Funny Business

In her book Compassionate Laughter, Patty Wooten defines humor as a perspective on life — a way of seeing the world — and behavior that expresses that view. Sounds like a strong parallel to the backbone of many a great brand.

In her book Compassionate Laughter, Patty Wooten defines humor as a perspective on life — a way of seeing the world — and behavior that expresses that view. Sounds like a strong parallel to the backbone of many a great brand.


The essence of good humor unites, eases tension, strengthens relationships, and makes people feel good. Isn’t that what we strive for in building our brands? I’ve always been a fan of the funny, and after a stint of learning how to write and deliver live comedy at the Improv a couple of years ago, I have a deeper understanding and appreciation of humor in life, business, and brands.

When well done (versus medium rare), a humor-based branding strategy can be a powerful bonding agent to the people in your market. Whether you’re targeting customers, prospects, or employees, you not only deliver a message, but provide a little life-needed therapy.

Below are some great examples of brands that don’t take themselves too seriously — and how they successfully drive their brand message home.

Satire can become a higher power
Janice Taylor, founder of Our Lady of Weight Loss, lost 50 pounds of excess weight to create 50 pieces of art. “After attending a meeting where everyone obsessed about food and their oversized tushes, I heard a voice,” Taylor says. “‘You’re an artist. Make weight loss an art project.’ The voice was Our Lady of Weight Loss.”

This small company has built its brand with low-cal wit and sarcasm. They offer online inspiration, workshops, coaching, gifts, and spoofy art exhibited at galleries — all with fat-shedding bites of humor.

Humor can add character
Entertaining or amusing icons can help define the personality of your brand. Take Gus, the second most famous groundhog in Pennsylvania. Created by MARC USA for the Pennsylvania Lottery, this furry creature is a natural-born scratcher, perfect for instant game launches as well as breathing new life into the lottery’s overall image.


Since Gus was introduced, the Pennsylvania Lottery is on track to set record sales of more than $2.6 billion and has the fastest growing instant sales in the country. Everyone is smiling because the lottery supports Pennsylvania’s prescription drug programs for senior citizens as well as a number of other programs for older citizens. Last year alone, the Pennsylvania Lottery contributed more than $800 million to senior programs — enough to make Gus blush with pride (although it’s a little hard to tell through his fur).

A good laugh is contagious
“How can a tech startup gain visibility without spending millions on advertising?” asks Bob Cramer, CEO of LiveVault, a Massachusetts-based backup and recovery software company. “Hire Monty Python’s John Cleese to star in a video — and let the power of viral marketing do the rest.”

In the video, Cleese plays the role of the executive director of the fictitious Institute for Backup Trauma. In less than four months, the video has been downloaded over a quarter of a million times. And the video is supported by an integrated program of limited print advertising, newsletter sponsorships, banner ads, direct snail mail, and email marketing.

Humor and storytelling add stickiness to the message
When people laugh, a lightbulb lights up in our heads, increasing the association, relevance, and recall of the brand behind the message — all-important factors in building brand equity.

Scott Barnum and Pete Slosberg, veteran entrepreneurs and master storytellers, recently created the Cocoa Pete’s brand of premium chocolate. Their mission is clear: All Americans deserve incredible chocolate.

Cocoa Pete’s Web site offers a short movie featuring an attorney discussing whether people’s chocolate rights could stand up in court. The lawyer analyzes product names, packaging, and in-store sampling accompanied by the official “moan-o-meter,” a Radio Shack sound level meter, gussied up so people can gauge the decibels of their moans. It’s deliciously funny.


Brands can have a lot of fun without being a full-time clown
Simon Sinek, CEO of marketing consultancy SinekPartners, cites 1-800-GOT-JUNK? as a good example of humor and guerilla marketing. The company’s overall messaging is pretty straightforward: It provides home and office junk removal. However, company reps regularly don big blue wigs to do the wave alongside highways.”

In fact, the company’s annual team photo features corporate big wigs and franchisees together — all wearing the bright blue wigs. “Humor can be a vital component in breaking through the clutter and building a brand’s visibility,” Sinek says. “Using humor sets customers’ expectations. If these expectations are not realized in other media — or in the product or service itself — a consumer will be left feeling disappointed.”

Humor can help build healthy brands, and it can also build healthy bodies. Laughter boosts the immune system by increasing the concentration of salivary immunoglobulin A. That helps defend against the entry of infectious organisms through the respiratory tract, lowers blood pressure, and burns fat. Researchers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville found that 10-15 minutes of genuine giggling can burn off the number of calories found in a medium square of chocolate.

So let’s eat plenty of chocolate, laugh a lot, and support our favorite brands — brands that make us smile. Repeat as needed.

Brand on!