We were hesitant to write a post about using humor in branded content, because humor is all about personal taste. It's subjective and nuanced—what's funny in some demographics and cultures is not in others—and it's difficult to do well.
That being said, when used effectively, humor is a powerful agent that can delight your customers and make a lasting impact on your audience. Ben Chestnut, CEO of MailChimp, agrees:
"Humor has always been a part of what we do at MailChimp. For heaven's sake, our mascot is a chimpanzee w/no pants.“ https://t.co/sQRXO7igfN— Ben Chestnut (@benchestnut) March 5, 2015
For this post, we decided to collect some tips from ImprovBoston's MaryBeth Makara and Dollar Shave Club's Alec Brownstein, who are well-versed in this art form. They'll touch upon the benefits of humor, how to begin incorporating it, and how to coax your coworkers to get loose.
MaryBeth "MB" Makara is a cast member and instructor at ImprovBoston. She has worked as a professional actor, arts administrator, and teacher since 2003, and she's an expert at bringing people out of their shells.
It's no surprise that MB believes in the benefits of humor. She explains, "Humor or comedy is at once the most inviting, engaging tool as well as the most disarming. Make a person laugh and you've won them. Laughing releases serotonin to the brain, so you're effectively giving people a drug just by giving them a giggle. We are all just animals waiting for another animal to slip on a banana peel."
Throughout her years of performing and instructing, she's gathered useful tips for both actors and directors. First and foremost, MB encourages performers to give the audience an inside look on what they're trying to achieve. "Let the audience be on your side," she says. "If you're messing up, let them in on it. What's more relatable than messing up?!"
MB also cautions performers about offensive humor. "I avoid going for sensitive subject matter because I just don't think I need to cause another human pain to make someone else laugh, that feels unproductive."
"I also feel strongly, as a woman, that cutting down my sisters in comedy is a fast track to nowhere good. If you're going for meanness, cattiness, or the like, you're being lazy and you should probably re-evaluate your goals."
In regards to directing or teaching, she explains, "The best way to get people to feel relaxed is for me to act as nutty as possible. If I look more foolish than anyone else they know they're safe. It doesn't take long for people to WANT to be silly with each other."
For someone who’s watched, performed, and taught a lot of comedy, MB champions compassion and authenticity above all else. Be empathetic. Be yourself.
Alec is a director, blogger, and internationally-awarded copywriter, and he currently works as the creative director at Dollar Shave Club. To give you an idea of his personality, his profile picture for LinkedIn is a monkey in a spacesuit.
Alec spoke about the advantages of using humor in a business video before discussing some of his tactics. "Humor is a great way to tell a memorable story," he commented. "It can break through the noise, make a dry subject interesting, and help people fall in love with your brand."
Trying to come up with a funny concept is difficult, but Alec gave us some insight into their process at Dollar Shave Club. "We always start with a truth," he said. "For example, getting into the locked razor case at the store is an inconvenient experience. That's true, right? Then we take that truth and stretch it to the absurd."
"For example, the razor case at the store is locked up so securely that there's even a trigger happy security guard who tasers you if he deems you too great of a threat. The humor comes out of the unexpected outcome from a familiar, relatable truth. Without that truth to push off of, it's not as funny."
Alec also spoke to the importance of keeping concepts simple for a humorous video. "If you have to try too hard to make a joke, it's probably not funny. If you have to explain too much to understand a joke, it's probably not funny. Everyone is being pulled in a thousand different directions. Nobody will stop to try to understand your humor. They'll just ignore it. So keep it simple."
Lastly, we asked about the inspiration for the following well-known video:
"They say necessity is the mother of invention," Alec commented. "When Michael created that video to launch the brand, he had no budget for a location or actors. So he used what he had: the factory where the razors were shipped and himself as the spokesman. And it turned out great."
"If Michael had a bigger budget for that first video, it might not have been as funny and Dollar Shave Club might have turned out completely different."
How do I begin?
Let's face it, no one has a band of experienced actors in their office, but every workplace has characters. There's no sense in forcing personalities when you've got natural quirks to work with. If you focus on coming up with concepts and scripts that complement the people in your office, your final product is more apt to feel authentic, not contrived.
Pro tip: Once you've drafted a piece of content, whether it's a blog post or a script for a video, a table read can help you assess the strength and tone of your piece.
Most companies that incorporate humor in their marketing strategies start small—silly slides in a presentation, absurd Instagram videos, witty tweets. Internal videos are also a safe place to test out new shticks and storylines.
It's also important to remember that humor is not necessarily the best tool to use in all pieces of content. As always, you should consider the larger context for the piece and make sure that you are tailoring your message appropriately for your audience. MailChimp's Voice & Tone guide is a great starting point for figuring out your own approach.
- Keep the concept simple
- Avoid making jokes at someone else's expense
- Let the audience be on your side
- A relatable truth or customer pain point is a great place to start
- Build from what you already have
Have you experimented with humor in any of your branded content? Have you seen any really great examples of companies using humor in business video?