Humor in Business: Keeping it real, with some levity

Prospects are people, too. And even the most solemn among us need a break now and then. More and more marketers are finding they can provide that respite with humor. What they often have trouble with, however, is getting their organizations to break with tradition – the belief that a “serious” business has to be exceedingly dull and joyless to be perceived as professional.

Think about it:  Even Stephen Hawking makes jokes. And you can’t get much more serious than Theoretical Cosmology.

Marketing today is all about creating relationships, and companies need to be the type organizations that prospects can relate to – especially in competitive fields. That means businesses have to become more personable.

So ask yourself: Is your organization ready to lighten up? It is appropriate? Is it worth it? Getting to those answers can be difficult and often requires professional advice. While you ponder, though, here are a few guidelines for engaging in humor:

  • Don’t make humor your goal. It should be part of your brainstorming mix, tested against other concepts and approaches. Otherwise, it could be forced and cringe-worthy awkward.
  • You don’t have to get a guffaw; a smile will do. The main thing is to get the reader/listener/view to (1) find it humorous (2) share it with others and (3) like you (and we’re not talking just clicking a Facebook icon).
  • Make sure your humor is consistent with your brand. It might be funny to point out the foibles of a wayward starlet, but does it push the product?
  • Be relevant for your audience. Let them feel joy of being in on the joke, and you’ll make that all-important connection. Otherwise, the joke’s on you.
  • You can insert humor around serious topics, especially in B-to-B. Sure, the physicians reading your white paper are saving lives every day, but they share the same frustrations in the process. You can show empathy for the latter through humor, while maintaining the dignity of their field.
  • Be product specific. Seriously, how many times have you loved an ad but couldn’t remember what it was promoting?
  • Remember: There’s an extremely thin line between “edgy” and offensive. Don’t get too cute or too cool or you might isolate a segment of potential targets.

There are a lot more, of course. Even humor has its boundaries.

But at least think about it. The worst thing that could happen would be a smile on your face.



Bonnie has two loves: some guy named Dennis and writing. Bonnie is focused on client communications initiatives, including strategic messaging, brand development and communications planning for our clients. She has more than 30 years of experience developing creative content that resonates with readers.