5 Myths About Using Humor in Advertising

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert has said, “Humor is almost always a result of breaking a rule. If you’re trying to break a rule with your humor writing, you’d better be sure that there’s an important reason to break the rule.”

As copywriters we’ve all heard it. Don’t use humor in advertising, or any other form of non-fiction writing for that matter. The conventional wisdom is that you should never try to be funny with your copywriting. And yet I’ve found numerous examples of great ads and marketing pieces that contain a healthy dose of humor, sometimes right up front.

The problem is that those ads work, and people remember them. They stick in your head long after the ad has disappeared from the page you were reading. And sometimes they’re so creative that the copy itself is memorable .

And as a copywriter I don’t have to look far to find humorous ads created by my own colleagues. Sometimes it seems like 90% of the work I see from other writers contains a joke or at least a bit of humor.

The point is that humor works in advertising. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of conventional wisdom out there about humor and marketing that’s just plain wrong.

FINDING THE FUNNY IN YOUR MESSAGE

So how do you go about using humor in your copywriting? How can you tell if it will help or hurt your message? Here are four common myths about using comedy in advertising:

Myth #1:   You Can’t Use Humor On The Web!

Everyone tells me this, but I’ve yet to find an example with any proof behind it. The truth is that humor works best when used sparingly. If your copy is funny from start to finish, readers will expect more humor. When you don’t deliver it, they’ll be disappointed.

Our advice: Don’t Use Too Much Humor, But Don’t Be Afraid of It:

  • There is a fine line between humor and annoyance. The humor might be funny one time, but if there are too many jokes thrown in, your audience will get tired of it quickly.
  • Readers become numb to the humor when they see it over and over again so don’t rely on comedy alone to make your copy memorable.
  • You can use subtle hints of humor or even dark humor which most people would find unfunny. But these are usually mixed with other elements that make them more believable for an audience such as facts about the product or social research that backs up your claims.

Myth #2:   You Can Tell What Type Of Humor Will Work For Your Message!

While you shouldn’t go for the lowest-common denominator of humor (think bathroom graffiti), a bit of shock value can often help make your message memorable … especially when combined with something clever or witty.

The best rule I’ve found is that if a joke makes me laugh, it’s probably going to compel someone else to read on through my copy and find out what happens next.  But don’t get too crazy with it, either! One really bad joke can ruin an entire piece of writing.

Our advice: Don’t Use Shock Value Or Crude Jokes!

Using shock value in humor is not always a good idea because you can easily offend certain people. Look at the popularity of political correctness and how it has become a politically correct thing to do.

Right now, most businesses are keen on accommodating all different kinds of people which includes Muslims, Jews, Africans and just about everyone else you can think of. I’ve heard that some hotels even have signs in their bathrooms saying that transgender customers should use whichever bathroom they feel most comfortable with.

Even if these things lead to funny situations. If you are a business trying to sell a product, especially a product that is considered taboo by society, you might want to think twice before using humor in your copy because this type of humor can easily work against you.

Myth #3:   The Best Way To Use Humor In Your Copy Is To Hide It!

The most famous example of hiding the joke comes from Volkswagen when they commissioned an ad agency to make their new Beetle appear more masculine than it did in previous incarnations.

So the writers came up with the following headline for an auto magazine ad: “Women Love It … Even Men Want One.” This was accompanied by pictures of men looking at the car and saying things like “Ooooh, nice wheels!” and “I can’t believe it’s a Volkswagen!” (The copywriter behind the campaign later admitted that he found out that “women love it” was a quote from the ad agency’s receptionist.)

Our advice: Don’t Hide Your Humor!

It should be honest, relevant, and natural. The best kind of humor in advertising doesn’t feel like humor at all; it feels natural and familiar. If you don’t follow this rule, your humor will seem forced, gimmicky or even patronizing.

Also, humor that comes with a hidden message is usually short and therefore has to be repeated several times. And the more times it’s repeated, the less effective it will be. So be careful about using hidden messages and don’t repeat them.

Myth #4:   Humor Will Always Work!

No one can deny that a funny joke or a great pun can make people laugh, but a few chuckles does not necessarily mean your ads will perform any better than those without humor.

The fact is that for every person who laughs at a joke, there are usually two or three others who are offended. If you believe it’s worth doing, fine; but have a backup plan in case things go south on you.   

Our advice: Use Humor When Necessary But Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket!

Focus less on the humor and more on making your message interesting and engaging to read. If the humor helps, great; if not, just make sure that your message is compelling.

Myth #5:   You Can Make People Laugh By Saying “Duh!” After Your Copy!

This time I have proof on my side because I have actually tried this method before in an article I wrote for some website where you can buy followers online .

As expected, my audience didn’t find this funny at all though so don’t do as I did and save yourself some embarrassment.  Also note that according to sarcasm rules, there should have been a smiley face after saying “doh”.

Our advice: Don’t Do This!

Is there a place for humor in your copy?

If you look at B2C companies now,  I think you will agree with me that the major problem facing most businesses is customer retention rather than acquisition! That explains why people are more likely to read advertisements from companies they already patronize than those from competitors or startups.

Humor is a great way to boost customer retention and what’s more impressive is that humor actually improves the likelihood of copy being read!

Humor in advertising can be used effectively if you know how to use it.  It won’t always result in laughter but at least your readers will remember your ad because humor has this amazing ability to stick in people’s minds no matter how long ago they saw or heard it.  

  • Amount of people who are against using humor in advertisements = 0
  • Amount of people who think using humor is important = everyone else !

I personally believe that as long as an advertiser knows where to draw the line, humor is an excellent way of connecting with your target audience. 

Conclusion

Humor, when used appropriately and responsibly, has the potential to be one of your most effective weapons in developing brand loyalty .    It can also help you create long-lasting impressions through word-of-mouth advertising since people remember funny ads more than regular ones!   Now get out there and use this secret weapon that’s been around for hundreds of years to make your ad campaigns stand out!

Humor in advertising can be used effectively if you know how to use it.  It won’t always result in laughter but at least your readers will remember your ad because humor has this amazing ability to stick in people’s minds no matter how long ago they saw or heard it.  

Advertising is a relatively young discipline and its practitioners have formed many of the rules we abide by today, often based on common sense and observation rather than anything academic.

Breaking the rules might bring some humor to your copy, but always be careful when using the power of laughter. Something small to keep in your mind

What do you think? Do these myths apply to all humor, or is there a place for hidden messages in advertising? What methods have worked for you and what kinds of humor can enhance the tone of your copy whilst remaining honest and natural?

Let us know your thoughts!

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