Should “Funny” Be Part of Your Social Brand?

A recent Sprout Social study has been stuck in my head. They asked consumers about what was important to them as they researched prospective vendors on social media. Listen up folks because this is what gets you on the short list these days, not the demo or the smooth-talking sales person.  

The list was topped by some pretty unsurprising qualities. These included: being responsive via social media, offering promotions, providing educational content, and sharing interesting visuals. But then, item number five on the list (with 36% of customers saying it was important) was Being Funny. I kid you not! I was stopped in my tracks. For years I sought to gain credibility in the business world by being professional. 

I learned my products and my competitors’ products and learned how to tactfully position them. I stayed up on the latest trends and learned the vocabulary of the industry and technology. I retained compelling anecdotes and impressive customer success statistics, etc. I was serious about being taken seriously. And now it seems a significant number of prospects want their vendors to be funny… Frankly I didn’t buy it at first.

But I couldn’t get it out of my head. I thought back on my own experience and was surprised by what emerged. Some of my favorite influencers on social media are the ones who make compelling points with humor. Not off color raunchy stuff, but maybe they use a bit of good-natured sarcasm, or a playful teasing of the conventional wisdom, or just a pleasant story-telling technique that knows how to make you laugh at points…even a funny info-graphic.  My high school years were spent studying under Jesuit priests who were smart as whips and also as funny as hell (pardon the expression). They were extremely effective and persuasive. Maybe they were on to something.

I thought about the ads I liked on TV (yes, some of us still watch TV occasionally). There were two in particular which occurred to me, specifically because they were brands which had serious ad campaigns which I never liked, and then replaced them with lighter, humorous ones which make me feel much more open to trying their products. 

The first campaign is one for a company that makes men’s shirts that are meant to be worn untucked. The initial ad campaign featured the company’s founder and described them like they had figured out how to put a man on Mars. They clearly had an overblown impression of how important this was, and the ads came off seeming weird and un-relatable, and frankly annoying. 

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More recently they launched a new campaign which is much lighter and poked fun at the whole issue using easy-going actors and some simple but fun animation with characters who looked vaguely like Moe, Larry and Curly. It changed my whole attitude about the company and put the product, which actually seemed pretty good, in a more appropriate light.

The second example is Subaru. For a couple years they had this awful tag line about Love being what makes a Subaru a Subaru. I owned a Subaru years ago. Love had NOTHING to do with why I bought it. Every commercial irked me. This year they launched a new campaign featuring a family of dogs driving around in their cars. It’s absolutely hysterical. It makes me like Subarus again.

Finally, I considered a number of the smart little start-up high tech companies that crowd the Innovation District here in Boston. A visit to many of their websites find quirky, playful content and animation which seems designed specifically to solicit a smile. Go-Pro videos of people riding their bikes through the hallways or just employees goofing around at lunch or in a meeting are not uncommon. They are clearly putting a premium on likeability. And I have to admit, it makes me want to work with them.

Keep in mind, this is very much a branding issue, not a product differentiator or a selling point. It simply fleshes out the company’s personality. It can make you likeable. Which apparently in the age of social media carries more weight than I had thought possible. But be careful. Humor is a strange thing. Funny can be a hard thing to pull off. If you decide you want to incorporate it into your brand you may be wise to consult some professionals. Because you don’t want to irritate the very people you want to like you…. since according to the Sprout Social study, fifty-one percent of prospects “Unfollow” those brands that irritate them!

Clearly, funny works more in some industries than others. But it may be worth it to ask yourself the question. Are you willing to take the risk of being funny?


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