Gimmicks, Humor and Off-the-Wall Marketing: Where Do You Stand on Funny?

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Photo by Elena Cordery on Unsplash

I once worked for a client who told me he wanted me to come up with an idea that would get the whole city talking. He didn’t really know what he was looking for but essentially he wanted to stop traffic. I wasn’t keen. After all, being held responsible for snarling up the center of London (and possibly being arrested) wasn’t going to help anyone successfully promote their brand or hit their targets.

I told him that the fact that he worked in an extremely tight niche didn’t justify making a big public splash that would just confuse and perhaps even annoy uninterested parties. He was disappointed and suggested we rack our brains for another “really big idea.”

He then suggested we try something funny.

I asked him if he knew any good jokes. He didn’t, so he suggested we speak to a budding stand-up comedian in the sales department to get some ideas. I should have instantly refused this request.

The problem with humor is, when you play it safe, it’s just not very funny. When you don’t play it safe, you risk offending people. Unfunny or offensive comedy is a pretty useless and potentially damaging marketing strategy that only a handful of organizations can get away with.

His next suggestion was a gimmick, perhaps something we could give away to potential clients that would make them think his company was really cool.

Most marketers have a catalog of promotional gimmicks (tchotchkes) that essentially do nothing but collect dust. Let’s face facts: Most tchotchkes struggle to escape the confines of the marketing collateral cupboard (we’ve all got one of these). If you have to give away a trinket to promote your company, chances are your product and your sales/marketing team aren’t up to much.

Feeling rather frustrated, the client asked me what I could do to help market his company.

My answer was simple: Solve problems.

While your clients probably all appreciate a good laugh (and who doesn’t?), unless you run a comedy club or are a stand-up comedian, they are not engaging with your brand for a bit of light entertainment. They have real-world problems that need solving, and everything else is a distraction.

Note: Depending on the nature of your business, your clients’ problems can be very different. A problem might be complex (e.g., an industrial manufacturer requiring the right software to manage its entire supply chain) or simple (e.g., a fashion-conscious teenager looking for a new pair of shoes to wear to a party).

So what was the solution to my client’s problem?

We started a club. It delivered useful content via email and the corporate blog on a regular basis to interested members, encouraged debate via social media and once every quarter met up for drinks and nibbles at a central location in the city. We essentially built a solid community around the business, solved real-world problems, and once in a while let our hair down and built real relationships.

No gimmicks, no painful attempts at humor, no unwarranted expense on useless junk.

Where do you stand on gimmicks, humor, and off-the-wall marketing? Have they worked for you, or are they just distractions from the real work of marketing? Share your comments below:

This post first appeared on the iContact Email Marketing Blog.

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Marketing Strategist, Author of #BecomingTHEExpert, Content Marketing Trainer, and Cyclist. Check out my author profile:

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