Humour in Advertising: How to Get it Right

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Making people laugh endears them to you, whether they like it or not. Here, we'll discuss how to use humour in advertising to appeal to your target audience. When executed correctly, humour can be one of the greatest tools in your brand arsenal. When done wrong, however, the repercussions can be disastrous.

Even when effective, people generally hate adverts. One way to create an ad that actually works and leaves people feeling good about your brand is to employ humour—an age-old trick to endear anyone.

Below, you’ll find out how humour in advertising works, and how to harness it effectively.

Why Does Humor Work in Advertising?

Laughing at poster

Humour is a wonderful, and uniquely (as far as we know), human trait. Along with physical touch, affection, and other behaviours, humour can be used to build emotional relationships between individuals and groups.

And in our capitalist world, businesses can hijack this beautiful, inherent, and universal human trait to sell products and services, make a profit, and grow their brand identity.

As such, humour is an important tool in advertising, and humorous ads can stick with people, helping them to remember your brand and get their neurotransmitters firing off—meaning they’ll come to associate your brand with feelings of lightness and joy, and will be more likely to give you their money.

As to the question of why humour works in advertising, it chiefly comes down to the fact that it makes a brand appear more human. However, as a brand’s purpose is to make money (in most cases), humour is a hack—not some generous signifier of a company’s humanity.


Yuqo quotesHumour in advertising works by forming a bond between a brand and a person, making the latter more likely to engage with the former.

When Does Humor Work in an Ad??

Just like in interpersonal interaction, humour must be used appropriately in advertising if it is to work. We all know the feeling of when a joke really misses its mark. If you put out an ad that falls prey to this unfortunate fate, you better hope that it at least becomes memorable (all publicity is good publicity, after all), otherwise it’s not going to have any positive effect.

With this in mind, we’ll outline some key factors to consider when employing humour in an ad, and some pitfalls that companies should avoid.

In Line with the Nature and Emotion of the Brand

Humour should, for the most part, be in line with the brand. For instance, a funeral director should probably avoid using humorous ads, as they would likely alienate the target audience. That being said, if humour is clever enough and pulled off well (and has the right intentions), there are ultimately no limits to where and when it can be used.

But if you want to play it safe, assess what the emotional core of your brand is, and use humour in a way that supports that. Occasionally, it can also be used to subvert expectations surrounding your brand and generate new interest—if employed shrewdly.

Relevant to the Target Audience

Whatever your punchline is, it should appeal to your target audience. There’s no point in taking a humorous approach if the people who use your products or services aren’t going to find it funny.

As a generalisation, different groups of people have different ideas of what is funny, and sometimes these opinions vary dramatically. So identifying your target audience and their sense of humour is key. If you get it wrong, you might in fact alienate your key demographics, even if you create something that some people find funny.

Being Respectful

It’s true that being humorous in the modern world can seem like a minefield. Especially once an ad circulates social media, nuance tends to be lost. As a result, the intended tone can be misconstrued, and your attempt at humour might just be more offensive than you think it is.

So it’s best to play it safe unless you’re really certain what you’re doing. Generally, making a joke at the expense of any individual or group is best avoided—not because it’s bad for business, but because it’s bad for the world.

Appropriate for the Media Platform

Different media lend themselves to different types of advertising. For example, a television advert has the time to convey a funny narrative, even in as little as 15 seconds.

Meanwhile, static ads lend themselves to the most fundamental or superficial forms of humour, as few people are willing to give them the attention necessary for anything more developed.

Social media ads are somewhere in between—depending on the platform and the nature of the ad itself—but they need to immediately catch people’s attention, and not overstay their welcome.

Generally in advertising, it’s easier to go for the low-hanging fruit and use humour that’s obvious but perhaps not exceptionally funny. Conveying something genuinely funny in the limited space and time available is very difficult, and quite a skill.

Enforce the Message

When using humour in an ad, you still have to enforce your message, brand, product, or whatever you’re trying to communicate. If you’re mainly looking to increase recognition, then you’re more free with how you use humour, as the goal is to elicit a reaction.

If you’re trying to push something more specific—like a product—then the humour will work best when it is related to whatever you’re trying to push. If it’s unrelated, people might enjoy the ad but won’t actually engage in a way that’s relevant.


The fact that people like to laugh may be universal, but what people laugh at is highly specific, and differs wildly between groups, regions, and cultures. Humour is highly localised, so if you’re using it in advertising, do your research and make sure it caters to your target audience. Really, a funny ad should be written by someone from the target audience, otherwise the chances of it missing the mark are high indeed.

What’s more, humour is very much linked to language and can often be lost in translation, even where no play on words is involved.

Working with Comedians

Many brands bring in professional comedians or comedy writers to help them pen humorous ads. These people have a much better idea of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to humour. So instead of shooting in the dark, enlist someone who has a wealth of experience. Especially if you want mass appeal, a comedian can be a good bet.

Second Opinion

Never put out a humorous ad without getting a second, third, fourth, and so on opinion. What’s more, try to get the opinions of a range of people, not just a load of people like you. This way, you’ll have a better idea of how it might land among people from different groups. Also, it’s a good way to find out if someone might be offended by something that you thought was appropriate.


Yuqo quotesGetting humour right is everything when composing a funny ad. This means it has to match your brand identity, your target audience, and actually be funny!

How Is Humour Used in Advertising?

These days, humour, or should we say “humour”, is often used in advertising to make brands memorable. However, it can also make them annoying. There’s a fine line between the two, but many brands nowadays opt to be slightly annoying in order to make their ads stick in the minds of consumers.

However, leaving that type of “humour” aside, ads that genuinely intend to make people laugh can be used to great effect… and great failure.

To give two examples of humour used well in advertising, consider Kevin Bacon in EE adverts, or the Compare the Market meerkat adverts. In general, these can be considered successfully humorous advertising campaigns for several reasons:

• They create a lighthearted, endearing image of the brand
• They are memorable, and leave people wanting more
• They encourage sharing, which is free advertising
• They create consistent characters and narratives
• They create a connection between brands and customers

On the other hand, ads that use sexual humour or try to degrade certain groups tend to flop. For example, Kmart’s 2013 “Show Your Joe” boxers commercial, in which six men clad in holiday-themed boxers jiggle and gyrate their hips, was largely deemed either distasteful or just plain dumb.


Yuqo quotesHumour, when used well, can be highly successful in creating an endearing brand that sticks with customers and encourages sharing. When executed poorly, it can go a long way to damage a brand’s image.


Humour in Marketing: Great Potential when Done Right

In short, humour is one of the best advertising tools available to a brand, but only if it’s harnessed successfully. If something isn’t funny, or, even worse, is offensive, you’ll do yourself damage. But if you can get the tone right and make people laugh, then you’ll unlock one of the most powerful advertising tricks available.