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6 Reasons to Avoid Humor in Your Writing (and 5 Reasons to Use It)

Humor is dangerous. A poorly constructed joke can catapult your brand into the spotlight with accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia and the like.

On the other hand, humor in content can drive shares and help you connect with readers.

What’s a marketer to do?

man walking on tightrope vector illustrationSix Reasons to Avoid Humor

1. In the wrong hands, it’s a desperate attempt to stand out.

We barely go a week without reading about sexist alcohol ads or racist soda commercials, but the desire to break through and get noticed has increased to such a level that even churches are trying to be “edgy.”

One church in South Carolina sent out graphic mailers for Easter with a dead rabbit on the side of the road surrounded by crushed Easter eggs. The caption on the card read, “Bunnies stay dead, Jesus didn’t.”

Yes, people talked about it. Yes, the church stood out. The cards gained attention from both national marketing blogs and news media – but it wasn’t the right attention. It wasn’t the attention that would convince people to attend church on Easter. Humor should never be a last-ditch effort to stand out in your industry.

2. Comedy reduces relevancy and distracts from the content.

Adding humor to certain messages can make readers lose the value of the content. A study by Ace Metrix found that brands have a tendency to trade relevance for humor. While humorous ads were more likable, they tended to be low on information.

For TV advertising, this workd if the goal is to increase brand awareness. Enjoyable ads won’t cause viewers to mute, fast forward, or change the channel.

Do you remember the “Yo quiero Taco Bell,” dog? As popular and memorable as he was, Taco Bell saw a six percent drop in sales during the span of that campaign. A laughing audience doesn’t necessarily correlate to sales.


3. There’s a difference between humor and sarcasm.

It’s easy to blur the lines between dry humor and sarcasm, but sarcasm is more condescending and attacks the audience.

Psychology Today calls sarcasm a subtle form of bullying and hostility disguised as humor.

When you look at your “humorous’ writing, are you attacking the concept or making condescending remarks to your audience? You don’t have to be offensive to isolate readers with humor, sarcasm works just as well.

4.  Funny is subjective.

The only thing worse than being offensive is being unfunny.

When someone tries to be funny and fails, it’s awkward.

We’ve all had to listen to speeches from someone who thought they were hilarious while everyone in the audience was cringing.

Failed humor in writing passes through the realm of boring and becomes flat-out uncomfortable.

When someone tries to be humorous in writing and lands flat on their face, the entire copy looks bad. Its value is lowered. People don’t want to keep reading because they’re afraid it will only get worse. Writing professors and speech coaches try to dissuade beginners from adding humor because they’re students aren’t experienced enough to handle it. It’s too easy to stumble over a joke or carry it out too far when you’re still learning the basics of giving speeches and blogging.

You might think you’re a laugh riot. Everyone in the audience might disagree.

shutterstock_122150038 (1)5. Self-deprecation reduces credibility.

If you’ve managed to avoid offending large swaths of the populating, launching boring campaigns, and attacking your co-workers with sarcasm, you might think you’re safe poking fun at yourself.

However, multiple psychologists and business professionals agree that self-deprecating humor can lower perceived credibility from your audience. As Andrew Dlugan pointed out in his analysis of Dan Pink’s TED Talk, “self-deprecating humor in this speech pokes fun at the very thing on which Pink has hinged his argument — on his ability to demonstrate a solid, legal case.”

If you’re in shark-infested waters or trying to get your footing in a room, making fun of yourself might do more damage to your reputation than help.

6. The Internet never forgets.

Marketers love to praise campaigns by Oreo and Dove for their brilliance, but we love to criticize failed campaigns even more.

You can delete the tweets, or pull the ads, or even make public apologies, but the Internet will always remember your offensive/unfunny/irrelevant ideas.

Your content doesn’t have to turn into a full-blown crisis to become an element of mockery. It can just be bland or confusing.

Jell-O tried to reclaim Twitter profanity with their Fun My Life campaign. They responded to people who used the hashtag #FML with Jell-O coupons and an explanation that they were “funning” a person’s life. Not everyone agreed that this campaign was as fun as Jell-O thought it was.

If you’re not funny, the media coverage dissecting your terrible attempt at humor probably will be.

Five Reasons to Embrace Humor

1. Humor makes you more personable.

Marketers can talk until they’re blue in the face about the importance of engaging with one’s audience. One of the most recent changes has been to sign corporate Twitter accounts with the initials of whoever sent that tweet. This way people aren’t following a major corporation, but a social media team of human beings.

StarbucksThese little touches are just one way to become more personal, and humor is another. People like brands that can laugh at themselves or break out of the business jargon to talk to them. Smile, crack a joke, connect.

2. Laughing releases tension.

Researchers at Loma Linda University found that even anticipating a laugh will reduce stress hormones. Comedy Central programs like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report have mass popularity because they take complicated and often depressing topics – politics and current events – and poke fun of them.

If you’re presenting a tedious topic or making a long presentation, breaking up the content with humor will keep your audience focused and interested.

3. Humorous articles give your content diversity.

The best type of content to use depends on your end goal. If you’re trying to increase brand awareness or drive traffic to your blog then humorous content will do the trick.

Furthermore, adding a few humorous articles throughout the week or month will breaks the monotony of regular articles. If a blog regularly posts how-tos or in-depth examinations of the industry, a humorous post shows readers a different side of your company.

You don’t have to create epic comedies to break up blog content, using something as simple as a comic will drive social shares.

Corrective Behavior for Keyword Stuffing [Comic]4. Humor is wildly popular.

Bloggers are plagued with the never-ending task of creating new and original content. Sometimes it feels like the ideas are drying up and you’re grasping at straws to stay unique.

Enter comedic pop-culture. Marketers can jump on memes, pop culture references, and current trends to create topical posts or add funny twists to their writing. There are countless examples of bloggers using memes and creating content that’s fun to share or breaks down a complex topic with a witty metaphor.

You don’t actually have to be funny, you just have to be aware of which hot trends currently are.

5. At its origins, humor isn’t offensive.

The main argument against humor is that you’ll end up doing it badly. In the wrong hands humor will offend or bore someone.

Humor has been around since the cavemen and even animals prank each other for laughs. It’s something that’s ingrained into our nature. If rats crawling around the sewers of New York can stop for a chuckle, then so can you.

Humor in and of itself isn’t dangerous, or ineffective, or awkward, it’s the people who think they’re funny who ruin it for the rest of us. Consider taking a humorous approach to your writing based on your goals – not your desire to crack jokes – and be sure to get a second and third opinion before you hit publish or launch an ill-fated, multi-million dollar campaign.

About the author

Amanda Dodge