Humor, Marketing and the Internet | Adweek Humor, Marketing and the Internet | Adweek
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Humor, Marketing and the Internet

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It's that time of year again: We're all waiting eagerly for the Effies, Cannes, CLIOS and One Show, which fall in quick succession over the coming months. It's an exciting time. Paychecks will be splurged on shoes. Tweets will reach a frantic urgency. Rock stars will be made. People will wake up in strange places. When the dust settles, we'll be left with case studies featuring groundbreaking new styles of marketing, new approaches and new technologies not possible a year ago.
 
At this time of year we're reminded that everything about digital marketing is new. Not even the terms used to describe, debate and judge the work -- terms like "participatory," "social," "interlinked" and "connective" -- were in existence a few years ago.
 
But what if the most important attribute of truly great digital work wasn't a new attribute, but an attribute that might have been lost or forgotten in the midst of all these changes? For example, if our whole industry is built on the fact that emotion -- not rational thought -- is the gatekeeper to consumer behavior (as greats such as Bill Bernbach have stated), then why is it that there's relatively little debate about emotive uses of digital technologies?
 
Specifically, I'm interested in discussing how humor, arguably the most important emotion to marketers, is even more vital in the digital age.
 
The first benefit: humor helps extend your reach. It's common sense. The connection between humor and viral spread was documented as far back as 2004 in a study reported in the Journal of Advertising Research. It identified a number of the motivations, attitudes and behaviors of people that pass along e-mails and found that most of the forwarded messages involved humor. There are now more ways to share content -- social networking sites, etc. -- but human nature persists and the principle still applies.
 
Secondly, humor reduces dependence on incentives. Humor is a great way to get a response without depending on giveaways or sacrificing margin. If you can keep them laughing, you'll have enough of their attention to keep the experience flowing.
 
Humor can also be used to avert potential detractors. Humor's ability to diffuse annoyance is vital at a time when consumers are able to broadcast their grievances to the planet. Brands are increasingly measuring their worth by what people are saying about them. Humor, when used sensitively, has a redeeming quality.
 
Finally, humor reduces dependence on production values. We're entering an era where speed, personalization and relevance to the user will become increasingly important, and we'll have to sacrifice production values to keep up. Humor is also about timing and context as opposed to polish.
 
Beyond that, the way that we joke is changing -- giving creative people a rare shot at greatness. New communication technologies not only influence humor, they make new styles of humor possible. The relatively speedy publication and distribution cycles of newspapers made it possible to satirize current world events via cartoons, television gave us the sitcom and even the telephone provide the safe distance from which to make prank calls. The Internet makes new forms of humor possible, too, due to factors like anonymity, connectivity and wider access to creative tools.

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