Should more retailers aim for their customers’ funny bones?

Discussion
Photo: @jart13 via Twenty20
Jul 01, 2022

A new study finds consumers are seeking humor from brands as they emerge from the pandemic era. Yet only 16 percent of brands surveyed use humor to sell, with 95 percent fearing using humor in customer interactions.

The Happiness Report” from Oracle and Gretchen Rubin, author of five bestselling books, including “The Happiness Project,” was based on a global survey in January of 12,183 consumers and 3,125 business leaders across marketing, sales and customer service.

The study found that 45 percent of consumers have not felt true happiness for more than two years and 88 percent are looking for new experiences to make them smile and laugh.

Ninety-one percent prefer brands to be funny, a number that increases among Gen Z (94 percent) and Millennials (94 percent). Beyond advertising campaigns, the survey showed a vast majority seeking humor when following brands on social media channels, in email marketing subject lines and when engaging with chatbots/digital assistants.

Only 15 percent of business leaders said their brand is humorous on social media; 24 percent actively use humor in email marketing campaigns and 27 percent actively incorporate humor into bot communications.

Eighty-five percent of business leaders said that they do not have the data insights or tools to successfully deliver humor. Business leaders say they would be more confident using humor when engaging with customers if they had better customer visibility (55 percent) and access to advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (32 percent).

Duluth Trading, Dollar Shave Club, ASOS, Zappos, Aldi and T.J. Maxx are among the few retailers and direct-to-consumer brands that stand out, not only for their occasional funny advertisements, but for their amusing or lighthearted tone on social media.

Embracing humor, however, may work against marketers’ efforts to project authenticity, empathy, transparency and inclusivity in their messaging.

A November 2021 survey of 2,000 U.S. adults from Attest exploring brand messaging found that consumers most want brands to make them laugh and entertain them, cited by 57 percent. That compares to only four percent looking to be amused by brands in a September 2000 survey.

After wanting to be entertained, the most desired brand messaging was motivational, inspirational, educational, thought-provoking and reassuring.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think the surveys are accurate in finding consumers want more humor at this time and, if so, why aren’t more retailers tapping humor in advertising campaigns or social media messaging? Do you agree that brands “do not have the data insights or tools to successfully deliver humor”?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Humor isn’t easy and it’s subjective. When it’s done well it’s exhilarating, but get it wrong and it’s a nightmare that lives forever online."
"I think people have had enough sadness and challenge, but I’m not so sure funny ads are the cure for the national malaise."
"I think most ads TRY to be funny, but here’s the thing; it’s not so easy. It IS easy to come off as out of touch or dumb though so, better look that gift horse in the nose."

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14 Comments on "Should more retailers aim for their customers’ funny bones?"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

I think it is bigger than humor. What customers want from brands and companies is for them to be human. That means speaking to them normally (not using corporate jargon), being honest in transactions and marketing, and occasionally using humor where it is appropriate to do so. The thing is about humor is that it, in many instances, is spontaneous. It comes out of a human-centric culture where people are empowered to be themselves. It’s not something you can really engineer or program.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Yes. It’s about human and about offering something meaningful.

I’ve always been struck by how there’s research which says “all things being equal” consumers remember funny ads best. What’s never observed is things are NEVER equal in the marketplace. What experience shows is true is that offering truly human value outperforms any arbitrary idea about “best” ad formats.

That said, in the 1970s there was an idea that “if you have nothing to say, sing it.” Perhaps today the idea is “if you can’t dig deeply enough to have something to say, make a joke.”

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

I think most ads TRY to be funny, but here’s the thing; it’s not so easy. It IS easy to come off as out of touch or dumb though so, better look that gift horse in the nose.

Karen S. Herman
BrainTrust

Authenticity is the strongest connection a brand can build with the customer. Today’s consumer is much smarter and has so many channels to shop through. Yes, consumers seek experiences with brands, experiences that enrich, engage and enlighten. Humor is one approach, among others. I do not believe that brands have the data insights or tools they need to deliver humor, in particular, in the best way. However by focusing on authentic brand messaging, a humorous approach may develop.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

I think “funny” commercials by and large do not hit the target. What does hit the target is emotional experiences in the consumer’s mind, such as the Busch Clydesdale commercials, which impact your sense of humor (most times) and definitely your emotional triggers. I believe both create constant recall and top-of-mind awareness, which is the sweet spot for any advertisement.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Mic drop, Lee Peterson!

