“A man was caught stealing in a supermarket today while balanced on the shoulders of a couple of vampires. He was charged with shoplifting on two counts.” (Source)
Some of you chuckled at that. Some of you rolled your eyes. A handful of you are scratching your heads wondering what this has to do with anything. Humor can be an effective way to build personal connections with the members of your audience, and a number of “cool” brands, especially food and consumer product brands, are using it in their content marketing strategies to achieve more visibility and shares. But like any individual joke, your humorous strategy can be polarizing, and there are risks to pinning the success of your content strategy on its execution.
In this article, I want to take a closer look at the potential for humor in content marketing and help you decide if it’s right for your brand.
The Effectiveness of Humor
Humor is broadly defined, and can be implemented in a number of different ways (which I’ll cover shortly). But first, we have to examine why humor can be an effective content strategy in the first place.
· Bonding. Countless psychological studies have suggested that humor is actually a social bonding mechanism. Laughing is a way of diffusing tension and displaying (not to mention reassuring oneself) that everything is okay. That’s why laughter results in stress relief, and why we’re more likely to laugh in groups of people than we are alone. If you can facilitate laughter, or at least a wry smile in your audience, you’ll forge a kind of bond with them, making them more loyal to your brand.
· Sharing. Humor is also contagious. When we see something that makes us laugh, one of our first instincts is to share it with someone we know who will probably find it as funny as we did. Because of this, funny content has a higher potential to be shared than dry forms of content. This makes humor indispensable when pursuing a viral content strategy.
· Branding. Humor can also be a way to exhibit your brand voice — so long as it’s the brand voice you’re really going after. More on this in a moment.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the ways you can use humor throughout your content marketing campaign.
· Conversational style. One of your first tools is to adopt a tongue-in-cheek, conversational style. You can throw out references to pop culture, illustrate your concepts with ridiculous examples, or leverage ridiculous looking images and videos throughout your posts to establish a friendly rapport with your readers. The more casual you are here, the more welcoming you’ll be seen to be, and the more your readers will enjoy themselves when reading your material. It’s a casual form of humor. WaitButWhy.com uses this sort of humor especially well.
· Sheer jokes. You can also go a blunter route, especially when it comes to short-form content. You can create entire posts for the sheer purpose of eliciting laughter, such as sharing or making a meme, or creating a joking title like “X Reasons You Should Probably Just Quit and Go Get a Milkshake.” Some brands, like the Onion, have built entire content empires on this idea.
· Shock value. You can also inject humor into your strategy by doing things that nobody else in your industry would normally do. Already-edgy industries, like the snack food industry, have to take things to ridiculous levels (such as with Mtn Dew’s PuppyMonkeyBaby ad), but most industries can simply differentiate themselves to achieve this “shock.”
A Question of Brand Voice
Before you commit to adding more humor to your content, you’ll want to consider the ramifications it has for your brand voice. How is your corporate brand currently seen? Is it pristine, professional, and classy? If so, adding shock humor isn’t going to help your reputation grow. If you’re going to include humor, make sure it’s in a way that aligns with your brand values; the short-term gains you might get in content visibility aren’t worth the long-term sacrifices you’ll make for your reputation.
One convenient way around this is to leverage the power of personal brands; personal brands can tie into your corporate brand directly, but have much more personality and more flexibility than your corporate brand could offer.
There are a handful of risks when it comes to using humor:
· Compromising your brand image. This only applies if your brand is traditionally “serious.” You can soften the association here by leveraging personal brands to bridge the gap.
· Offending a group of people. Make sure your jokes aren’t going to be taken the wrong way, and stay away from topics that are particularly sensitive. Shock humor can be effective, but only if It’s within the boundaries of decency.
· Being unfunny. Trying to be funny and failing could make an otherwise solid piece of content fall flat.
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for a single, comprehensive takeaway, here it is: humor can be a powerful tool, but only if it’s appropriate for your brand. It’s tricky to find jokes or concepts that are universally funny, or even funny to one specific demographic, and it’s even harder to pull that off consistently. Feel free to use humor with your personal brands, but remain committed to providing value to your customers and staying consistent with your brand voice as your top priorities.