Clever humor boosts your brand
Clever and witty humor increases feelings of brand warmth and competence, and makes people more likely to engage with you. Generic humor doesn’t work.
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“Statistics means never having to say you’re certain”
To understand this joke, you need to know about two topics: scientific hypothesis testing and 1970’s movies (the quote “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” from Love Story).
When you successfully make the mental connection and understand the joke you feel pretty good. It took some effort, and it was witty.
So what happens when brands are the ones making these clever jokes?
This study from Duke University found out.
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It took 21 months, and this is the 130th research paper (find all the others here), but we made it!
Yes, this is largely a psychological milestone, but I still remember thinking “Imagine reaching 10,000 subscribers” when I started Ariyh. That’s 200 buses full of people!
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As a gift, at the end of this insight you’ll find a list of jokes I found while writing this (heads up, most are a bit cringeworthy).
Previous insight: When 1¢ sells more than free
Clever humor increases brand attitudes and engagement
Channels: Branding | Social media | Ads | Marketing communications
Research date: May 2022
Use clever humor on social media and in your ads. People will like and engage with your brand more.
Jokes must be clever (witty and smart) and related to your audience when possible (about their interests, your product, or competitor’s products). Non-clever jokes won’t work.
P.S.: Avoid offensive jokes, and - you know - try to actually be funny.
The more a brand uses clever humor, the more people like and engage with it.
Clever humor requires a mental connection to understand the joke and reach the ‘Aha!’ moment. Take the joke “I went to buy some camo pants but couldn’t find any”. It requires a mental leap to realize it’s because camo(uflauge) pants are hard to see, so they’re hard to find.
Jokes can still be funny without being clever, and statements can be clever without being funny. General (non-clever) humor does not seem to improve a brand’s standing.
As part of a series of 5 experiments, researchers found that:
Tweets from brands like Netflix and Moonpie are retweeted more and get more replies the more clever the humor they use
People had a 22.7% higher brand attitude of food delivery company Postmates after seeing a clever and funny image ad (“When you want ramen instantly, but not instant ramen”) compared to the same ad with text rated as funny but not clever (“You’re too old for instant ramen”)
The effect weakens when the audience doesn’t share the understanding needed to get the joke (e.g. an accountant is less likely to get marketing jargon jokes).
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🧠 Why it works
Clever humor is unique compared to other types of humor because it signals two things at the same time:
Competence: the brand is smart enough to come up with these funny mental connections
Warmth: references that not everyone would understand makes us feel closer to the brand
This pushes the brand in the ‘golden quadrant’ of being both competent and warm, both known to positively influence attitudes and sales.
Clever humor may be more fitting to some brands than others. For example, it might be best for a competent and sophisticated brand. We don’t know when and whether this is the case.
People might be put off by brands trying to take part in discussions about popular culture with clever jokes, and prefer to engage with other people instead. This was not tested.
🏢 Companies using this
Brands seem to increasingly use humor to try to engage people in ads and on social media.
For example, Moonpie and Hulu regularly use clever humor.
⚡ Steps to implement
If you think clever humor is fitting to your brand, you can make it part of your tone of voice and use it in most of your channels (e.g. social media, ads, emails).
Different types of humor can be clever, for example:
Word plays (e.g. “He had a photographic memory but never developed it”)
Cultural references (e.g. “Sometimes I think everyone in Gotham knows Batman is Bruce Wayne and everyone is just kinda humoring him”)
Teasing (e.g. “The only thing you’ve picked up at the bar lately is the check”)
Dirty jokes (e.g. “69% of people find something dirty in every sentence”)
Make sure your jokes are understandable and relatable to your audience. Avoid offensive humor.
Clever(-ish) jokes I found while writing this
Adam & Eve were the first ones to ignore the Apple terms and conditions.
A recent finding by statisticians shows the average human has one breast and one testicle.
Always borrow money from a pessimist. They’ll never expect it back.
If attacked by a mob of clowns, go for the juggler.
If I got 50 cents for every failed math exam, I’d have $6.30 now.
The last thing I want to do is hurt you; but it’s still on the list.
Your mama is so classless, she could be a Marxist utopia.
Despite the high cost of living, it remains popular.
I can tell when people are being judgmental just by looking at them.
Well, to be Frank with you, I’d have to change my name.
This sentence contains exactly threee erors.
🔍 Study type
Online experiments and market observation (analysis of 4,464 tweets from Netflix, Hulu, Moonpie, and Little Debbie’s, rated for their humor by 1,350 people)
Aha Over Haha: Brands Benefit More From Being Clever Than From Being Funny. Journal of Consumer Psychology (May 2022)
Holly S. Howe. Fuqua School of Business, Duke University.
Lingrui Zhou. Fuqua School of Business, Duke University.
Rodrigo S. Dias. Fuqua School of Business, Duke University
Gavan J Fitzsimons. Fuqua School of Business, Duke University
Remember: This is a new scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.
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