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When marketing becomes a laughing matter

By David Williams

No matter which team wins the Super Bowl this Sunday, advertisers will score a proverbial touchdown with the ads that air between plays.

Super Bowl commercials have become such an integral part of the excitement that some websites (including www.superbowl-commercials.org) are already providing sneak peaks and teasers for brands that have pre-released their TV spots.

Business man holding a piece of paper bearing a smiley face over his own face
Don’t worry: Business people like to laugh too! (Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Are you ready for some marketing footage — I mean, football?

The majority of Super Bowl ads have one thing in common: they leverage humor to hook the audience. Coworkers aren’t going to congregate around someone’s cubicle to rehash a straightforward commercial about a soft drink or snack. No, they’re going to laugh about the ones with the most outrageous sight gags and unexpected twists.

While at the most recent PR + Social Media Summit, I attended a session called “The Business Case for Nonsense,” during which Tim Washer of Cisco Systems — the creative mind behind this gem — touted the virtues of infusing comedy and storytelling in marketing communications:

  • Humor evokes a positive emotion.
  • Humor cuts through the noise.
  • Humor humanizes a brand.
  • Humor can show authenticity.

Which is why Old Spice took an over-the-top approach when targeting a younger demographic a couple of years back, why Progressive continues to put such a goofy spokesperson in the spotlight and why just about every beer commercial attempts to serve up some laughs along with its marketing messages.

In fact, making someone laugh, Washer argued, is the most intimate connection one can make in the business world.

We at BrownBoots deal with many business-to-business companies, a sector that traditionally sticks to straightforward, informational tactics. But here’s the thing: businesses are made up of people — people who want to be as engaged while sitting in their office chair as when they’re sprawled out on the couch at home.

Whenever we take on a project, we urge our clients, whether consumer brands or B2B companies, to embrace creativity and, when appropriate, take a chance with humor. The point is getting customers’ attention, after all.

Of course, branding is a complicated beast, and it’s important to remain genuine and strategic across all channels. Not every play has to be a Hail Mary, but the better a business can get at lightening up — and occasionally laughing at itself — the better its chances at scoring some points in the personality department and truly resonating with customers.

I take it back what I said earlier. Most Super Bowl commercials have two things in common: a comical angle and an enormous bill.

But whereas a handful of major brands will make a big gamble come game day, B2B and direct-to-consumer companies of all sizes can take smaller risks throughout the year, regularly injecting their marketing communications with comedy.

Laughter just might be the best medicine for an ailing advertising campaign.

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