How to Use Humor in Content Marketing to Drive Sales


Two men walk into a bar…

They sit down, have a drink, pay their bill, and go home.

Well, that was disappointing, now wasn’t it?

If you’re feeling a bit perturbed about this classic “guy walks into a bar” setup not ending in a joke, you’re not alone.

The reason you feel this way is because the human brain is wired to react to humor.

It’s so wired, in fact, that a Journal of Marketing Study proved that humor is more likely to enhance recall, improve evaluation, and increase purchase intention when a humorous message coincides with an ad objective.

And this is why, dear reader, funny marketing content drives sales.

Before you start sending one-liners to all of your clients, it’s important to understand what works—and what doesn’t work—when it comes to using humor in your marketing message.

But first, I don’t want to leave you hanging. Let’s properly finish what we started…

Two men walk into a bar.
They take seat and order a drink.
Suddenly they hear a small voice that says, “You look nice today, gentlemen!”
A few moments later the same small voice whispers, “I love your tie.”
One of the men leans over to the bartender and asks, “Hey, do you hear those voices?” The bartender replies, “Oh, it just those peanuts. They’re complimentary.”

Ah, that’s better. Now that we’ve got that out of our system, let’s continue…

Keep reading to discover the dos and don’ts of using humor in your business marketing.

Do Keep Your Marketing Goals in Mind

A joke without a marketing message is, well…just a joke.

When you make the decision to incorporate humor into your advertising strategy, you must keep your marketing goals in mind.

The Humane Society of Silicon Valley did this brilliantly.

In December of 2014, they placed a virtual adoption ad for Eddie, an adorable Chihuahua that needed a home.



The goal—find Eddie a home. The problem—Eddie was about 5 pounds of unbridled naughtiness.

The solution—highlight all of Eddie’s undesirable features in an incredibly funny and honest ad.

Read Eddie’s full ad here.

The ad worked for two main reasons.

1) Instead of using the gut-wrenching Sarah McLachlan ads that make you want to change the channel every time they come on, the Humane Society used humor.

They crafted a message that people wanted to read and share with their friends.

2) They stuck to their goal. They created a piece of content that honestly communicated what they wanted from a potential adopter.

It was made incredibly clear that…

  1. a) The dog needed a home.
  1. b) They needed a very specific type of person to adopt him.

By the end of the article, the message was 100% clear to everyone reading it.

Shortly after the content piece was published, Eddie found his forever home. (Feel free to pause reading this awesome post for a Happy Dance moment in honor of Eddie.)

Do Limit Your Humor

Everyone likes a good laugh, but when all of your content become a joke for the sake of getting a laugh, you’re going in the wrong direction.

Think of it this way…the idea of setting up a whoopie cushion on your boss’s chair during your next conference might sound hysterical in your mind.

However, when you get to the meeting and your boss sits on it, is it going to be appreciated?

If you work for Comedy Central, the answer might be YES.

For everyone else, the answer is a resounding NO.

My point here is that humor is a powerful marketing tool when used in the right setting, but it does have limitations.

You must take into consideration audience, timing, and delivery.

There are many times humor is not appropriate for a situation. Use it wisely.

If it helps, use the above thought as a measuring tool when crafting your campaign.

Do Test Your Jokes on Colleagues

Testing your material on your colleagues is the best way to ensure your material works.

It’s always a good idea to double-check that your humor resonates with your marketing goals, makes sense/is funny, and is appropriate for the situation.

In the world of comedy, screenwriting, and sketch writing, this process is called a punch-up session.

The process is easy—put together a draft of what content you’re producing, hand it out to your colleagues, and ask them to write notes, suggestions, and alternative ideas down for you.

When you work as a team, you’ll be able to bring amazing ideas to the table.

In return, your content will reach its highest potential, and leave a lasting impression on those who view it.

Now that it’s clear what you should do, here are a few tips for what not to do…

Don’t Devalue Work to Make It Funny

This one is pretty straightforward. There’s a time and place for humor.

If adding a joke or comedic message is going to devalue an important or serious message, don’t do it. It’s that simple.

Don’t Disrespect Any Group of People

No joke is worth disrespecting a person or group of people. Ever.

You might remember this controversial ad placed by PETA in 2009.

This billboard was intentionally created to spark controversy.

The idea was to use untasteful humor—cruel to plus-size women— to prove a point.

That point, according to PETA, was that eating animals was also cruel.

Not surprisingly, the ad didn’t go as planned.

No one thought it was funny, and PETA got themselves into a giant PR mess.

Don’t Dilute the Clarity of Your Message

Humor is fun, and it’s easy to get caught up in the playfulness of crafting a funny story.

The problem…people often put too much energy into writing a punch line and not enough energy into selling the product.

Even worse is when a company attempts to use humor, it flops, and it leaves an audience wondering what the heck just happened.

Once you lose clarity, you also lose the power behind your marketing message.

A great example is this commercial from Mercedes Benz. Go ahead—check it out.

Confused? So are we…

Instead of placing the focus on the beautiful design and extraordinary features of the latest Mercedes car model, this supposedly “funny” storyline just added a whole lot of confusion to the situation.

The only thoughts going through my head right now are as follows…

“Who picks up a random clown off the side of the road? Have you seen Stephen King’s IT?

“What is this beautiful, and probably intelligent, woman doing working as a clown?” (Not that there’s anything wrong with that profession of course…but still.)

“What was that farmer doing in the middle of the woods?”

Don’t leave your audience asking these questions. If using humor casts a shadow on the clarity of your message, don’t use it.

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