You’ve got to be joking: why humour sells on social mediaNovember 2023
Social media is useful for many things. News and information, staying in touch with family, keeping up with trends, spreading conspiracy theories. But the content we really crave is the stuff that makes us laugh out loud. And brands that put humorous content as at the centre of their social media strategy could be laughing all the way to the bank.
The power of humour as an advertising and marketing tool has long been known. As the behavioural scientist Jennifer Aaker points out in a Ted Talk, “Humour sells. If you add a line of light humour into a sales pitch, people are willing to pay up to 20% more.”
“Humour sells. If you add a line of light humour into a sales pitch, people are willing to pay up to 20% more.”
Why? According to one study, “Humour-based messages are easier to process and understand on a superficial level” and humour “increases affection and provides a positive experience.”
Laughing at your jokes makes your audience feel connected and happy. Humour also makes your brand and your message memorable. Most of us of a certain age will go to our graves believing that Old Spice will make make you smell like a man, man. All thanks to those TV ads.
To make it funny, make it raw
On social media, humour has an extra power – the power to go viral. And the hunger for humour is insatiable and growing. As of January 2023, the hashtag "comedy" had 19 billion views on TikTok — more than for food, fashion and music.
The type of humorous content that works particularly well on social media is raw, ‘real’, unpolished and ‘authentic’. Perhaps no surprise, as authenticity is cited as the second most important thing (after humour) that TikTok users want from influencers.
Brands and influencers doing funny things
Filling the demand for that type of humour is a new generation of comedy content creators, known (by nobody except us) as ‘funfluencers’. Some are using TikTok as a platform to launch their comedy careers. Some are seasoned professionals. Either way, many of them are being tapped by brands and some have very lucrative deals.
There are also plenty of brands who are creating their own comedy, without help from influencers. But what’s notable about them is that the type of humorous content that they’re putting out on their social accounts is very much in the style of the funfluencer. Raw, authentic, real.
Here are a few of our favourite funny brands and influencers:
Ryanair offers a masterclass in using your flaws as comedy gold. Its TikTok videos are silly, surreal and definitely ‘raw’. And whoever writes those responses to customers deserves a comedy award. Example: Q How do I get a free sandwich on board? A: It’s called a middle seat.”
Duolingo’s content looks like they just let their staff loose with a camera, which ticks the ‘authentic’ and ‘real’ boxes right away. It’s also just really, really funny.
JanucyDev - Jonny specialises in dog-based humour. His sketch of how different dog breeds would behave in a job interview is hilarious (the whippet apologises for being ‘just a little nervous’). And his paid video for Roombas, featuring dogs interacting with a robot hoover, is genius.
Laura Ramoso, the Toronto-based comedian went viral with her impressions of her German mother. Other favourite sketches are “The girl who makes wearing a jumpsuit the basis of her entire identity” and “The gynaecologist who doesn’t care whether you live or die”. Let’s just say you’ll never look at kitchen utensils in the same way ever again.
Liam Carpenter is a British expat in Germany, whose schtick is making fun of Germans (in a nice way), and getting paid for it by brands including tax app Steuerbot.
Elle Cordova. Making delightfully geeky, dead-pan comedy videos is just one of Elle Cordova’s talents. She’s a singer/songwriter and former leader of folk band Reina del Cid, and she’s also funny as hell. Her “AIgorithm gaslighting” and “Virtual assistants in the server break room” skits are brilliant.
Joe Inoue is on a mission to teach you Japanese and he has a unique method of making you remember phrases. It quite possibly works – we were too busy laughing to learn anything.
Adrian Bliss, if a man wearing a sperm costume hits your funny bone, then Adrian Bliss, a stand-up comic and regular on the UK Fringe scene, is your man. Based – loosely – on science, history and Bible stories, his sketches are a bit weird, a bit silly and very easy to watch (as evidenced by his 7.9 million TikTok followers).
Illustration: Leandro Chaman