How can marketers use humor to build stronger brand-consumer relationships? Andrew Tarvin—comedian, humor speaker, and author of Humor that Works: The Missing Skill for Success and Happiness at Work—shares his unique insight on how marketers can leverage humor. Below is Part 2 of a series on humor in marketing (see part 1 here on the Do’s and Don’ts of using humor in marketing).
Kimberly Whitler: Before we talk about tips, is there any research that provides insight on humor?
Andrew Tarvin: There are plenty. One study found that when men used humor, they received a positive response 90% of the time. However, when women used humor, they were met with a positive response only 20% of the time. Interestingly, 80% of the humor men used was off-of-the-cuff. 70% of the humor women used was self-deprecating humor. Self-deprecating humor is appropriate if you are in a high-status position and are perceived to have high status. It is good to use sparingly. If you continually use it, however, people wonder if the individual has self-esteem issues. In the past few months, there was research conducted where they had men and women give the exact same presentation that included humor. Guess what… when men used humor, it was perceived to add to the presentation and they were perceived to be more competent and confident. When women did this, it wasn’t perceived as positively. Now, there were some issues with the study, namely the type of jokes used, but I share this research because it highlights that there are biases in the use of humor as people. This means the type of humor used becomes very important. It’s unfortunate, but marketers have to work with how consumers are—not what we wish them to be. This may spill over onto brands. For example, if you have a femine or masculine brand, the type of humor that will work may be very different.
Whitler: What tips do you have for marketers to do a better job of leveraging humor?
Tarvin: Humor is a tool. And for me, it’s about how to educate people to use that tool effectively. Like any tool, you can use it to solve a problem or screw something up. Here are six tips.
1. Be clear about why you want to use humor. You have to have an intentionality. Humor for the sake of humor is ok. But you want to be purposeful about why you are using it.
2. Use the humor map (laid out more fully in my book). Medium, Audience, and Purpose. Medium—how will you communicate the humor (i.e., through email, in person, an ad). The medium impacts the type of message you can use, for example sarcasm is difficult to pull off in text. Audience is important in all forms of communication. With humor you want to deliver on what the audience needs but in a way that may be unexpected. Your (or your brand’s) relationship with the audience will also impact how the humor is received. Finally, the most important element is the purpose. Why do you want to use it? Do you want to use it to drive awareness? Or attention? If you want to use it to drive affinity, you might use it differently.
3. In general, using humor for marketing is more about fun first and being positive and inclusive. It isn’t necessarily about ha-ha. Go for amusement over laughter. This is an important place to start. There can be a joyful side to humor that is inclusive. Think about Coke—they don’t use jokes or cause you to laugh but they do motivate a joy and uplifting feeling.
4. Consistency. When you can use humor consistently throughout the marketing, it becomes more part of the brand voice versus an executional detail. This is important. If you want humor to be part of the brand, it must be consistently used across the entire brand. Think Zappos. Or Southwest. They built brands where quirky, humor, or joy were part of the brand voice.
5. It takes time. If humor is part of the brand, it will take time to establish. Be patient. You may make some missteps. But learn and put up guardrails to protect the brand. And you don’t have to be the creator of the humor, you can always hire a professional to help you out.
Join the Discussion: @KimWhitler
For more info, see Andrew Tarvin’s TED Talk “The Skill of Humor“