Humour in Branding: Don’t Let the Joke Be On You

Young couple sharing a jokeScary thing, making a joke as a business.

Humour is a wonderful way to make your brand seem natural and human but it can so easily go wrong.

Trust me: I’ve been there. You do not want to go viral for an off-the-cuff remark that’s reposted out of context on every platform on this internet.

Three ways to pull off humour in branding

1. Making rules

Rules? Wow, fun.

Hey – you think a comedian just gets up on stage and brings the house down with no prep?

If you’re going to use humour as a brand, it has to be thought out carefully. Everyone involved needs to understand the limits and no-go areas.

Example no-go areas:

Gender or sexuality
National treasures

Just a suggestion.

Always ask yourself: is it my brand’s place to make this joke? Does it hurt someone? Does it reflect negatively on us? Is it so controversial that I’m going to have floods of emails telling me my brand’s finished?

If it feels a bit too risky, avoid. That’s big brand stuff – stuff that can lead to very expensive court proceedings.

And one final check. Ask someone else. You might think something’s DEVASTATINGLY hilarious because you made it up inside your brain box; the person next to you may look at you with wide eyes and just silently shake their head.

2. Staying informed

Good humour comes from observation. If you know everything that’s going on in your industry and your audience’s lives, humorous items will shove themselves in your face.

Carefully observed humour is never awkward. It’s not trying too hard; if you know your audience and your subject, you should have a sense of what will land.

Mistakes will always happen. Hopefully, we can keep them to small muck-ups rather than monumental PR disasters. Check out this post about managing your brand’s reputation on social. Making sure you have a view of mentions across the internet can help keep a problem from spiralling.

3. Keeping it gentle

There are people in this world whose job it is to stay bitingly amusing things. Those people are political satirists and the food critics on Masterchef. They are not small business owners.

Consumers have many, many choices. Their decision between two very similar products could be one slightly ‘off’ tweet. Yes, you can get lots of attention if you stick your neck out – but it could harm your business in the long run.

Gentle humour is part of us all rubbing along in this world, so people tend to react well to it. It’s one up from small talk: we all recognise the cues and generally respond.

You can show you don’t take yourself too seriously and you’re genuine, authentic and so on without risking your reputation.

Although I’m a bit over Innocent at this stage, their humour on Twitter is perfect for their brand. They live-tweet The Great British Bake Off every week, and I can only describe their running commentary as…wholesome. No one would feel angry as a result of their jokes and they get amazing engagement.

Rahul: [creates double spherical chocolate masterpiece, the likes of which the world has never seen before]. Also Rahul: I'm so sorry"

See that? Gentle. Silly. Innocent, you could say – and therefore perfect for that brand.

This world is hard enough. Put a bit of gentle joy into it.