Humour in marketing and value creation? You must be joking


Humour has an important role to play in effective advertising, but don’t just ‘do a funny ad’, warns Jack Miles – put some serious thought into it.

Marketing effectiveness. Value creation. Serious stuff, isn’t it? Some might say neither of these are a laughing matter. But ‘some’ are wrong. Why? Because there’s evidence that using humour in marketing is a value creation opportunity.

And no, I’m not joking. And given we’ve recently exited April – National Humour Month – it feels appropriate to discuss this.

Ad jokes or dad jokes?

Much of the work on humour in marketing focuses on humour in advertising. And it’s easy to understand why. Effective advertising is noticeable and memorable. Even better, it’ll form a connection between brand and consumer. Humour has a role in this.

Research into the ‘humour effect’ shows that humorous material is more memorable compared to non-humorous material. Why? Because we pay more attention to humorous things. And this means we remember them.

Better than being memorable, is advertising that connects brands with consumers. Professor Rod Martin, a humour and laughter expert, believes humour aids this. Martin defines humour as having social and interpersonal dimensions. This means humour has evolved as a tool of social cohesion – i.e. bonding.

In Ehrenberg-Bass language this means humorous advertising will build your brand’s mental availability – it will be accessible in people’s minds and buyable. Oh, there’s also the condition humour in advertising is actually funny. There’s no Effie or Lion for dad jokes.

A segment, a target and a position walk into a bar…

… and want to create marketing value with humour. Simply ‘doing a funny ad’ will limit how much value humour can create for your marketing. Instead, you’ll need to incorporate humour into marketing’s holy trinity: segmentation, targeting and positioning.

The why is simple: advertising’s role is to communicate your position to your target segment(s). This means it would be remiss to neglect humour’s role in the holy trinity – value creation’s strategic foundations – before using it in advertising.

Why did the segmentation cross the road…?

… To divide your market up so you can identify the most profitable and reachable segments to target. This process will involve analysing your market’s demographic profile – a basic element of segmentation, yes, but vital if you want to use humour in your marketing. Why?

  • Incongruity Theory states humour is a point of realising the link between a concept and a real situation. Experiments on this topic show that often older people are less likely to understand jokes vs. younger people. Yet, when understood, elder people appreciate jokes more.
  • Males and females have different senses of humour. A meta-analysis of 77 studies demonstrates this: men appreciate aggressive and sexual humour more; women have greater appreciation for humour production over delivery.

But demographics alone won’t produce targetable, differentiated and actionable segments, especially if you want to use humorous advertising. Therefore, two other elements need including in your segmentation:

  1. Psychographics to understand personality traits
  2. Behavioural data to identify happiness triggers

Knock, knock. Who’s there? Target. Target who…?

… Good question. Choosing which segment(s) to target is a big strategic marketing decision. And if you want to use humour in your advertising, targeting is everything. You’ll not only need to decide which segment is profitable and reachable. But also, when you should target them.

This is because mood influences memory. If people are in a good mood, they’ll remember more. Furthermore, people are more likely to remember material that matches their memory. Thus, people are more likely to remember a funny advert when they’re in a good mood. But can you target people based on mood?

Yes, you can. Google’s Ad Stack lets you target people with specific adverts based on audience signals. This includes when people are browsing topics they’re passionate about, and thus in a good mood. Or in Snickers’ case, it allows you to target people when they’re likely to be feeling impulsive.

And mood-based targeting isn’t a ‘Google thing’. Spotify also allows you to target people based on their mood, defined by the music they’re listening to.

What’s black, white and red all over…?

…The balance sheet for a brand with a weak positioning. And key to avoiding this – and making said balance sheet black, white and green – is to position your brand in a differentiated way in people’s minds. If you want to use humour to help achieve this, you need to ask yourself:

  • How can humour make your position unique vs. your competitors?
  • Can a humour-based positioning help you stand both for and against something?
  • Is humour a relevant and sustainable position for your brand?

If you can’t answer these questions, commissioning that ‘funny ad’ could mean the joke’s on you.

Ha-ha-ha-s humour in marketing got long term potential?

Marketers often talk about striving for customer-centricity and closeness. And humour – a way to create intimacy – can help these efforts. Let’s also not forget Binet & Field’s belief that emotive advertising campaigns are more likely to create long term profitable growth.

But one size fits one. Not all. Light humour works for Nando’s. Verging-on-outrageous humour works for Paddy Power. And humour helped KFC not FCK up in November 2018.

But how much value could humour create for British Gas, Shell or Amazon? I’d suggest limited amounts.

So, if you’re going to use humour in marketing, don’t just ‘do a funny ad’. Instead, ensure it’s considered and planned for as you segment your market, target segment(s) and position accordingly. Failure to do so will mean, no matter how funny your advertising is, it’ll create limited value. And that’s not a punch line anyone wants to hear.

This article first appeared in

Seeking to build and grow your brand using the force of consumer insight, strategic foresight, creative disruption and technology prowess? Talk to us at +971 50 6254340 or mail: or visit

About Author

Comments are closed.