On Thursday February 21st, Ensemble Co held the 7th event in their speaker series, titled: The Future of Funny. The session included panel discussions with bankers, improv actors, advertisers and media gurus. While everyone had a different take on the topic of being funny, there were a few things everyone could agree on. Humour is here. Humour is huge. Humour offers a lot of rich opportunities for brands.

how humour is being used

In the era of memes, humour is its own type of currency. With the speed of social sharing, ‘funny done right’ (or wrong!) can lead to a brand going viral in days (or hours!). Resultantly,  companies are harnessing the power of comedy to reach their consumers.

This can be done through the tone and delivery of social media posts, the content of advertising campaigns, or even something as simple as the classic sandwich board. This last example of ‘funny done right’ can be seen outside many coffee shops, where their ingenious puns, illustrations or relevant quotes to lure people inside – and become social media sensations.

At a time where consumers demand more personality and engagement from companies, humour can also be a great lever for increasing affection and affinity.

why brands should use humour

The creativity, novelty and human connection involved in well-delivered humorous communication makes comedic messaging memorable, relatable and attention-grabbing. It also disrupts the sea of sameness that often exists in advertising. For example, the Hotels.com comedic mascot ‘Captain Obvious’ has turned the online booking industry from a function and value-driven entity to one with more emotional connection, through its use of humour.

Not only do consumers notice and remember funny content, they are also likely to share it. With so many platforms available, this type of content can take on a life of its own and generate notable reach and impressions through organic sharing.

Using comedy can also shine a new light on your brand and appeal to a new consumer target. The Royal Bank of Canada, a classic and traditional institution, has been experimenting with humour to make its brand more relatable. This is a particularly note-worthy endeavor in the industry of traditional banking. Its recent advertisement campaigns are directed towards a younger, less-savvy yet eager to learn consumer segment. And humour has proved an excellent way to reach and grow its profile with these new consumers.

considerations for using humour

Despite its many benefits and uses, comedy can be controversial, depending on the topic, execution and implied assumptions/beliefs.

Brands must acknowledge and respect the line between resonant vs. distasteful. It’s a good rule of thumb to be aware of who (if anyone) is being the ‘butt’ of the joke. Comedy should also be respectful of race, gender, religion, age, ability, and socio-economic status. Humorous messaging and content should also be on-brand and align with the company’s overall mission and purpose – otherwise, this strategy can fall flat and fail through lack of relevancy.

Even if all the above is addressed, it’s important to remember that some audiences just won’t get it. Comedy is nuanced and may manifest itself differently based on different audience types – particularly in terms of demographics. Consequently, it’s imperative to test comedic concepts and advertising with its target audience – and acknowledge that some people outside of your target won’t get it/enjoy). Some testing with non-target audiences may also be useful to ensure that the ad or messaging itself doesn’t alienate key consumer groups – even if the comedy doesn’t resonate.

One last thing to consider for humour is the channel it’s delivered through. This will change based on the purpose of the campaign/messaging. Digital and online channels are useful for reaching niche targets and have a lower likelihood of alienating existing consumers or other target groups. More traditional routes like TV and Out Of Home should be leveraged if the purpose of the campaign is to reinvent the brand’s image and perceptions.

Humour isn’t going anywhere, and there are several reasons brands should consider using it:

  • Reach new audiences
  • Communicate new brand positioning
  • Drive affinity and engagement
  • Increase personability

For brands who are experimenting with humour, there are a few best practices:

  • Ensure messaging is respectful of others
  • Create content that is still on-brand and relevant
  • Thoroughly test before launching
  • Acknowledge that it may not resonate with everyone

By Amye Parker, Senior Research Manager at Northstar Toronto

if you would like further information, please get in touch via:

aparker@northstarhub.com or 647.496.7863

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