7 Ways to Use Humor in Your Online Marketing

Nobody likes being marketed to, but by taking the funny approach, your message won't just get received by your target audience–it may actually be welcomed.
December 14, 2012

Do you like to laugh? Well, so do your customers. 

You don’t need a big budget to add a little levity—all you need is a sense of humor. And as a small business, you’ve also got one big advantage over large corporations, notes Jeffrey Hayzlett, chairman of TallGrass Public Relations: It’s easier for you to get your offbeat ideas off the ground.

“Small-to-medium businesses have a higher degree of flexibility with their marketing activities than corporations will ever have,” Hayzlett says. 

Ready to up the fun factor? Here are seven ways to inject some humor into your marketing.

1. Deliver data with a punchline. Real estate broker Herman Chan created a video blog about real estate and design called “Habitat for Hermanity” that pokes fun at the real estate business while empowering buyers and sellers with behind-the-scene tips and secrets of the industry. Chan shoots and edits most of the videos himself using his iPhone and believes the blog makes him "memorable amongst a sea of boring realtors.”

According to Chan, “Younger generations have been socialized to receive info via humor. My clients don't watch "20/20" or "Nightline" for news, they watch Colbert and Jon Stewart. They want data delivered with a punch line.”

2. Tap into pop culture. HalloweenCostumes.com took advantage of this year's Gangnam Style craze with a fun “Gangnam PSY Costume Tutorial” blog post that offered customers a cheap, versatile guide for creating one of this year's biggest costumes.

“By looking at what we what we had in stock, how we'd modify it to keep the cost down and striking while the iron was hot, we generated sales and gained exposure that was very desirable for our target audience,” says Marlon Heimerl of HalloweenCostumes.com.

3. Give Your Product a Laugh Track

To breathe life into a complex (or even boring) product, consider putting a humorous spin on how people use it.

Michael Meyers Public Relations used this approach to promote its client Rude Gameware’s Teflon mouse pad. To get the media’s attention, they grilled cheeseburgers on the mouse pad and sent the picture and a press release to reporters around the Fourth of July weekend. The stunt earned the company a front-page spot on prominent tech site Engadget, among other media pick-ups.

Showcasing your product in a humorous video is another great approach. Pure Storage, an all-flash enterprise storage startup, shot and released a humor-filled marketing video titled “You Know You Want Flash.” To minimize costs, the startup wrote, directed and produced the video in-house, staging the shoot and production in one day in its Mountain View, California, office. The video has garnered nearly 26,700 views on YouTube to date.

"We created this video with two goals in mind: to challenge the perception that storage is boring, and to challenge the status quo established by the old school incumbent storage vendors,” says Matt Kixmoeller, vice president of products at Pure Storage


4. Lampoon with a cartoon. Software development startup Typemock created a funny Web comic series about software testing to help reach developers through social media. To date, it’s been picked up by numerous blogs as well as one of the biggest computer geek comic sites, pcweenies.com.

Services such as CartoonLink can create a personalized cartoon for use in e-mail marketing and direct mail programs for companies. CartoonLink’s team of artists includes prominent cartoonists whose work can be seen in The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review and more.

“We've found that the presence of the personalized cartoon tends to double, sometimes triple open rates versus standard approaches,” says Stu Heinecke, president of CartoonLink and author of Drawing Attention, a book about the effective use of cartoons. “What's more, those open rates remain high over time. Once recipients come to expect the new cartoon about themselves, they look forward to the next mailing.”

5. Get animated. Rafe Gomez, owner of VC Inc. Marketing, regularly uses animation tool Xtranormal to quickly develop promotional animated videos for clients. For example, Gomez was able to write and develop an animated video in under five hours for data protection and recovery services company Syncsort.

“The results of this video were impressive. We created new backlinks to the company's site, improved search rank for the company and generated new leads for the company's sales department,” says Gomez.

Another animation tool to consider is GoAnimate, a cloud-based application that allows small businesses to quickly and easily create high-quality animated videos. GoAnimate uses the app in its own marketing and has created several animated videos to demonstrate the app’s capabilities, including this funny video for a “Thinking Cap” that makes you smarter.


6. Be a social Seinfeld. On his “show about nothing,” Seinfeld elevated the mundane to the sublime, turning the minutiae of daily life into wry observations and satire. Be a master of the social domain by adding a little humor to your posts … even if your posts are basically about nothing.

One proponent of this approach is Eat24, the San Francisco-based online food delivery and takeout startup. Rather than exclusively filling its social feeds with posts about restaurants, Eat24 uses funny statuses and photos, personal conversations with users and answers to social media comments and questions to give the brand a high-impact, fun personality.

Recent examples of Eat24’s Facebook posts include the one-liner: “Thanksgiving Day Pro Tip: Pants only get in the way” (which generated nearly 100 engagements in less than 24 hours) and a picture of a man wearing headphones fashioned out of beets, with the caption “BEETS BY DRE” (which generated nearly 300 Likes, Shares and Comments to date).

“We really try to express a consistent humorous voice across all social channels,” said Nadav Sharon, CEO of Eat24. “We’ve found humor to be an incredibly effective way to drive engagement and gain loyal followers.”

7. Solicit humor from your fans. Finally, why not try crowdsourcing the funny business?

Derek Sikkelee, creative director at 2 Hundred Oaks Brand Management, routinely incorporates fan humor into his client programs. 2 Hundred Oaks recently developed several Facebook contests for Louisiana-based Slap Ya Mama Cajun Seasoning that challenged the company’s fans to playfully incorporate the essence of the brand into Facebook posts. For example, for the company’s “Slap Ya Mama Photo Bomb Ya” Contest, fans submitted photos featuring inventive product placements; in another contest, fans were tasked with coming up with made-up words or phrases with the word “slap” in them.

“We love programs where everybody shares a laugh and where fans can get as much attention, praise, and exposure as the business,” adds Sikkelee. 

How are you using humor in your online marketing?

 Photo: Thinkstock