Many brands, from automotive manufacturers to pharmaceutical companies, aspire to launch humorous marketing campaigns. For some, it works out well; for others, not so much. In the purported last words of 18th-century actor Edmund Kean, “Dying is easy; comedy is hard.”
Even when a marketing joke falls flat, there are plenty of reasons for brands to keep trying. After all, humor—when done correctly—increases the likelihood that ads will be remembered and, more important, shared with others. And let’s face it: Knowing that you made a person laugh just feels good.
Over the decades, marketers have honed and evolved their approaches to humor in print and television campaigns. And just when they thought they’d gotten it down to a science, along came social media—and screwed everything up.
After all, what translates on the screen or in print won’t necessarily play in the form of a Facebook status update or tweet. No, no, no. This is social media, where sarcasm will usually backfire and light-hearted irreverence will be perceived by at least someone as being downright hurtful.
The rules for humor in social media are different from humor rules elsewhere. That doesn’t mean it isn’t something you should aspire to in your brand’s social persona. There are various ways that brands are infusing their social media voices with humor. Just take a page from the books of those who do it well.
Don’t take yourself too seriously
Many have argued that certain types of brands just don’t have a place on social media. After all, the critics say, who wants to have a relationship with their toilet paper?
The people who say that haven’t checked out Charmin on Facebook. The brand singlehandedly proves that at least 330,000 people want to have a social relationship with their toilet paper. Why? It’s because the brand is lighthearted and doesn’t take itself too seriously. After all, it’s toilet paper—and if toilet paper can’t succeed in the realm of tasteful toilet humor, I don’t know what can.
Consider the brand’s post on Jan. 2:
Charmin’s Facebook page is full of such silly references to restroom-isms. It’s surprisingly well done—and often truly funny.
Even if your brand doesn’t specifically lend itself to literal toilet humor, there’s a good chance that it can benefit from not taking itself—or its products—too seriously.
Oh, social media. What a wonderful and horrible invention. It inspires so many great things, and yet simultaneously brings out the worst in humanity. If your brand is even dabbling in the social media realm, you’ve likely met some of the people who make Twitter, Facebook, and other popular networks a painful place to exist.
Most brands are going to have run-ins with dissatisfied customers, online trolls, and run-of-the-mill smartasses. There are many ways to deal with these people, but one of the best ways to defuse potentially explosive situations is through humor. It’s not always appropriate, of course, but when it is, it’s usually effective.
Consider, for example, SmartCar’s response to a Twitter user who jokingly questioned the structural integrity of its vehicles:
Similarly, brands don’t always have to wait for negative comments in order to churn out a witty response. Consider JetBlue’s response to a sexy fan post that most brands likely would have ignored altogether:
Be playful with other brands
Most brands tend to think of the social media sphere as one in which they interact with potential customers, but don’t forget: Social media is the playground of other brands, as well. When those brands discover one another online, there’s often great potential for a laugh.
Such was definitely the case between the Red Cross and Dogfish Head. The incident started with an accidental Red Cross employee tweet on the corporate account, which alluded to “#gettngslizzerd” on some Dogfish Head beer that night. Instead of panicking, the Red Cross made light of the accidental tweet. Good move. In an even better move, Dogfish Head embraced the new #gettngslizzerd hashtag and scored some serious free marketing.
In yet another example of brand-on-brand humor, Old Spice and Taco Bell, each a social media giants in its own right, rose to new levels of Internet cleverness with this exchange:
Your brand doesn’t necessarily have to wait for such serendipity. Consider reaching out to complementary brands now and then for a lighthearted social media ribbing. Everyone loves a little witty banter.
Many brands see social media as a means to disseminate important brand information, offers, and customer service—which is all well and good. But not all brands, particularly local ones, have a steady stream of new offers and insights to tout through their Twitter and Facebook presences. That doesn’t mean they can’t still come out to play.
If your brand is more interested in using social media to foster awareness than it is in driving immediate sales or customer service interactions, consider taking the approach of Arena Flowers, whose Twitter account offers a steady stream of seemingly random (but often amusing) one-liners:
Silly, shareable photos
Some brands, such as Oreo, seem to have endless budget for creating clever on-brand visual jokes to disseminate via Facebook:
That’s great—for Oreo. But what about virtually every other brand? The ones trying to run a respectable social media program without breaking the bank? Well, keep in mind that this is the Internet that we’re talking about. Sometimes sharing great images will get you just as much mileage as creating great images.
Hubba Bubba is a great example of a brand that has found success curating, rather than creating:
Wordplay (the dumber, the better)
People love stupid puns. That’s just a fact. So, if you can work them into your social media plan, do it. PopChips knows what I’m talking about. “Orange you glad it’s October?” “Road-chip.” “Chip-faced.” A little bit of fun with language makes otherwise mundane photo posts a lot of fun:
Post with personality
This final humor strategy isn’t for every brand, but if yours can get away with it, consider posting more like a person than a faceless company. (Consider even naming the person who is posting.) It gives you the liberty to share silly, stupid content without always having to create your own images or witticisms. If you’re lucky, people will start to think of you more like their zany friend than an actual brand.
Axe is an excellent example. The brand actually assigns its posts to various staffers who have built online personas within the company’s social media properties. They’re not always funny, and their punctuation is sometimes abominable or nonexistent. But more than 4 million people have decided to allow such content into their streams:
So, get creative. If there’s someone on staff with a knack for consistently sharing great content on their personal social media properties, consider making that person the online persona of your brand, too.