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The Dangers of “Funny” Marketing Communications

Contributing Solution Provider

The Dangers of “Funny” Marketing Communications

No, that was not an ad for the US Postal Service, even though they are exploring many different ways of increasing revenue.

While some businesses can use humor successfully, trying to be funny in your ads or marketing materials will usually backfire. One reason is that what is funny to one person is not funny to another. Some people will laugh at a pun while others will roll their eyes. Some will find a put-down amusing while others will find it offensive.


Timing is also a problem. People aren’t always in the mood to laugh. They’re tired, stressed, and often cranky. They have a busy schedule and a lot on their mind. That isn’t a good environment for cracking jokes.


In addition, the joke often overshadows the selling message. This creates what communication experts call “cognitive dissonance.” How many times have you told someone about a funny TV commercial you saw but were unable to remember what product the commercial was selling? The joke gets attention and is memorable, but it blocks the important part of the message. The same happens in direct mail and print.


Humor in advertising is really a mathematical problem. Think about how you plan an email  campaign. You carefully target the right person with the right message at the right time. If any element is wrong, your campaign could fail. The same is true for humor.


In order for humor to work, you have to assume that you know what’s funny, that you can target your joke to the right audience at the right time, and that the joke will be an effective technique to boost your sales. The odds are long for getting all of these elements right. And if even one in 10 don’t find your joke funny, that’s an instant 10 percent drop in your response. Can you afford to take that chance?


Some years ago a company selling custom made kitchen and bathroom cabinets created a direct mailer with a picture of a man in a trench coat on the envelope. The teaser read “Want to see more?” The letter inside explained how to have custom cabinets at a non-custom price. But because the man in the trench coat was unrelated to the product and somewhat in poor taste, the envelope simply confused recipients and probably went into the round file. The joke got in the way of an otherwise cost saving message.


This is not to say you must be grim or serious. Being lighthearted or warm is fine. But telling jokes or trying to be “funny” or clever is a risky strategy that can interfere with your message and torpedo your sales. And that’s certainly no laughing matter.


Looking for some new marketing and advertising ideas? Look no further than your customers. Stop by our web site, Marketing Communications Group, and learn more about our custom-centric marketing strategy. You'll also find some free informative articles and a case study or two to get your creative juices flowing. Also while there, click on the MarketingDoc blog link for over 60 posts on marketing and small business.


If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I'll get right back to you. Thanks for reading,



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Constant Contact Solution Provider
Marketing Communications Specialist
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