Should You Use Humor in Advertising?
Sep 11, 2017

Should You Use Humor in Advertising?

Using humor in advertising is a hotly debated topic. Do you use humor to win over potential customers, or avoid it to ensure you don’t alienate segments of your audience? We’ve done the research, and here’s what we’ve found about using humor in advertising for your brand.


The case for humor

Many of the big players in advertising make a case for using humor in their marketing, and for good reason. Reason number one: using humor in advertising increases your likeability as a brand. Consumers buy from brands they like; it’s as simple as that. Likeability is fundamental to forming positive relationships, and humor is a great way to jumpstart the process. Earning trust through humor can propel consumers through the consumer decision funnel and turn a prospect into a paying consumer.

Humor can surprisingly make the difference between someone who notices your brand and someone who buys your product. According to a landmark 1993 study from the Journal of Marketing, humor was more likely to enhance recall, evaluation, and purchase intention as long as the humor was well placed in the ad. Using humor in advertising also gives you the chance to make an uninteresting brand or product more interesting and appealing to consumers. Think of brands like Geico. Insurance isn’t exactly an exciting topic, but Geico’s quirky mascot and on-the-nose sense of humor makes their campaigns more memorable than any other insurance brand. Memorability, especially in high-competition industries, can mean the difference between a paying customer and someone who walks out the door.


No funny business here

Of course, there are also some compelling arguments for avoiding the use of humor in advertising campaigns. Most importantly: different people have different senses of humor. What one person may find as the pinnacle of humor may disgust another person. Even worse, some people might find a particular sense of humor offensive and be turned off from your product altogether. How do you get around people’s different senses of humor in advertising? Unfortunately, to some extent, you can’t.

Take for example this Mike’s Hard Lemonade ad, which left many with a bad taste in their mouth. While this ad was surely targeted to the young male demographic this company often chases after, it missed the mark with most people (understandably). This prompted many to voice their concern with the ad and the brand in general. This is exactly what you want to avoid when attempting to use humor in advertising.


The final concern is that humor may not actually sell product at all. While it has been proven many a time that using humor in your ads increases brand recognition, there’s much less data on how and if humor increased product purchasing. If purely selling product is your brand’s ultimate end goal, humor may not always prove to be the best method.

Should You Use Humor in Advertising?Ready to use humor in your ads? Here are some things to keep in mind:


  • Will it detract from the message?

The most important part of using humor is making sure that your humor doesn’t detract from the overall message you’re trying to achieve. You could have the best joke in the word, but if it doesn’t mesh with the message of your ad, then your campaign is going to fall flat. Any use of humor in your advertising should add something significant to the message. If it doesn’t, best to steer clear.

  • Could it alienate some of my potential consumers?

Looking back to our previous point, the last thing you want your audience to do is alienate potential customers by offending them through your humor. While sometimes it can pay off to take on a riskier sense of humor (especially if you have a niche audience), always think twice before risking your brand’s reputation for a quick laugh. We’re not saying you always have to play it safe, but definitely run your idea past a few people in your company to get a sense of how much risk you may actually be taking.

  • What’s the point of using humor here?

Humor needs to be used strategically in your advertisement. What purpose does the humor serve in your message? Don’t be funny just for the sake of being funny. Strategically use your sense of humor and align it with the brand’s overall tone and the message for this particular ad. Humor is a great resource, but only when used appropriately and strategically.

  • Will my consumers get it?

Finally, before placing your ad out there, make sure the humor in your ad will get across to your consumer. Don’t place a bunch of jargon and insider lingo inside your ad if your audience isn’t niche enough to get those jokes. If you’re making pop culture references, has too much time passed by for it to be relevant? Will a big segment of your audience not understand the reference? These are all things to consider before taking your ad to the mainstream.


Would you like to learn more about online advertising, or about any other video topic? Reach out to IDR for additional information and answers to all your questions. You’ll discover why we’re Orange County’s premier producer of TV commercials, infomercials, and online videos for a wide range of businesses, organizations, and brands.


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