belief in using video to tell stories and that the concept of using humor to promote a “smart business” led to the video going viral.
The ad is unconventional, outrageous, and blunt, but this is why people love Dollar Shave Club.
They aren’t conservative, they don’t “fit the mold,” and they’re perfectly okay with that. What they do is create a memorable experience for viewers while making them realize why they should give their service a try.
Voted the “sassiest” brand on Twitter, Charmin has found a way to stand out in a highly-saturated market. Bathroom humor is a topic that is often perceived as being overdone, but when you see one of Charmin’s ads or interact with them on social media, you don’t feel that way.
On Twitter, they have launched their own hashtag campaign called #tweetfromtheseat. Hashtags are a great way to build brand recognition, track interactions, and create buzz about your company. They also interact with their followers and other big-name brands on social media by mentioning them in tweets.
When the Charmin social media team was asked how they have achieved marketing success, they said, “At the end of the day, it boils down to authenticity. Define what your brand stands for and your voice. Don’t try to be something you’re not. It may be humor and entertainment, or it could be informative or educational. Understand the nuances of the different platforms and your community and how your brand is represented in each.”
And that’s exactly what they’ve done. Charmin has found its place in marketing by serving as comic relief for a potentially awkward or boring topic. You can’t help but think of their advertising when you see their product on store shelves and immediately create a positive association. They’re able to entertain and show why their product is superior to their competitors, it’s no wonder they’ve made such a name for themselves.
3) State Farm
When you think about it, there are probably few industries more difficult to market than insurance; it’s not particularly exciting and it can be expensive. Maybe that’s why every major insurance company is jumping on the humor train in an attempt to breathe life into this essential, but pretty uninteresting industry. State Farm is leading the pack with a practically seamless transition from campaign to campaign.
They didn’t get here overnight, that’s for sure. A few years ago you really weren’t seeing much of State Farm on TV and certainly not on social media. They went through a re-brand to target younger consumers, who make up their largest customer segment. As part of this transition, they changed their motto from “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there” to “Get to a better State.”
State Farm has successfully appealed to younger generations through a well-known spokesperson like Aaron Rodgers and sponsoring events like ESPN’s College Game Day. The “Discount Double-Check” concept seems to be what put State Farm on the market as a major player in the industry. Their ability to attract a younger audience through this strategy, who in turn provide more long-term potential as customers, has allowed the company to be among the top insurance providers.
In addition to a celebrity spokesperson, State Farm introduced us to the “everyday” character of Jake. We can probably all recite in our sleep the TV ad featuring a customer calling “Jake from State Farm” at three in the morning as his wife comes downstairs to see him on the phone, refusing to believe he’s actually talking to an insurance agent. I’ve seen the commercial probably a thousand times and yet I still smile as she picks up the phone and asks Jake what he’s wearing.
Their ability to take an everyday person and make him iconic has helped State Farm triumph in a very competitive marketplace. They also haven’t gotten stuck in a rut with their advertising; they effectively use two different story lines at the same time so their audience is continuously engaged.
4) Old Spice
Have you ever not laughed watching an Old Spice ad or interacting with them on social media? It seems like they can do no wrong when it comes to their marketing.
Check out their Twitter page if you haven’t before. The persona they embody in their hilariously creative commercials perfectly translates to their social media presence. You can’t help but forget that they’re selling men’s soap!
Their TV and print advertising focus on a seemingly “perfect” man that every man wants to be and every woman wants to have by her side. He’s attractive, physically fit, and talks about how you could be just like him if you use Old Spice. Their marketing works because even though their products are for men, women are entertained and drawn in as well.
Originally, Old Spice targeted women thinking that they would be the ones doing the shopping or encouraging their significant other to use the products. They realized that they needed to target men as well since they are the ones who actually use Old Spice, and have effectively revamped their marketing to appeal to everyone.
An indication of Old Spice’s success is how they’ve been able to make their marketing go viral. This is no easy task, especially when there is pressure on marketing departments to generate revenue. But we can see that Old Spice’s decision to not be so focused on a hard sell is paying off. When you interact with their marketing you might think that their tactics are outlandish and have nothing to do with what they’re trying to sell, but you remember their brand the next time you’re out shopping. And that’s exactly what they’re trying to do: generate positive emotions and make people remember them.
Another insurance company? I know; I could probably list several others, but Allstate has made one of the most significant and effective transitions in marketing strategies the industry has seen.
A few years ago, Allstate snatched up Dennis Haysbert as their official spokesperson and it seemed like a match made in heaven. His role as President Palmer on the iconic show 24 had just come to an end, so what better person to make the face of your brand than a well-respected actor coming off such an authoritative role?
