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How to Include Humor in Your Content, but Still Be Taken Seriously

By Carrie DagenhardDec 10, 2014

hahahaYou can’t remember where you left your keys (on top of the TV), who won the 2007 World Series (Red Sox) or even what you had last night for dinner (hopefully tacos), but quiz someone about their favorite advertisement or marketing campaign and answers start flying in faster than if you’d asked who wants free beer.

What secret sauce makes campaigns memorable? Why is one ad, of the thousands of messages you see on a daily basis, etched into your long-term memory while things like, say, the Pythagorean theorem, are long since forgotten?

When I asked a few coworkers this question, I noticed one common theme: every one of our favorite campaigns included an element of humor. Humor is the reason three people mentioned this recent DirectTV ad, but no one remembered this John Hancock commercial.

It’s really no surprise, though, because humans love to laugh. This natural reaction is proven to relieve stress, increase production of endorphins and promote relaxation. Associating these pleasurable feelings with your brand is a great method for sparking long term engagement. So why, when it comes to content marketing, do so many marketers still shy away from incorporating humor into brand messaging? The answer is simple: they’re afraid customers will stop taking them seriously.

When done correctly, though, humor can bring your brand major attention. In an effort to help you achieve said positive results, and avoid reputation-marring mishaps, we’ve compiled a list of best practices. Read on to learn how to breathe wit into your storytelling.



Use Sparingly

“Humor evokes positive emotion, cuts through the noise, demonstrates authenticity, and redeems,” said comedy writer, and Senior Marketing Manager of Cisco, Tim Washer. It’s an excellent method of garnering interest in your message and giving your brand an element of humanity. But, it can also be overdone.

Think of humor as the chili powder of literary techniques. A dash or two rounds out the flavor nicely, but too much taints the whole pot. In other words, use humor as a way to break up the monotony of otherwise drab subject matter or to enhance your point, but don’t turn your content into a stand-up routine. 



Steer Clear of Shock Value

Keep in mind there is a fine line between humorous and inappropriate. While shock is one way to grab your audience’s attention, using lewd, malicious or obscene subject matter can quickly backfire. And once you’ve crossed the line there’s no going back.

There are countless examples of companies that, in an attempt to relate to their audience through humor, came off as offensive and crude. Take this recent Dave & Busters Twitter debacle, for example. In an attempt to earn a laugh, the brand was immediately labeled as racist and insensitive.

The moral of the story is, never sacrifice your professional reputation, or the reputation of your business, for the sake of a few laughs. If you have to question whether a statement could be taken the wrong way, it’s best left on the cutting room floor.



Share Personal Stories

Everyone loves a good story. That’s why we’re in this business in the first place, right? However, a story is only as powerful as the people it engages, and few things captivate audiences quite like humor. A guffaw-inducing anecdote is not only memorable, it elicits all the warm fuzzies we mentioned earlier. It helps potential customers better understand concepts, and promotes a connection with your brand.

According to University of Virginia psychology professor Timothy Wilson, “Stories are more powerful than data because they allow individuals to identify emotionally with ideas and people they might otherwise see as outsiders.”

Consider Your Brand’s Personality

Whether snarky and highbrow, satirical or slapstick, there are many different flavors of humor. The type of humor you include in your content should echo the humor used by your buyer personas. Otherwise, you could hear crickets.

For example, a crack about the latest Miley Cyrus fiasco probably wouldn’t gain traction from a group of financial executives, any more than a quip on last quarter’s gross domestic product would garner from the customer base of a teen clothing manufacturer. Know your personas, and speak to their interests.

Don’t Get Discouraged


Even the most hysterical comedic entertainers have their off nights, so don’t feel dismayed if you have a hard time coming up with a witty one-liner. But, don’t fight it either. More often than not, the funniest statements flow naturally without forethought or rehearsal.

According to Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, Ann Handley, “Humor is effective in marketing because it humanizes and surprises.”



In other words, don’t be afraid to be funny so long as you’re able to handle with care. Sprinkling humorous undertones into your content is a powerful strategy for connecting with your market, creating an indelible impression and, above all, making people feel good.

Ready to learn more sure-fire content marketing strategies for wowing your audience? Check out our free guide, Conquering Content Marketing.

Conquering Content Marketing

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The Author

Carrie Dagenhard

Carrie is a seasoned content strategist who worked as a department editor and music journalist before making her foray into inbound marketing as a content analyst for a web development and SEO company. Carrie works hard at crafting the perfect content strategy for clients and using her hard-hitting journalism skills to tell your brand’s unique story. Outside of the office, Carrie enjoys live music, Tex-Mex, exploring the city with her husband and attempting to win the affections of her two terrible cats.
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