Can Humor Boost Online Sales?

Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes

We know that humor gets people’s attention. It can be the optimal user experience. Just look at how audience demographics change for the biggest annual football games and ask people why they watch. According to a recent survey, over 75% of Super Bowl viewers were more interested in the commercials than the game. Of those 75%, almost 95% said they prefer humorous commercials to a straight-ahead sales pitch. But does humor make the cash register ring and more specifically, is it an effective online marketing tool?

“All those who believe in psychokinesis raise my hand.”

The web has proven to be a very effective vehicle for humor. There are some very funny online publications such as The Onion and People of Walmart. And who among us have not shared a video of something outrageously funny with a friend? Humorous content gets our attention but can it influence our spending habits? Can it persuade us to click the “buy now” button? While there is evidence to suggest that it can (and does), online advertisers are reluctant to embrace the idea of digital marketing with a sense of humor. As I see it, the reason is two-fold.

1) It’s impossible to find a good, funny copywriter. 2) More significantly, online advertisers aren’t convinced that humor moves widgets.

Let’s consider both these assertions.

“Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.” Humor can be perilous. One can get light-headed and lose sight of oncoming obstacles. Do a search for the recent, controversial Belvedere ad you’ll see how easy it is to get sucked into that proverbial jet engine. This ad should have never made it past the board room. Posted to Facebook and Twitter, it elicited many more complaints than sales, necessitating removal from social media post haste.

Other online advertising outlets such as Adwords have character restrictions, making the task of copy writing all the more difficult. However, creative marketers and outside the box thinkers can create effective ads that get you noticed. Even with the word count restrictions, your ads can be humorous and, most importantly, convert.

Although it straddles the line, the text ad above does not cross into offensive territory. It dares to be funny without taking ill-advised chances. And despite Adword’s character restrictions, this ad says it all succinctly and with a sense of humor.

“I went to a general store. They wouldn’t let me buy anything specifically.”

When one addresses a specific target audience with tasteful but pointed humor, the results can astound. Here are a few high profile examples of humor that sells…

• Known to primarily cater to business travelers, Hilton Resorts wanted to extend that reach to holiday vacationers. They created an online “Urgent Vacation Care Center” where those afflicted with any number of stress related maladies could visit, take an online diagnostic test and get a “prescription” for whatever ails them.

The hotel chain partnered with The Onion and the New York Times to further promote the spoof. When the dust cleared, Hilton resorts had added a half a million Facebook likes and over 7000 subscribers to its newsletter.

• Dollar Shave Club’s promotional YouTube video cost under $5000 to make and featured a machete wielding CEO, a forklift to nowhere, and a shaving baby. The spot accumulated 4.75 million views in March of 2014 alone. More significantly, within the first 48 hours after the YouTube video first aired online, over 12,000 people signed up for home delivery of their product. No other marketing channels had been utilized to that point other than Google ads.

This video ad kicked ass harder than a cross-eyed Rockette.

“If you tell a joke in the forest, but nobody laughs, was it a joke?”

If your ad is humor driven and nobody buys, do you get fired? Humor can sell but like any form of advertising, one cannot lose sight of the main objective – to move units. Consider adding an element of humor through YouTube to boost social media conversions.  Or adding a humor campaign to Adwords. It can be hard work but when done right, the sky is the limit.

Thanks to Steve Wright and Lord Carrett for the funny headlines.