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No Joke, Here’s What Your Audience Wants

There’s nothing in the world more connecting than laughing together. That tickle in the stomach that radiates through the heart, releasing endorphins and evaporating stress, helps us bond to one another through an uplifting experience. It’s powerful.


So why don’t we see it more in advertising? According to a 12,000-respondent world-scale happiness report, 91% of people said they preferred brands to be funny; this number increased among Gen Z (94%) and Millennials (94%). So, if it’s our job as marketers to connect people to brands, why aren’t we employing humor more often? You probably know why, but it’s uncomfortable to admit.


In the last decade, we’ve been overcome with social contention. We’ve tiptoed in glass slippers around changing norms, new vocabularies, and fiery topics, trying hard not to commit a faux pas. We try not to be offensive, which is fine, because conscientiousness is kindness. But to every coin there are two sides. The flip side is dullness through conformity. Worse yet, invisibility.


And, no, I don’t mean visual identity—your brand mark can be loud and proudly centered in the middle of everyone’s visual field—but your brand can still be invisible to your audience’s hearts because it’s not scratching the right spot of “need” on the emotional scale.

“But our ad is touching, it makes people tear up.”

Ok, you’ve got emotion there. And if you’re a cause-marketer or brand dealing with heavy and sensitive topics, then please safeguard your brand and stick to your sensibilities. *Consult your brand strategist because humor may not be right for you.


But if your brand persona allows for more room to explore, consider that tear-inducing heaviness is not the way the consumer-need wind is blowing.

Adjust your sails & head for the whitespace of levity.

People are tired of empathy traps and heavy tugs at the heartstrings, especially when finances feel tight, economy uncertain, societal issues drain our brains. In fact, 45% of people have not felt happiness in over two years.

The human mind isn’t set up to stay in one mental state all the time.

We scale up and down the ladder of emotional states daily, seeking new energies and relief. And people are craving relief: 88% of people are looking for new experiences to make them smile and laugh; 91% of people prefer brands to be funny; and 72% would choose a brand that uses humor over the competition.


People who laugh together overcome together, and your brand could be the force that creates this dynamic of camaraderie and strength.


But it’s understandable that marketing leaders have struggled. Humor isn’t easy, and a whopping 95% of business leaders fear using humor in customer interactions! Moreover, 85% of business leaders state that they do not have the data insights or tools to successfully deliver humor.

Get the insights.

Insights, as we define in brand strategy, are “unspoken human truths.” It’s the gold that comedians mine. And marketers should get better at unearthing as well.


It’s bringing out what we haven’t been able to quite put our finger on, but we know is true. It’s the “oh yeah!” from the audience once they hear it. A moment of feeling seen, understood, and emotionally relieved.


Insights are not easy. Even the word is a barrier. People mean different things when they say it. But, as long as you know that you must unearth an unspoken human truth, you are already on the right path.


At GMR Marketing we have traditional research, our data science practice—SOLE Science, proprietary Experiential EQ framework, and other one-of-a-kind tools for audience need-state learning. But we also recommend brands get deeper with us and go beyond that.


Join audience interest groups and go out into their physical worlds. Rub some elbows, and don’t be afraid to rub the wrong way. Ask deep questions and see their faces as they respond. Develop empathy. Put yourself in their shoes. How would your life story look? What would you worry most about? What would you secretly need? What would you fear and what would you dream of? What is it really like being you now?


The more you empathize with and understand your audience the less you can worry about offending them. There’s evidence to what I say.


All the latest “offenses” that forced brands to walk (run) back from their campaigns, were not from attempts at humor, but from lack of empathy, respect, and understanding of their audiences. These offenses came from self-indulged, echo-chambered marketers pushing their own ideologies onto customers instead of acknowledging and appreciating the customers for who they are. No one likes to be pushed or told they need to change. That’s not acceptance, that’s not connection. And if done persistently, it’s bullying.


But humor connects. Humor says, “I know you. I want to relieve your burdens.” And don’t we all just want a little levity?


So, chill—you can do this. Be real with your audience and give them a laugh. Better yet, with GMR’s help, make it a joyful experience they’ll always remember. They’ll love you for it.