But is it Funny? Using Humor to Promote Your Brand

It’s not breaking news that the citizens of the Internet love some humor. It always excites, yet hardly amazes me when I see something start to spread around and go “hot” all at once. Friends send me videos, photos and blog posts that are hilarious, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. But the things that end up being the most humorous aren’t necessarily tied to any one product or brand. So can you intentionally use humor to drive awareness and create affinity?

A note on “viral” content — Let’s get something straight: viral is a result of other factors, not a planned endeavor. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. Getting something to go viral is like trying to bathe a cat in ice water. It might happen, but it isn’t likely. So why plan for virality? Well, you shouldn’t, actually. Instead, do something that you can control – make it funny, or, at the VERY least, entertaining.

Humor Techniques:

So what makes something funny? Well, there are a few factors, and I’ll do my best to give some examples of ways humor is used in various campaigns that help them become more easily spread.

Reversal of Expectations

This is a basic tenet of humor. You take one idea and flip it around. The unexpected becomes the focus, and therefore the result is often humor. You expect one thing to happen, and then something else does. When this expectation shifts, we find it amusing and surprising. Here are a few examples of ads that have been passed around because of their ability to skew perception and create humor:

An Ogilvy ad for Cadbury. Get it? Classic reversal of expectations. (via adsoftheworld)

A Wonderbra ad. It’s what you’re NOT seeing that makes this ad so good. (via The Arab Aquarius)


I love absurdity. The idea that something is strange for strange and weird’s sake is compelling to me. One of my favorite examples of absurd humor used in an “ad” is the series of short films that Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim and Zach Galifiankis did for Absolut Vodka. Absolut did a brave and wonderful thing by trusting these irreverent and hilarious comedians to do their jobs. They did and it worked. Absolut basically said, “you can do whatever you want, just include the product in there somewhere.” The result is absurd and hilarious, and quite popular. Here is the first of three films:

You can see the other two here:

A Vodka Movie (pt 2)

A Vodka Movie (pt 3)

Cute & Clever

These ads usually go “hot” because they are simple, fun and easy to watch. Not only that, but they seem to be on brand and do a good job of making the product look good. That’s something that is hard to do intentionally in social media, but I guess that’s where the “clever” aspect comes in. The latest ad to hit the blogs is this funny Loewe’s commercial, which I stumbled upon twice in 10 minutes. Watch it and, you’ll see what I mean by “cute and clever.”

There are scores of examples of commercials and ads out there that resonate with audiences because they are humorous in one of these or other ways. Comedy isn’t easy, but thanks to the power of social media, companies can start seeing what resonates with their target demos best. It is now easier for companies and brands to track the result of how their comedic efforts are paying off. Not only that, but these companies should be paying attention to the things that others are doing, so the ante will continue to rise.

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