Humor isn’t easy and it’s subjective. When it’s done well it’s exhilarating, but get it wrong and it’s a nightmare that lives forever online. I am going to guess that’s why most companies don’t try it.

David Spear
BrainTrust

Authenticity is one of the most important elements brands must embrace as they communicate to consumers. Without this foundation, everything else falls flat, regardless of if the messaging is humorous or not. My counsel would be to focus on the fundamentals. In today’s hyper-sensitive world, the unintended consequences of a humorous ad gone bad could alienate 25 percent to 50 percent of viewers. Stick to the fundamentals.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Consumers develop a relationship with a brand through a process that is as much, if not more, about emotions as it is about logic. And a brand with a sense of humor is definitely trying to tap into that emotional opportunity. Humor can be a differentiator. That’s a big deal. Duluth is a great example. I’d say a fair amount of their success is due to their fun, quirky ads.

Having said that, can humor be data driven? Sure, just like fashion can be data driven. Through some mysterious and complicated process that blends data and design, logic and emotion.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

I’m not exactly clear on how data insights can help to deliver humor. I suspect the executives who are quoted are pretty humorless people. A great ad, that delivers a message and is funny, is gold. People remember them, share them, talk about them, and they can go viral. BUT – as anyone who’s ever been in an awkward conversation can attest, there’s a lot of risk with humor. Done wrong, it obscures the message at best and can offend or come off as crass at its worst. I’m thinking about the car ad a few years ago with the guy who smugly suggested that Americans would rather work all the time than take a vacation like Europeans. That one fell flat and had a lot of negative pushback.

Bottom line, humor or not, ads need to be genuine if consumers are going to engage and react. Data can help measure an ad’s effectiveness with several metrics. Measuring how humorous an ad is? I’m not sure how that works.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

I think people have had enough sadness and challenge, but I’m not so sure funny ads are the cure for the national malaise. After all, funny commercials are funny once — maybe twice — and then they start being annoying. Humor is also a tough racket. If you doubt that just go visit a comedy club on open mic night. It’s hard to make most people laugh and, in the current climate, what one finds funny ten more will find offensive.

Al McClain
Staff

Authenticity is the most important thing and when you can fake that, you’ve got it made. Joke.

What IS funny is 85% of business execs saying they don’t have the tools or data insights to successfully deliver humor. Come on, we’re trying too hard here.
If big businesses and their execs could lighten up a little and try to have a little more FUN with their marketing, that could work. You don’t need data to tell you that consumers like to have fun and be lighthearted when they can. Brands take themselves way too seriously sometimes and execs are too focused on every last nickel that can be extracted from consumers.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Humor (when used the right way) has always done well in advertising. Just look at the Super Bowl commercials. It’s not easy to create a humorous message that appeals to the masses, but when it works, it becomes viral and memorable.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Funny you should ask this. (See? It’s notso hard!) I suppose (lack of) “data insights” is an issue, but mostly in the sense that people don’t understand enough what (other) people don’t find funny … or really what offends them. So there is a reluctance to making mistakes; and although that may be disappointing, perhaps it’s for the best. Even Flo wore out her welcome eventually.

Nicola Kinsella
BrainTrust

While surveys are interesting, what consumers say about themselves and how they act don’t always match. Brands would need more insight into their own customer base and do a lot of testing to see if humor would be a good fit. But defining a voice, and the guidelines that go with it so that humor really becomes part of a brand, takes time, training, and discipline. And for some brands it just won’t make sense. Luckily there are lots of other avenues to pursue like motivational, inspirational, educational, thought-provoking and reassuring.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Humor isn’t easy and it’s subjective. When it’s done well it’s exhilarating, but get it wrong and it’s a nightmare that lives forever online."
"I think people have had enough sadness and challenge, but I’m not so sure funny ads are the cure for the national malaise."
"I think most ads TRY to be funny, but here’s the thing; it’s not so easy. It IS easy to come off as out of touch or dumb though so, better look that gift horse in the nose."

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