Isn’t That Funny?

Some people have a knack for humor.  There is an old joke about a man who walks in to a bar and asks…  (uh oh, here it comes)  Mostly what you hear after that opening line is some kind of off-color humor about race, gender, or nationality.  The problem with using mirth in the public marketplace is that much of what you might think is funny, is actually offensive to someone else.  Therefore, it is important to be a good judge of what content you should censor from your website if found, and abstain from using in your own promotional materials.  Here are some good guidelines for determining whether your potentially funny post is in fact “over the top.”

  1. Does your joke make fun of a kind of person, occupation, or community role? That in and of itself should be a warning sign.
  2. Is the humor something that passes the “family hour” test? In other words, is it adult humor that should really be kept offline?
  3. Have you crash-tested the humor? Is there someone in your office or your entourage who could give you a bit of friendly advice that might avoid a large public embarrassment?
  4. Does the use of humor in this case really add something worthwhile? Because humor is such an obvious opportunity for misfire, challenge yourself on whether you really need it.
  5. Is the humor an inside joke? If so, then maybe it might be best left inside, among friends.
  6. Does your business really lend itself well to humor? Even if the joke is really funny, it will play out against the backdrop of your business which may or may not be something that people are willing to laugh about.  If in doubt, leave it out.

Now, just to be fair and to give some guidance to anyone who hasn’t already fled the scene, terrified of some potential gaffe, here are some guidelines for humor that works:

  1. A gentle or clever play on words that makes you and others giggle: a “manwich” is a good example of such a word.
  2. An example of the “wrong way to do something” that promotes your product or service. One example of this technique was used successfully in a job board advertisement where they call the lazy workers “Dave” but then offer an apology to anyone named Dave.
  3. A personal story that humbly admits a wrong on your part, as in “I really felt stupid when I yelled at customer support and it turns out my computer wasn’t even plugged in.”
  4. Personifying animals or objects. For some reason, this is a common theme in many ads, and some animals are stereotyped in a way that becomes very humorous.  Consider for example, an owl who is very concerned about getting his overdue library books back.  Or the car who thinks it isn’t really shiny enough to meet the Cadillac next door.  The humor might be subtle, but it portrays your business as being personable, open to criticism, and welcoming.
  5. Trying to hide an obvious flaw, such as the emperor has no clothes or this car goes from zero to sixty in five seconds, so long as you drop it from a tall enough building.
  6. Finally, the use of overstatement or understatement can be a goldmine for humor seekers. Consider this headline: “We offer the best car wash in the universe!”  It might not be side-splitting funny, but it does let you know in a gentle way that this business is not only proud, but friendly.

What have you discovered about advertising that uses humor?  Are there any rules you would add to these?  Please comment.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.

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