Humor in Advertising: Smart or Not?

Claude Whitacre
October 13, 2010 — 1,270 views  
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Small business advertisers almost universally want to be clever in their advertising. Humor is the first thing they go for, after clever word play. Is this a good advertising strategy?

The big sin in advertising and marketing is being boring. A market will forgive almost anything else. But a boring sales letter, commercial, or video will generate absolutely no interest in your product. The advertisement must be interesting to the prospect. Not interesting in general, but to that prospect.

Most small business advertisers who are putting together an ad, think of trying to be funny as their first priority. This is because many think of advertising as a form of entertainment. Advertising isn't entertainment, it is selling. Making someone laugh when they see your ad, may make you feel better, and it feels like the ad should be working, but this isn't the case.

You do not want to hear "Wow, I saw your ad. How clever (or how funny)." You want people to see your ad and then want to buy the product it is showcasing.

Is humor ever effective in your advertising? Sure. A viral video should be either very funny or very shocking. This will cause the video to be spread to all corners of the internet. You may even make some sales off of that video. Humor also has a place in advertising because to tends to stick in the mind of the consumer. Humor in advertising makes the company seem a little more "cool" because if the humor. But the humor should never get in the way of the appeal of the ad, which is to make someone want to buy the product advertised.

Advertisers should always put Selling first in their ads. After there is a strong appeal in the ad, then you can think of ways to say it in a funnier way. But never let humor get in the way of the selling.

Here is the danger of using humor in your ads. Some people may simply not get the joke. If they don't get the joke, the ad will actually irritate them, because they won't understand your point.
You may actually offend a few people. The humor, if really funny will direct the consumer's attention to how funny the ad is, not how great your product is.

A funny and dramatic demonstration of your product, that really drives home a buying benefit, is useful because now they are talking about the demonstration, which is the same as talking about your product. See? You want them taking about your product, not the commercial.

What is almost universally useful in your broadcast ads, is smiling, friendly faces. They don't have to be funny, but just happy. The prospect assumes they are happy because they are using the product. In print, it's harder to be funny anyway, so you are trying harder to be funny, which doesn't translate well to print. In print, ads should always try to sell, not be funny.

You can be interesting without going for a laugh. Do you know what prospective customers find interesting? Anything that will make their life easier, or will solve a problem that is bothering them. That's what they find interesting. And not being interesting is the major sin in advertising.

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Claude Whitacre

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