3 Ways To Differentiate Your Marketing Content By Using Subtle Humor

If I can get you to laugh with me, you like me better, which makes you more open to my ideas. And, if I can persuade you to laugh at a particular point that I make, by laughing at it, you acknowledge it as true. – Actor and comedian, John Cleese

There’s so much content out there these days, much of it written in the same boring, bland language—which is why creating vibrant, colorful content that stands out and attracts your ideal customers is crucial in content marketing.

How to create lively content? Here are three ideas for your consideration:

  1. Infuse your marketing content with subtle humor.
  2. Use fresh, detailed language in your marketing content.
  3. Let the best of yourself and your brand permeate your content.

In this article, the first of a three-part series on how to differentiate your marketing content by expressing yourself with verve and color, we’ll look at the first idea—how to infuse your content with subtle humor.

I’m not talking about being a comedian or delivering a laugh a minute. I’m talking about occasionally making your readers smile.

A warning: Don’t try to use all of these techniques at once in a single piece of content. Doing so may cause the opposite of your intended effect and drive prospects away.

Humor technique 1: Use words with the letter K

The humor aspect of the letter K is best expressed through a few lines in Neil Simon’s play, “The Sunshine Boys.” In it, a comedian played by Walter Matthau explains the allure of the letter K to his nephew.

Fifty-seven years in this business, you learn a few things. You know what words are funny and which words are not funny. Alka Seltzer is funny. You say ‘Alka Seltzer’ you get a laugh … Words with ‘k’ in them are funny. Casey Stengel, that’s a funny name. Robert Taylor is not funny. Cupcake is funny. Tomato is not funny. Cookie is funny. Cucumber is funny. Car keys. Cleveland … Cleveland is funny. Maryland is not funny. Then, there’s chicken. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny. Cab is funny. Cockroach is funny – not if you get ’em, only if you say ’em.

Here are a few words with the K sound; can you see yourself using any of them in your content?

  • Pickle
  • Bikini
  • Bonk
  • Knickers
  • Kerfuffle

You might also use the technique for naming your company and products or services. One brand leaps to mind: Design Pickle.

Design Pickle offers unlimited graphic design for “a crazy-affordable” flat monthly fee.

The word pickle subtly tickles my funny bone, as does the company’s logo—a smiling pickle.

Design Pickle’s founder and CEO Russ Perry says his company’s name is about being easy to say, easy to remember, and able to put a smile on anyone’s face.

“When naming and branding Design Pickle, I had a huge pill of pride to swallow,” he says. “I realized that in my previous agency life, I spent so many years branding companies, products, and marketing campaigns, trying to be as smart and clever as possible but often forgetting one critical requirement: Be memorable. The name Design Pickle fit the bill—and the domain was available.”

Caiden Laubach, Design Pickle’s director of creative and communications, says the team strategically considered humor as part of a recent brand refresh.

“When we went through a brand refresh earlier this year, we purposefully talked about styles of humor that would help take our brand up a notch and elevate us while really sticking to our roots,” he says. “We decided to use sardonic humor because, by definition, it elicits a side smile and maybe a knee slap, often poking fun at collective pain points in a way that draws you in rather than ostracizes.”

Several large brands also use the K sound to great effect, including Kit Kat, Krispy Kreme, and Kool-Aid. The names are catchy, memorable, and likely to make people smile.

Humor technique 2: Use unexpected similes

A second way to infuse humor into your marketing content is to use similes to communicate ideas in unexpected ways.

For instance, to get across the idea of a growling stomach, think of other things that growl and then use those alternatives to describe the growl.

My stomach is growling like…

  • A poodle warning you NOT to step closer.
  • My sister when I’ve pushed her almost too far.
  • The harried lady behind the counter at the DMV.

Granted, I’m not the best humorist, but I can point you to someone who is: Joe Garza, editor of the The Reckless Muse.

Joe wrote a post on using similes and their close cousin metaphors to turn up the humor in content. Although his style differs from mine, the ideas he shares are sound.

Here’s one of his similes from the referenced post to give you an example:

The restaurant’s signature Phaal curry dish was excruciatingly hot and spicy, like the armpits of a sweaty flamenco dancer who used habanero sauce as deodorant.

What do you think? Funny? Not funny?

I vote for clever.

Although not always what I’d consider unexpected or humorous, many business-to-consumer (B2C) brands use similes to good effect, too.

  • Chevrolet: Like a rock.
  • Doritos: Tastes like awesome feels.
  • State Farm: Like a good neighbor.

What’s your brand like or as? If you’re not sure, survey your customers, as they’re the ones who know the real you best.

Humor technique 3: Misdirect, break patterns

A third way to use humor to woo more of your ideal customers is misdirection or breaking expected patterns.

Consider the opening lines of these cliches; if you’re a native English speaker, you likely know their endings:

  • All that glitters…
  • Only time…
  • Every cloud has a…

The humor approach is to give the brain something unexpected. It’s to lead the reader’s mind one way and then make a sharp turn, going somewhere readers weren’t expecting.

  • All that glitters is likely to distract me.
  • Only time will tell if the cactus needs watering.
  • Every cloud has a habit of ruining my picnic plans.

Misdirection is not limited to the endings of cliches. The goal is to break a pattern and make a point in a surprising way.

A few examples:

  • That’s about as American as an affordable ER visit.
  • I’m ready for the beach; I have my sunglasses, towel, and portable air conditioner.
  • Writing is easy; simply sit down, open your veins, and bleed (attributed to Hemingway).

Both B2B and B2C brands use these techniques successfully, often in ads.

MailChimp: In its B2B “Did You Mean MailChimp?” campaign, ad agency Droga5 created a series of ads that played with the brand’s name in unexpected ways, such as FailChips, MaleCrimp (note the K sound), and KaleLimp (ditto). This campaign used misdirection by leading the audience to expect one thing (MailChimp) and presenting something completely different.

Dollar Shave Club: Dollar Shave Club’s launch video, viewed more than 28 million times, begins with the company’s founder saying, “Hi, I’m Mike, founder of DollarShaveClub.com. What is DollarShaveClub.com? Well, for a dollar a month, we send high-quality razors right to your door.” The video then turns unexpectedly, showing viewers a toddler shaving a man’s head, the founder cutting through packing tape with a machete, and a bear costume, all working together to create humor by breaking patterns and misdirection.

Coming up next…

In the next two articles in this series, coming out over the next two weeks, you’ll discover more ways beyond humor to express yourself with verve and color in your marketing content: Using fresh, detailed language and infusing your content with the best of yourself and your brand.

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