Marketers: why so serious?

Marketers: why so serious?

Marketing 101: Connect with your customers. Here's one way to do that: humour.


6 min read

Right off the bat, allow me to add this disclaimer: I have not studied marketing. I do not work in marketing. I'm just someone who's been around the sun 40-something-odd times, so have some opinions on what I feel works... and what does not.

We're bombarded with ads from brands all day, every day. On our computers, on our TVs, in our newspapers (for those of us who still read such things ๐Ÿ˜‰), and, more recently, on social media too.

Many websites are simply covered in advertising. Often, it seems the whole point of these sites is purely to serve ads, thereby generating revenue... but that's a rant for another day.

Brands operate on the multitude of popular social media networks out there, be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any of the many others.

Having seen SO many ads over so many years, here's what I personally feel is one of the best ways to engage with customers and gain some extra time in their minds: Humour.

Stuffy suits

The corporate world can be a very serious place, with associated serious messaging and marketing-speak. But, it doesn't always have to be. In fact, I'd venture so far as to state that it shouldn't always be.

Sure, there's a time and a place for everything (witty undertakers cracking jokes would probably come across as a bit macabre to all but those with a rather dark sense of humour). However, in my experience, the brands that I remember best, are generally those that made me laugh, or at the very least, smile.

Recalling the days of yore

Case in point: I vividly recall a single print ad from more than 25 years ago. Just one! This ad was printed in the corner of the local Pretoria News newspaper's front page (I even remember that!). Mercedes-Benz was all about their new C-Class cars at that point. This advert featured just the following text:

Why drive C-Class when you can drive first class?

All that followed was simply a BMW logo.

That was it. Nothing more. It made me chuckle then, and it makes me chuckle today. Well done, BMW.

One more thing that I respect about this advert was that they didn't dilute the humour by explaining it or dumbing it down. They didn't feel the need to include any more details. I respect that. Personally, I feel that a lot of humour is reduced or degraded by having a punchline explained after the fact.

Here's a tip: a large part of your audience is likely smarter than you may give them credit for. Trust them to figure it out. Besides, if you need to explain the joke to some of the audience, they probably won't find it that amusing anyway...

I come across quite a number of brand accounts being witty and cracking jokes on Twitter. I have to admit, I love it. I'm sure the more cynical among us roll their eyes at this, but my thinking is: they're going to be posting anyway. So, it may as well make us smile.

Funny foodies

Some examples of brands that do this rather well? These all happen to be food-related, but they all have a bit of a reputation for bringing the comedy ๐Ÿ”ฅ!

From this list, I have personally seen the majority of funny tweets come from Wendy's, i.e. in general comedy galleries and suchlike where they are reposted. That being said, every single one of the above has made me chuckle at some point!

From a brand perspective, we don't even have Wendy's here in South Africa. I've never been to a Wendy's when travelling overseas. Yet, I still view the brand positively purely because it has made me laugh on multiple occasions. Some older examples include:

And no, I don't actually follow any of these accounts on Twitter. Lots of people enjoy their comedic tweets, so they get shared and make their way all over. That right there is extra bonus marketing - having the public share your brand's content of their own volition, at no cost to you.

Here's another example of clever advertising from quite a number of years ago with a witty angle to it. Audi started by putting up the billboard on the left, and BMW ended the battle when it erected the one on the right.

BMW checkmate advert

Yes, it happens to be BMW once again. Pure coincidence, in this case, I swear ๐Ÿ˜‰. But, once again, this advert is old, yet sticks in my mind. This is why I went and tracked it down to include in this post.

Can you relate?

Some well-placed relatable humour also works well. I have no idea what the culture at Microsoft is really like. In the past, they've generally come across, to me at least, as quite serious and businesslike. Nothing wrong with that - they do what they do, and they do it rather well. This is why this tweet caught me somewhat off guard:

Is there anyone out there, using a computer, that could not relate to this? I doubt it.

And, there have been others, such as this one:

I enjoyed these and they made me smile. The upside to that is me remembering these: I remember the tweet and their brand thus gets extra time in my thinking. Is that not a major goal of marketing? It most definitely is. So, I'd call that a success.

Academic one-upmanship

Traditionally seen as ever-so-serious, museums are not institutions you'd expect to start an amusing and friendly 'war' amongst their peers, but here's one wholesome and amusing example where that's exactly what happened.

Starting with this tweet by the Museum of English Rural Life, it quickly escalated into a highly entertaining case of one-upmanship:

You can follow the thread from that tweet, but it's laid out nicely in this article: click to read. (This article's author beat me to the punch by already making an 'unsolicited duck pics' pun... Well played.)

I'll be honest, I've never really given much thought to ducks in museums, yet here we are. I posted a link to that article on my personal Facebook page more than two years ago. Now, when writing this article, it immediately popped into my mind as a "must add". I even remembered the name of the museum that started it all, a museum I'd never heard of before reading it.

Netflix? They like to get in on it too:

I found many examples of brands being humorous online, and sadly, I could not include them all here. When you've got a minute, it's worth doing a quick Google search. Taking time to laugh is never wasted time.


In closing, a brief thought: Sure, humour is subjective. Some find all jokes funny, others find almost nothing funny. The majority of your audience is somewhere in between. You're never going to be able to entertain everyone, so just go for as many as you can.

I guarantee more people will remember something that entertained them than would recall a regular (and somewhat dull) corporate update from yet another brand.

If you make someone smile, they're probably going to remember you.

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