Joy is the new black: How execs and companies embrace the funny

Anger and fear have become the watchwords of the day. And for good reason: 68 percent of Americans say they read something in the news that makes them angry at least once a day while 49 percent say they get angry more often now than a year ago, a recent Esquire/NBC News survey finds.

Mix in our country’s rotting infrastructure, volatility in the stock markets, fears of another recession, and a shrill presidential election campaign and … we’ve got a world of hurt.

And, that’s precisely the reason why smart marketers are turning to comedy, joy and happiness in their internal and external programs. They relieve angry and fearful target audiences from the daily realities of this crazy world. They push boundaries and say and do things that are authentic and memorable for audiences. And they differentiate themselves from competitors and make their organizations seem more genuine.

So what does this trend look like in the marketplace? What strategies, messages and tactics are forward-thinking marketers using? Consider these examples:

  • UnitedHealthcare recently launched an integrated marketing campaign on paid, owned and earned media that uses humor to help the company cut through the fog of commoditized private insurers. Called “Ways In,” the campaign features people entering the complex healthcare system by getting injured in hilarious ways, like these dirty dancers failing to nail the iconic Swayze/Grey lift. Supported by a robust website, UnitedHealthcare promises to help customers more easily navigate the system.
  • Clorox illustrated “ life’s bleachable moments” via humorous TV and online ads. For example, one adorable child is shown mopping the floor with toilet water. Clorox breaks the mold of a boring bleach company by using funny “bleachable” instances to reach young adults. Cross-channel marketing tactics are employed via paid and earned social campaigns, as well as pre-roll video and display advertising for increased brand awareness and consumer engagement.
  • GE showed the approach works in the B2B world too with its “ What’s the matter with Owen?” promotion. It featured a programmer named Owen who has recently been hired by GE – which just makes everyone feel sorry for him. Video spots ran on television and GE’s owned social media platforms.
  • Cisco combined Valentine’s Day with ads for its ASR 9000 Series router set. What better gift to show your love, the ad intones, than a state-of-the-art router? This ad had a staggering 130,000+ views, integrated within a multi-tiered “ Virtual, Viral Visual” campaign featuring a dynamic website, viral videos, a robust social media platform, an iPhone App, as well as a two-week long global contest.

The new comedy catalysts

Humorous messages in advertising and marketing resonate better than any other type, according to a 2015 Nielsen study, at least in North America and Europe. Humor also crosses generational lines, resonating well among all age groups.
Today comedy is such an important business catalyst that organizations like the Upright Citizens Brigade, Second City and our own marketing communications firm, Peppercomm, are training a new generation of executives to not only use humor in the workplace, but to understand why laughter and joy are intrinsic to their success. At Peppercomm, we’ve embraced this type of messaging and our clients have responded: about one-third understand that self-deprecating humor in particular is especially effective in helping them engage and connect in a new, and often, more meaningful way.

Laughter releases the same endorphins in the brain as eating chocolate or falling in love. But it’s not about being funny for the sake of being funny. It’s the very real desire by our clients to seem more approachable and authentic to their audiences.

As any smart marketer knows, the key to a winning presentation is building rapport with the prospects. At Peppercomm, we routinely work with influencers ranging from C-suite executives and doctors who treat Stage IV Lymphoma patients to PowerPoint-dependent engineers to leverage the principles of stand-up comedy to better engage with audiences.

Comedy training can help any executive improve engagement to make them better listeners, improve their ability to telling compelling stories, help them be more “in the moment,” and let them display vulnerability and be self-deprecating.

If executives need proof that this really works, look at Mark Zuckerberg. The Facebook founder has transformed his public persona from petulant young billionaire to aw-shucks dad using authentic humor. During his recent two-month paternity leave, he posted regularly on social media about his parental adventures – both funny and poignant.

Zuckerberg, who recently appeared at No. 7 on Inc.’s list of most admired American CEOs, also stands out for being a business role model for the group that’s going to be sitting in the purchaser’s seat for the next few decades — millennials.

Already, 46 percent of potential B2B buyers are millennials (Google/ Millward Brown Digital). On the B2C side, Millennials will become the largest generation in the luxury consumer market around 2018 ( Forbes).

Millennials have a strong desire to engage with their world optimistically. Their aim is to make the world “more compassionate, innovative and sustainable,” according to a recent Deloitte study. In short, they are driven by joy. Brands who want to reach them need to learn how to be authentically funny.

But millennials certainly aren’t the only ones who can have fun. Whether it’s Gen Y, Gen X, Boomers or the up-and-coming Gen Z, no one is immune from today’s onslaught of anger/fear. In order to stand out from the miserable pack, smart marketers are embracing laughter and happiness. Not only does it resonate with buyers, but it’s more of what the world needs. Joy will be 2016’s new black.