Using authority in marketing allows a company to demonstrate their expertise, and in this case Haysbert personified the idea that Allstate could protect you from anything.
Fast forward to today, where Allstate is taking a completely different approach to marketing by using a “character” named Mayhem. Mayhem represents all of the freak accidents or situations that you could never envision actually happening, but with the reassurance that even under these circumstances Allstate has you covered.
The marketers at Allstate have come up with the wildest situations in their advertising, that it’s always humorous and fresh in the consumer’s mind. Take this “tailgate gone wrong” ad:
Allstate is another great example of a brand that hasn’t been afraid to switch things up. Like State Farm, they have been able to transition seamlessly from one concept to another, which is a truly invaluable skill in marketing.
Clorox is a classic American brand, one that has been trusted for decades to clean homes around the world. They realized they couldn’t just ride on the coattails of this “classic” persona forever, and have taken a more modern approach recently. Their motto today is “For life’s bleachable moments,” which gets you thinking a bit. What are some situations at home that are “bleachable moments,” circumstances where I need the best cleaning product out there to get the job done?
There have been a series of TV commercials produced over the past few months that provide outrageous, yet completely relatable situations where having that bottle of Clorox comes in handy. You’ve probably seen the ad where a child is being potty-trained and he is running around the house with his training toilet to proudly show his mom what he has done. In the process, he spills the contents all over the floor. When he gets to his mom she sees an empty toilet and realizes what has happened. The ad immediately cuts to a picture of Clorox and a mop along with their tagline.
The reason I think this approach to advertising has worked so well is that these things actually happen in life. We laugh at their marketing because we can either think of a time that something like this has happened or we can imagine it happening someday. And in this type of situation, it definitely doesn’t hurt to have a bottle of Clorox around.
Clorox has also taken this tagline to its website, where it has a dedicated page for consumers to share their “bleachable moments.” This is a great way to interact with their customers while also getting free publicity. People go to the website to share times that they were happy to have Clorox in the house, so they’re essentially creating an opportunity for people to say how great their product is (known as crowdsourcing). Genius!
7) Wonderful Pistachios
As society becomes more health-conscious, companies are finding ways to entertain consumers in their marketing while promoting a healthy lifestyle. Wonderful Pistachios is a brand that has paved the way by using humor to encourage healthy snacking. Most recently, comedian Stephen Colbert has served as the official spokesperson in the “Get Crackin’” campaign’s fifth year.
Stephen Colbert is not only one of the most popular comedians today, he was also a very timely choice as his show “The Colbert Report” came to an end and he will be taking over the “Late Show” in the spring. The buzz around the new era that is about to begin at the “Late Show” carries over to Wonderful Pistachios’ branding by their association with Colbert.
They launched his campaign during the 2014 Super Bowl through a two-part ad. The first 15 seconds of the ad aired, followed by another brand’s 30 second spot, and then the rest of the ad was shown. In the second half, Colbert jokes about how he was told that there wasn’t enough branding the first time around, so the second ad was necessary. This was an excellent strategy to make sure they didn’t get lost in the sea of other promotions.
Previous spokespeople for Wonderful Pistachios have included Gangnam Style’s PSY, Jersey Shore’s Snooki, and YouTube sensation Keyboard Cat. Their ability to attract media icons to work with their brand has allowed Wonderful Pistachios’ brand recognition to skyrocket in recent years.
For the most part, these “boring” brands are pretty different from one another, which goes to show that you don’t have to be in a particular business to use humor in your marketing. These companies occupy different industries, sell at various price points, and they all take a slightly different approach to how they use humor.
There are some common themes here, though. Some of these brands have been around for ages, like Clorox. After some time, there’s a need to reinvent your brand to stay fresh in people’s minds, especially with how many options we have in the marketplace today.
Others like Dollar Shave Club are relatively new, so they are setting a precedent for how they are perceived. It’s difficult to start a company these days, especially when there are so many long-time brands still in existence. That’s why we see companies using provocative and outrageous marketing to stand out, and I think we can agree a lot of them have done that quite well.
Most importantly, these brands sell dull products. Who likes shopping for insurance or toilet paper? That’s why the use of humor is all the more valuable. It’s easy to take an exciting or entertaining product, like a car or clothing line, and make the marketing enjoyable. But the real gift is with those who can take something that people don’t typically enjoy shopping for and make it an experience they will actually look forward to.
If there’s one thing for sure, it’s that people love to laugh. We could all afford to smile and laugh a little more in our lives, and if you’re a brand that can make us do that, we’re going to appreciate it. So keep the laughs coming!
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Originally published Dec 30, 2014 11:00:00 AM, updated June 11 2021