Diesel help you decide if using humor in marketing is right for you.
Is using humor a good tactic—or strategy—for selling your product with direct marketing? Depends.
That’s a good place to start. It depends on the product. If you were creating a direct marketing campaign for Depends Adult Incontinence products, humor might not be your strongest approach, a) because a certain sensitivity is called for in this category and b) it’s off brand. A humorous campaign for Huggies diapers? Different story.
With that established, let’s examine other points to consider when (or if) you want to add humor to your marketing mix. One note: Ask any comedian or humor writer, and they’ll tell you comedy is hard, and good comedy is even harder. I’d add that doing effective humor in marketing and direct response channels can be the hardest of all.
Four Questions to Consider Before Using Humor in Marketing
As always, the goal of marketing is to sell somebody something. With that in mind, here are four key questions to consider if and when you decide to use humor in direct mail. Is your humor:
1. Is it Appropriate?
See above example. Is humor appropriate in the product or service category? Or for your brand? If not, your customers could experience a bad case of brand dissonance, and that could be bad for your brand image and sales.
2. Is it Gratuitous?
If your humor comes across as gratuitous or forced, chances are it will do your product and/or brand more harm than good. More dissonance.
3. Is it Broadly Appealing?
Under the heading of “comedy is hard” comes, “there’s no accounting for taste.” Humor must be done in such a way to appeal to (and not offend) the widest possible slice of your current and potential users. You can’t appeal to everyone all the time, but you can be pretty sure you’re on safe ground with the majority—if you get humor right.
4. Is it Effective?
Ultimately, you want to sell something. So your use of humor must relate directly to your product’s benefits and how it will help your audience or solve a problem for them. If you’re using humor merely to get attention, people will forget what you’re selling. (See “Gratuitous” above.)
Will Humor Work for Your Direct Mail? Test and See
One great thing about direct mail is that you can test. Not sure about your humorous approach? Do an A/B test to see if the joke “lands” with your audience and gives your package a lift. If not, now you know, and the damage is limited.
Then there’s the question of frequency. Does a one-off use of humor make sense? Or do you need to be consistent over multiple mailings and media? Of course, if your product has a cheeky brand image, like a soft drink or snack food, it’s easier to build a campaign around humor. Whereas if your product or brand has a more serious image, using humor might be jarring.
A Little Levity May or May Not Be a Good Thing for Your Direct Mail
Sometimes the best humorous approach is less intentional, more accidental. Like self-deprecating humor. Poking gentle fun at your company or product, always in the service of selling, can do more to lift sales than outright humor that distracts people from what you’re selling.
There’s a reason for all the qualifiers above, and why I can’t issue a resounding endorsement for humor in direct mail, and why we rarely do humorous direct mail at IWCO Direct. It’s insanely hard to do well. You need top-notch copy, the right kind of product or brand, and a brand personality that’s well established as funny/quirky/offbeat (or a new product or brand without an established image or personality). And even then, you have to think long and hard about whether applying humor to your direct mail makes sense for your brand and direct marketing strategy, and what you’re trying to accomplish with a particular marketing piece.
After all that, it seems fitting to close with a little humor.
A jumper cable walks into a bar. The bartender says, “I’ll serve you, but don’t start anything.”
If you start using humor in your direct marketing, proceed with caution. And that’s no joke.
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