How to Write Funny: Three Lessons in Marketing Humor From the Greatest Email Ever

Not that long ago, the greatest marketing email ever written popped into my inbox from BARK, a New York-based company. Its BarkBox and BarkShop brands sell dog toys and treats to the dog-obsessed.

The subject line read, “Chew your vitamins, pup.”

And the copy read, in part, “We all have needs. That’s why we have just the right supplement treats.”

None of that was particularly funny. But the funny part came in the “customer profiles” the email highlighted. Each describes a creature matched with hilariously human qualities, and BarkBox then matches those profile qualities with a dietary supplement it sells.

There’s neurotic Maris, who seriously needs to chill. Can you feel the alarm in those anxious little button eyes?

BarkBox says she might benefit from treats that contain 9mg of a supplement called Colostrum Calming Complex.

Meet Paula: Organized, efficient, more prepared than a Boy Scout.

Paula is that mom whose purse always has a snack in it and whose glovebox always houses a travel first-aid kit (which BarkShop also sells).

She’s your go-to in any emergency-which she knows is going to happen, because life is a train wreck.

Or Cindy: Perky. Wouldn’t miss her Zumba class. Promptly in bed by 11 because it’s important to get a Solid 8 every night.

You know probiotics keep this girl as regular as the commuter rail.

Finally, there’s Carl, the grandpa (grandpup?) of the group.

I just need to leave this photo here and let it speak directly to your heart.

Ah, Carl… CARL!

The lentil soup.

The pen.

The little fibs to his wife.

God I love Carl (and not just because I have a soft spot for senior dogs, especially my own almost-14-year-old girl, Abby.)

I picture this pudgy little pug wearing a cardigan as he sips his soup on the hottest day in July.

I imagine him doddering around the house, evading his wife’s inquiries. I picture him with the TV turned up too loud.

* * *

But you don’t sell dog products. You don’t have Supermodel Carl as your talent. So how can you write funny marketing emails or messaging for your own business?

Let’s break down some larger ideas you can steal from BarkBox and BarkShop.

1. Humor is based in truth. These customer profiles resonate because they’re real. We all know a Maris. Or a Paula. Or a Carl. (CARL!)

The writeups might be silly, but they aren’t cartoon fabrications: They feel palpable and true. They resonate because they’re relatable.

2. Humor is truth, exaggerated to an absurd degree. BarkBox and BarkShop imagined dogs as people. With human ailments and anxieties. Living human lives (driving minivans; sipping lentil soup).

Then they brought the idea of “what if our pets were humans?” to its absurd, illogical conclusion.

3. Humor signals belonging. BARK sells to dog people. Not cat people. Not horse people. Not bird people or llama owners or people who own pot-bellied pigs. Dog people.

You might be thinking: This email isn’t funny.

And if you are thinking that, you’re probably not a dog person.

Dog people recognize in the email copy the loveable weirdos that are their own pets. In a broader sense, BARK is telling its customers that it understands just how full of personality and odd their little creatures truly are.

And it is also signaling something deeper: We understand pets, and we get you, too.

BarkBox and BarkShop know that their customers consider their dogs to be like their kids. They are members of the family. Their humans talk to them, make up voices for them, do whatever it takes to give their dogs happier and longer lives. The dogs are pampered, coddled, treasured, loved.

And finally:

4. Minivan is funnier than car. Choose your words carefully, because humor comes to life in the specific details.

Lentil soup is funnier than soup. Cardigan is funnier than sweater. A dog driving a minivan is funnier than a dog driving a car. “Tide stick” is funnier because it’s specific. Zumba is funnier than dance class.

It’s the details that paint the most vivid picture in your reader’s heads.

* * *

So did the greatest email ever written ultimately inspire more than just admiration from me for its great marketing acumen?

Did Supermodel Carl actually trigger a sale, at least for my own Abby?

You bet it did.

I bought the hip and joint supplement for Abby. She still takes it today. I just asked her if it’s made a difference. She looked at me pointedly over her eyeglasses with an arched brow and a long gaze that said, “Seriously? Is that a real question?”


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