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The Risks and Rewards of Using Humor in Marketing

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The Risks and Rewards of Using Humor in Marketing

There are people in this world that watch the Super Bowl just to see the ads. The stakes are so high that companies must be certain that their ad will be a success—and prepared to suffer the fallout if it isn’t.

Some of the most successful Super Bowl ads were the ones that utilized humor. Think of Betty White talking smack in a pickup game of football or the Old Spice “Man Your Man Could Smell Like” ad, both of which were instant classics.

Many small businesses that don’t yet have the capital for a Super Bowl ad still consider using funny marketing tactics to catch their audience’s attention. Before you try it, consider both the risks and rewards of using humor in marketing.


Humorous ads and marketing campaigns are memorable. The longer a brand sticks in a consumer’s mind, the greater the chance they’ll decide to try the company’s products.

Instead of spending money on expensive ad buys, small brands focus on developing huge followings on YouTube with inexpensive videos that capture their brand personality and a fun business ethic. This cheaper option still wins over buyers and creates a community around the brand.


Trying to use humor without truly understanding your audience can backfire, however. Pizza brand DiGiorno famously flopped when it unwittingly used a hashtag created for victims of domestic violence to push pizza. Kmart walked a fine line with an ad using the phrase, “I shipped my pants.” Many customers enjoyed it, but the sonic similarity of the word “shipped” to a vulgar word offended and alienated others. It’s important to understand your audience and prepare for how they’ll react if they don’t get—or appreciate—the joke.

Unexpected Sources of Humor in Marketing

Sometimes funny marketing comes from an unexpected source. Internet memes featuring humorous church signs capture attention, along with similar jokes on restaurant and pet store signs.

Coming up with effective marketing messages, whether they’re messages you put on outdoor church signs or not, is an art as well as a science. Before you do it, test your idea on people you trust to see their reactions. If you’re confident your customers and community will understand and appreciate your humor, go for it. But a good rule of thumb to assess the risks and potential rewards of humor in marketing is, “When it doubt, leave it out.”

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