How to Use Humor to Sell

A giraffe, an aardvark and a mongoose walk into a bar … 

Heard that one before (or one like it)? That’s what makes humor so effective—it’s memorable. In fact, a Journal of Marketing study found that ads using humor are more likely to get noticed and help to overcome sales resistance. But it’s tool that needs to be handled with care or you might be remembered for the wrong reason. Remember this ad for sports apparel? Consider these guidelines when using humor to sell your product or service.

Why It Works (and Fails)

Humor taps into several aspects of human behavior to create a marketing advantage. First, it stands out. That means people are more likely to remember it. Research indicates that humor increases recall. 

Second, laughter releases neurochemicals into the body creating a pleasurable experience. People tend to transfer that good feeling to your business. They like you. That leads to the third advantage, people want to tell others. So your message gets shared with more people. 

That powerful connection also has a downside. Humor tends to be highly subjective. What’s funny to one may offend another. That can spread like wildfire and damage your brand. Humor can also water down your message. For example, a health coach using cheap humor may be seen as unprofessional.

Going For the Laugh

If you’re thinking about using humor as a tool to increase your sales, consult these guidelines first:

  • Check your brand – Think about the impression you want customers to have about your business. If you help customers with serious issues where confidentiality is critical, humor may not be the best choice. However, if you want customers to relax and have fun, laughter may be just the ticket. Here’s how a Southwest flight attendant mirrors the company’s travel-fun image.
  • Be sure the timing is right – Timing is everything in comedy. But it’s also important for your business. Be aware of how it might relate to current events or the calendar. For example, the punch line “a shot in the dark,” isn’t funny after news of a school shooting. A “take my mom, please” Mother’s Day promotion won’t be welcomed by people who no longer have a mom.
  • Select the right channel – The interactive nature of social media can lend itself to a humorous approach. The sharing feature allows you to extend your reach. It can be as simple as a pun used in your post. Here’s a classic to use on May 4 if your customers are Star Wars fans, “may the forth be with you.”
  • Start small – One way to ease into humor is to change the tone you use in your promotions. Start by being more conversational. For example, instead of “Please join us for our open house,” say “Come on down to our open house and see what everybody’s talking about.” A more relaxed tone makes you more approachable.
  • Try it out before taking it on the road – If you’re not convinced humor will work for your business, do an A-B test on your promotion. Use humor in one version and a more serious tone in another. Compare results and apply your findings before the promotion plays the big house. It may help you avoid a public relations issue.
  • Look for subtle opportunities – Humor doesn’t have to be front and center. It can be used in more indirect ways. For example, a coffee shop might use an error message on their website that says, “Here’s a great time to refill your cup while we brew up a quick fix.” It’s unexpected and can help diffuse a pain point for customers.

When used appropriately, humor can be an effective way to connect with customers. Start with these tips to determine how you might use it to get your small business noticed.

Get TheWire Delivered to Your Inbox

The trends, insights, and solutions you need to grow your business.

By signing up, you’re subscribing to our monthly email newsletter, The Wire. You may unsubscribe at any time.
Your information stays safe with us. Learn more about our privacy policy.