How to use humor in your brand

What does it take to use humour wisely as a brand? We took a look at some of the acts that took to the stage and had the audience in fits of laughter, as well as those that had their audience in fits of rage.

Comedy has always been a tough gig. They say it’s harder to write, and harder to perform than your classic drama or tragedy; but when it pays off, the reward is great. A good sense of humour boasts personality, intelligence and creativity – it can win over the toughest audience and have them crowding around you, begging for more. The same goes for brands who use humour well; they get respect, and typically they gain new audience members who are eagerly awaiting the next punchline to drop – whether that be on social media or more traditional channels.

But when your joke falls flat or touches a nerve with the wrong crowd – get ready for the awkward silence, or worse – the loud hecklers ready to tear you apart.

So just what does it take to use humour wisely as a brand? We took a look at some of the acts that took to the stage and had the audience in fits of laughter, as well as those that had their audience in fits of rage.

So grab a drink, take a seat and get ready for the first act to take centre stage…

Act One: The Dollar Shave Club

When The Dollar Shave Club burst onto the market back in March 2012, they were a small player competing alongside established brands like Bic and Gillette. To add to their handicap, razors have never been a particularly attention grabbing subject, so when it came to being heard, they needed a voice that resonated loudly. So they relied on humour.

The video ramps up with the line ‘Our blades are f**king great’; not what you’d expect from a brand whose product is usually about as risky and exciting as accidentally knicking your neck while shaving. But that’s exactly what made this branding effort excel, creating a strong voice right from the get go that caught the audience off guard; one that breathed fresh air into an industry tied to making men ‘sharp’ and ‘clean’.

Ever since the first advertisement went viral, The Dollar Shave Club have kept their voice consistent to that unabashed irreverence that won them over in 2012, and they have never tried to be anything other.

The Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to make fun of yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously but be sure that it’s in line with your current tone of voice. Dramatically changing the way you sound can catch your audience’s attention for the wrong reasons as well.

Act Two: Charmin

When it comes to making fun of yourself, toilet paper and flushable wipes company Charmin took a page out of the same joke-book as The Dollar Shave Club, raking in thousands of followers on Twitter in the process.

With tongue-in-cheek hashtags like #tweetfromtheseat and #sitorsquat, what makes Charmin’s brand of humour so successful on Twitter is that the humour aligns directly with the product that they are trying to sell, so much so that those reading the tweets are likely to overlook the fact that they are actually being marketed to.

Typically it’s best to steer clear of toilet humour, but when the punchline is your business (pun intended), you better make the most of it. As such, the majority of jokes are centered around a rather unglamorous shared human experience – going to the bathroom.

And while it’s a topic we don’t typically want to talk about, Charmin tap into the exact thoughts that we all have, making light of what you do in the loo. They get bonus points for also keeping it relatively clean despite the subject matter.

The Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to say what your audience is thinking, but make sure if you are going to be crude, you do it smart. Event the dirtiest businesses should maintain a level of cleanliness.

Act Three: Kia

I ask you this, what could be worse than a dad joke? How about your dad saying the same joke but dressing as a teenager at the same? That’s sure to bring a cringe to your face. Unfortunately, the next brand on our list thought it would be a good idea to do just that.

Back in 2012, car manufacturer Kia teamed up with Cheezburger Inc, renowned for being the epicentre for many well known memes including Condescending Willy Wonka and Futurama Fry, to launch their ‘Season’s Memeing contest’.

The campaign encouraged fans of the meme mecca to caption ten custom-made macros featuring the Kia crossover using 26 different images and words for a chance to win a $100 gift certificate as well as a $1,000 prize to fund a classroom project via the online charity

The goal was to create a viral campaign using the highly shareable vehicle of memes, but frequenters to the site were not impressed.

With most memes being founded on pop culture references or equally relatable and provocative content, a family car doesn’t really fit the mould – there’s an obvious disconnect from the get go. The brand and the marketing vehicle don’t match, highlighting a lack of authenticity – sort of like your dad dressing as a teenager and infiltrating your high school.

Additionally, visitors to the site enjoyed making memes purely for that – they’re own enjoyment. So when a commercial agenda was thrown into the mix, user’s felt like their enjoyment was being compromised, and as a result, the large majority of responses to the cringe worthy campaign were negative.

The takeaway: Firstly, read the crowd. Would KIA enthusiasts typically be found on a meme website? Most likely not. Secondly, going viral isn’t a strategy, it’s a bonus for creating valuable, evocative content. Focus on that first, and the rewards will come.

Act Four: Kenneth Cole

It’s a common rule of thumb when you are trying to make new friends to focus on commonly shared topics and steer clear of divisive ones, such as religion and politics.

The same goes for brands using humour to win a positive response from their audience; make sure the punchline isn’t going to touch a nerve and leave you red faced.

Such was the oversight made by American fashion house, Kenneth Cole, who tried to put a light hearted, but ultimately insensitive spin on the Arab Spring to promote their Spring sale: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumour is they heard our new spring collection is now available online…”

What resulted was an angry outcry against Kenneth Cole from customers across the Globe. While the tweet was eventually removed, the damage had already been done, and the evidence is still lingering online, forever haunting Kenneth Cole’s reputation.

The Takeaway: Current news and events can be a great segway into a joke, but If you are going to attempt humour, stick to neutral topics and avoid the risk of hurting your fans and your brand. Also, don’t just sprint off stage right, address the fact that the joke was insensitive and apologise, or at least have a contingency plan in place for your social media.


We hope you enjoyed our brief comedy master-class, and are feeling a little more confident and prepared for injecting some humour into your brand. We promise that if you stick to the advice above, and learn from the one’s that choked in the spotlight, you’ll be on your way to being the brand equivalent of Jerry Seinfeld.