This is another guest post from Brad Shorr – a really great writer and marketer who is an expert on using humor in business. His first post was Don’t Train a Duck, but Do Use Cartoons to Build Your Brand.
Be careful about how you mix cartooning (or any other form of humor) with business. As I mentioned in my earlier post, cartoons transform brands. Unfortunately, that transformation can be for the worse if you take the wrong approach. Following these 5 rules will keep humor working for you, not against you.
- Do Not Make Fun of Your Customers. Have you seen the V8® Juice commercials where people get a thump on the forehead because they were too stupid to drink the product? I hate them. Is the idea to shame a person into buying by branding him clueless? Doesn’t motivate me to buy, much less become loyal to the brand.
- Do Not Make Fun of Your Industry. Remember the WaMu commercials featuring a group of stuffy, doddering old bankers babbling witlessly to a hip, casually dressed WaMu employee? Risky. By stereotyping the banking industry as old-fashioned, WaMu may alienate large segments of the market; in this case, anyone over forty. On top of that, given our current banking crisis, old-fashioned conservative values might be more prized than ever in a bank, even among the young. In any case, disparaging your own industry begs the question, then why are you in it? Crusades are serious business – if you’re on one to change your industry, why are you making jokes? Doesn’t compute.
- Do Not Use Stereotypes. Building on the last point, it’s wise to stay away from stereotyping of any kind. Even today, offensive stereotypes have a way of creeping in to business humor. Why? Because often, there’s a fine line between funny and offensive. For example, I did a cartoon for a book pitch where an extremely old woman with a walker is at a used car lot. A moustache-twirling salesman is trying to sell her a souped-up sports car, telling her she’ll never be late for bingo again. Is that ageism? Used car salesmanism? Even a cartoon as innocent as this could easily backfire, so steer clear. (Car puns intended.) I believe you can be plenty funny without being offensive, so why take a chance?
- Do Be Brief. As funnyman William Shakespeare once said, brevity is the soul of wit. Many a good joke has been ruined by driving it into the ground. Take the earlier V8® and WaMu examples – as a one-time shot, either commercial would have been amusing and appealing. But beating us over the head with it quickly becomes annoying.
- Do Repeat Yourself. As with most other marketing activities, repetition is crucial. A one-off cartoon might attract some short-term buzz, but to really get the job done, do a series. What you want is for customers to see your newsletter in their email in-box and think, “Great! Another newsletter from XYZ. I can’t wait to see what cartoon they’ve got for me this month.”
Make sense? What other rules of business humor would you add to this list?
Here’s more samples of Brad’s business cartoons, and you can contact Brad about using cartoons in your marketing or call him at (630) 845-1778.