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Humor Me! Why being funny works in marketing.

Can you remember your favorite commercials of all time? Or maybe a billboard that made you say “HaHA! That was clever!” Well humor has been used in advertising for a long time, and it’s not changing anytime soon. 


We buy from people we like, and humor is the easiest and fastest way to get there. Using humor makes you more likable, approachable, and more human. According to a 1993 Journal of Marketing study that examined multinational effects of humor on advertising concluded that ‘humor is more likely to enhance recall, evaluation, and purchase intention when the humorous message coincides with ad objectives, is well-integrated with those objectives, and is viewed as appropriate for the product category. Under such circumstances, humorous advertising is more likely to secure audience attention, increase memorability, overcome sales resistance, and enhance message persuasiveness.’


It’s true that humorous advertisements helps you stand out. But is there a downside? So you have a winning idea, and you launch your campaign with roaring success (and laughter). Let’s talk about the aptly, though weirdly named “vampire effect”. The term was coined after a study conducted by MediaAnalyzer Software & Research, which results concluded that “titillating content was sucking attention away from what the ad was actually trying to say”. So while distracting people with hilarious one-liners might be side-splitting, your audience might not remember what you’re selling. Now for a fun recall knowledge test, can you guess which companies were represented in these famous Super Bowl commercials? Answers below.


  1. “Wassup”
  2. “The Talking Baby”
  3. “Where’s the Beef”
  4. “Happier than a Camel on Hump Day”


So how do you overcome this vampire effect? This and more things to consider when creating your campaign:


  • Is your product/brand present but not too present? Let’s go back to grade school, you want to raise your hand during roll call and answer a reasonable amount of questions so you get your participation points, but no one likes the kid who always is raising their hand. Don’t be that guy. Research of failed campaigns s hows that having your product or brand in there too much will drive some people away. So make sure it’s sprinkled-in, but don’t go heavy-handed with the logos and product placement.
  • Different things are funny to different people. Try going through a list of favorite funny movies with your spouse, and you’ll likely see what I mean. The target market should always be considered, and receiving feedback from focus groups can be beneficial.
  • Variety is key. You’re going to get a lot more out of any campaign if you have variety. People may respond well to your first idea, but if they see it again in a slightly different way they may like it even more. Take for example the 100’s of iterations with the gecko from Geico Insurance.
  • Size doesn’t matter. Whether you’re a big company, or a small one with a modest budget, you can get noticed. Your audience doesn’t necessarily care about how many employees you have, or how much money you spent, if you made them laugh–that’s what matters.
  • Make it relevant, or not. Though funny ads may not have anything to do with what their selling (which is the whole point of the joke in some cases) it can be helpful to make it relevant to what your selling. Say for example, Misheard Lyrics campaign for Wyoming Otolaryngology, the campaign itself is based on what people were able to hear when listening to popular songs. This ties in perfectly with the company’s mission to help people with hearing impairments. 
  • Go ahead, take a risk.  You’re going to have people who love it, others who hate it, and then a group of people that just don’t get it at all. If you are safe, your results will be average. It pays off to be a bit edgy. So go ahead, take a chance and see what happens.

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