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Contrast that with the recent batch of Superbowl ads. Advertisers ponied up well over $2 mil to promote their brand or product - the majority seemed to incorporate humor. Some had just a dash of wry humor, while some were at the other end of the spectrum. (Think ignited horse flatulence...)
I'd be the first to admit that branding is different than selling, and that a 30 second Superbowl spot isn't directly comparable to a web site. But I do wonder if we all take ourselves too seriously, and that a bit of humor might perform better than a dozen sober testimonials.
Have you used humor to sell? Any thoughts on how to incorporate humor without distracting from the product or creating doubts in the consumer's mind?
Of course, even in the US perception varies. The flaming horse flatulence ad is a good example - some viewers were offended, others dismissed it as puerile, and still others thought it hilarious.
Some humor isn't quite as divisive; the consulting adverisement that featured "herding cats" is an example of something that might offend few people and work in a variety of cultures.
It's a good point though. Maybe being outright funny is too much, but you could always add a friendly and approachable side to your website/business by writing in a relaxed manner. Have pictures of staff with their own profile. Have a section where you put your product or service in a humourous or strange situation - maybe a 'How NOT to use our product' type section.
I've noticed that when I come across a site that does use humor appropriately, I always feel more comfortable purchasing. It's like I know them a little.
Appropriateness though, is the crux and finding the right slant is hard. When trying to come across as warm, friendly, funny, and (most importantly) honest it can be difficult to make sure one person is not offended while another is not brought to fits of mocking laughter and ridicule by what they percieve as a half-witted, moronic attemp at humor.
It isn't just differences in cultures, either. It can be unrecognized religious beliefs, environmental concerns, ambiguous political convictions, current events, and/or one's personal history that causes one person to snicker and leave as another clicks the buy button.
I have one section, unrelated to my product, that (I think) is somewhat humorous. It is an attempt to let my visitors know me a little. Fairly often a visitor, or buyer, will tell me they enjoyed reading this section, but how many just went away?
I know we can't name specific sites or businesses, but there is a mail order catalog (they also have a web site) for a surplus store that sells science related surplus items as well as other stuff, and I think they do a good job of adding humor, especially humor that I don't think you could easily take offense at. Worst case is that the person just doesn't get the humor. But, I don't think they really have anything that could be easily deemed as offensive.
Granted, people have different ideas and attitudes, but if you use subtle or sparse humor, I think you'll be okay. There will always be people offended by something, even when there's no humor. What if you sell yellow widgets? What do you mean by that? Are you implying that I'm a coward because I want to purchase a widget to carry? Well, you can just take your yellow widgets and stick 'em. I'll buy my widgets from someone who appreciates me as a customer and doesn't mock me!
We have a free computer mag up here in the PNW that's started trying to be humorous in some of their articles... The results sound forced and far less professional. I've stopped reading them. Bad humor can be a real turnoff to an otherwise good product.
I'm not saying don't do it... just make sure it flows naturally as a part of your writing style; don't try too hard. Remember, no matter how good you are, your humor won't appeal to everyone, so keep it subtle.
In most cases, I think, a light touch with humor can work. No attempts for big punchlines, no elaborate parodies, etc. These can be hard to pull off and may not translate well to people from different backgrounds. I'd strive for an undertone of amusement that shows you don't take yourself too seriously. (Naturally, this varies by site - if it's a funeral home or injury attorney, for example, humor probably isn't the best strategy. ;)) Leave the equine emissions to the folks who can take a hit for a few million and not notice it. :)