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Is humor a fitting choice for marketing, and which brands excel in crafting amusing ads?

Can you remember a time when an advertisement was so funny that you just had to share it with your friends? 

Oracle's research uncovered that 88% of consumers seek experiences that elicit laughter or smiles, with 78% willing to invest more for happiness. Despite this, 95% of business leaders hesitate to incorporate humor in advertising, viewing it as risky, particularly for established brands.

Contrary to these apprehensions, integrating humor into marketing strategies can indeed be beneficial. This article highlights the appropriateness of humor in marketing and showcases brands that confidently employ humor to resonate with their audience. It's time to reintroduce fun into advertising!

The Science Behind Humor and Why Brands Should Embrace It More

Humor is crucial for success across many business sectors. U.S. psychologists Karen O'Quinn and Joel Aronoff conducted an experiment where participants engaged in bargaining for an art object's price. Half of the art dealers stated, "My final price is X," while the other half added a humorous touch: "But I'll throw in my pet toad."

Customers were willing to pay 18% more to dealers who were cheerful and used funny jokes, leaving the negotiation in a much better mood. Humor acts as a superpower in business, its benefits extending well beyond negotiations:

  • It captures attention since funny jokes from businesses or non-commercial organizations are perceived as fresh.
  • It generates a viral effect. Funny content is eagerly shared, whether with friends or family members. On social media, humorous marketing materials often spark conversations about the company, thereby providing a higher engagement rate and fostering a dialogue with consumers.
  • It increases customer loyalty. Witty humor unites and reduces tension in the brand's relationship with its audience.

Kings of Humor: Top Funny Brands to Inspire Your Marketing Strategy

#1. Burger King is a prime example when discussing brands with a sense of humor, known for its good jokes and playful digs at its competitor, McDonald's. Its communication strategy was significantly influenced by Fernando Machado, who brought bold content to the forefront, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, amid social distancing concerns, Fernando created Italy's Social Distancing Whopper, featuring triple onions.

Simultaneously, Burger King Paris unveiled a social distancing campaign, smartly leveraging its location near McDonald's. They displayed a vivid banner proclaiming: 'Safety reminder: always maintain a 1M distance from your neighbours.'

#2. IKEA in 2016 launched the 'Let’s Relax' ad, a clever critique of our obsession with documenting every moment for social media, humorously imagining this habit in past centuries.

#3. Spotify. Everyone ages, yet many feel perpetually youthful at heart. The British, known for their intense nostalgia and pivotal role in music history, are the focus of Spotify's outdoor ad campaign targeting those who grew up between 1979 and 1999. The campaign, "Listen like you used to," employs simple text and vibrant colors to capture attention and gently encourages viewers to laugh at themselves.

#4. Amazon. Have you ever wished for a mind-reading assistant? Amazon Alexa's 'Mind Reader' ad brings this fantasy to life. It depicts a couple navigating a series of awkward but humorous situations, all enabled by Alexa. This ad cleverly demonstrates AI's impact on daily life, suggesting some thoughts are better kept private.

#5. Kia. Kia's commercial begins with the protagonist, Melissa McCarthy, driving through a snowy landscape when she receives an unexpected call: "Hey Melissa. The whales need your help." 

This sets the stage for a series of comedic attempts by McCarthy to engage in eco-activism, all of which comically fail. The narrative cleverly shifts when McCarthy takes the wheel of the Kia Niro, a fuel-efficient hybrid that positions her as an effective eco-warrior. This shift underscores the message that small actions, such as choosing an environmentally friendly vehicle, can make a significant difference. The commercial, which humorously intertwines eco-consciousness with McCarthy's misadventures, was recognized with a bronze award at the Cannes Lions in 2017, highlighting its creative impact.

#6. Kaunas. Funny ads aren't limited to products; even countries can join in. With Vilnius airport closed for renovations in July 2017, Kaunas seized the chance to showcase its charm. Highlighting its vibrant nightlife in contrast to Vilnius's empty streets, a video quipped, "As the younger brother, I like to steal some cool things from the older one. So this summer, I've already stolen more than 3,000 flights." A playful nudge from Lithuania's second-largest city, celebrating its rich culture and modernist architecture.

General Tips for Using Humor in Ads Without Offending Anyone

Funny marketing isn't always effective. Creating humorous ads is challenging, and not everyone appreciates the same type of humor. Additionally, humor can sometimes escalate, leading to significant backlash.

In an era where brands can be canceled for minor mistakes, a poorly considered joke in your marketing might cause more problems than anticipated. Even well-known brands like Burger King, renowned for their humor, can face strong negative reactions from their audience. This may explain why few brands incorporate witty humor and awkward situations into their advertising or communications.

For example, on March 8, 2021, Burger King UK published a tweet stating, "Women Belong In The Kitchen." Intended as a light-hearted introduction to a campaign promoting a cooking scholarship for female employees, the attempt backfired dramatically.

Subsequent tweets elaborated on the intent behind the initial post, addressing the unequal gender distribution in restaurant kitchens: "Fine dining kitchens, food truck kitchens, award-winning kitchens, casual dining kitchens, ghost kitchens, Burger King kitchens. If there's a professional kitchen, women belong there."

The campaign further highlighted: "But can you guess who's leading those kitchens these days? Exactly. Only 24% of chef positions in the U.S. are held by women. As for head chefs, that number drops to fewer than 7%." The Burger King Foundation's H.E.R. (Helping Equalize Restaurants) Scholarship was designed to award two female employees each a $25,000 grant for culinary education.

However, the initial tweet's controversial nature overshadowed these details, attracting a flood of negative reactions. Engagement with Burger King's original tweet surged to 527% more than the one announcing the scholarship program.

The fast-food chain's social media team spent considerable effort offering explanations and apologies before ultimately deleting the tweet.

There's no foolproof way to avoid missteps in humor, but steering clear of sensitive topics – such as body image, national or cultural affiliation, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, and politics – is advisable to prevent misunderstandings and potential offense. In such instances, brands risk damaging their reputation and alienating customers.

To enhance customer interaction, understanding your audience is key. Research indicates older individuals may not grasp humor as readily as younger ones. However, when they do, they often show a greater appreciation for humorous ads.

Differences in humor perception between genders have been documented, with a meta-analysis of 77 studies revealing men's preference for aggressive and sexual humor.

Cultural and generational nuances also significantly affect humor's reception. Jokes that resonated in the 70s may not strike a chord with Gen-Z, and cultural disparities can lead to misunderstandings. For example, idioms or wordplay that are commonplace in the UK but not in the US can alienate American audiences, and vice versa.

When considering humor in your marketing, evaluate your product and industry carefully. Humor may not always be suitable, particularly for products that are unknown, risky, expensive, or sensitive. A humorous ad for defense weapons, for instance, would likely be deemed inappropriate.

It's also vital to assess the appropriateness of humor, especially during times of disaster or tragedy.

*For additional insights and strategies to elevate your client's brand, the ELVTR Creative Advertising online course offers access to industry experts, personalized feedback, and networking opportunities. This is your chance to innovate, add value, and distinguish your brand.