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We’re a little more than a week away from the skull-crushing, chip-crunching event our lawyers advised us to call “The Big Game.” It’s the bizarro night where advertisers will spend $5.5 million dollars for 30 seconds of airtime in an attempt to tickle our funny bone—and that’s not including ads for Trump and Bloomberg. (Bipartisan zing!)

So why do marketers make such a serious investment in telling funny brand stories?

Humor sells.

Toying with playfulness helps make brands seem more relatable, trustworthy, and human. This is vital considering how automated, impersonal, and ignorable advertising is becoming.

In fact, a study by Millward Brown found that the funnier your ad or brand content is, the more impactful it is likely to be. Humor can drive involvement, which drives memorability. On a global basis, chuckle-inducing spots score higher than 74% of all other content.

But using humor is a delicate and precise operation—it must be done right. So, before your brand team goes all in on banana peels and cat memes, read these…


(p.s. there’s nothing significant or funny about the number eight—except for the fact that it rhymes with “clickbait.”)

1. Make sure the humor stems from your product, service, or brand.

As the late, great DDB founder Bill Bernbach once said, “You are NOT right if in your ad you stand a man on his head JUST to get attention. You ARE right if you have him on his head to show how your product keeps things from falling out of his pockets.”

That said, not sure Bill would see the connection between Boston-area icons perfecting the Beantown accent to sell a South Korean car. Especially during the upcoming Big Game that’s joyfully devoid of a certain Boston-area team.

However, we do think ol’ B.B. would approve of Cheetos-dust-covered-digits inspiring a famous ’80s song

2. Context is king.

Hilarious content can fall flat depending on when and where your audience experiences it. The medium, the people you’re with, the time of day and/or month, traffic, weather, work stress, lingering fear of a recession, kids screaming, the influence of White Claw, etc.—it all profoundly affects how we react to a joke.

As fellow Clevelander Dan O’Shannon, the writer/producer of Cheers and Modern Family, details in his book (It’s good! Read it!), context is absolutely everything.

This also explains why no one wants to follow the POTUS in this year’s Big Game. Buzzkill.

3. Be opportunistic.

Speaking of context, be ready to seize the… technical difficulty? That’s how Oreo won Big Game XLVII with a simple tweet seconds after the world’s largest stage went dark.    

4. Surprise. Delight. Repeat.

But if you’d rather take a slightly more aggressive (and expensive) approach to win the Big Game someday, maybe consider making every ad look like a Tide ad.  

5. Perhaps your humorous ad doesn’t have to look like an ad.

Or what if you created a hilarious Broadway musical instead? (After all, advertising “ruins” “everything.”)

6. Wait, cringey humor sells, too?

Based on Chipotle’s #GuacDance TikTok challenge—which resulted in 250,000 video submissions and a 68% increase in avocado usage at its restaurants—it’s safe to say… yes, cringey viral stunts can sell, too. Especially considering the explosive growth TikTok saw this past year among users 16 to 24. They spend an average of 52 minutes per day on the app, smiling in an awkward “Is this really funny?” kind of way. 

7. Don’t let your category dictate the kind of work you do.

Humor is not just for restaurants and consumer packaged goods. If boring insurance companies can make humor work, and a historical cemetery can make humor work, you can do the same for your industry.

But on second thought…

8. Don’t set out to be funny.

If only somebody shared that advice with Kenneth Cole and his super yikes tweet promoting his new spring collection. As Luke Sullivan advises marketers in his book Hey Whipple, “Don’t set out to be funny. Set out to be interesting.”

Or in the words of Howard Gossage, another brilliant marketing mind, “People don’t read ads. They read what interests them, sometimes that’s an ad.”

Now that’s funny.

Have an inspiringly humorous weekend, everybody.

– Your sorta-funny friends in Cleveland

Before your brand team goes all in on banana peels and cat memes, READ THESE 8 SERIOUS TIPS FOR USING HUMOR IN MARKETING.

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