03 Oct 2014

The Use of Humour in International Marketing

There’s no doubt that humour sells when it comes to marketing. A comedic element can make all the difference between a successful campaign and a really successful campaign, so it’s worth the extra effort.

When marketing takes a funny approach, messages are welcomed by target audiences, not just simply received. This means consumers are more likely to relate to a product or service, resulting in increased sales.

The problem is that humour doesn’t always translate well into different languages and cultures around the world. It can therefore be tricky to get right, causing severe headaches for marketers.

Here we look at how brands can maximise their odds of a humorous campaign and avoid international pitfalls.

Influence of social media

A number of studies have found that funny content is more likely to be shared on social media.

Some 65% of social media users typically look to share interesting things they come across on the internet, according to global market research company Ipsos, while 49% seek to share amusing things.

This compares to 43% who are motivated to share important things – so it demonstrates the powerful influence social media can have on a marketing campaign when humour is involved.

Facebook and Twitter are places where emotions run wild. Marketers should therefore look to target social media users, especially on these two sites, creating a type of brand humour that allows brand messages to prevail.

Just having a presence on social media can be beneficial – and the funnier the content is, the better it is.

Here are three great examples of brands using humour to attract potential customers on social media.

1. Charmin

Charmin – yes, the toilet paper company – uses humour that aligns with the products it sells to good effect.

Below are a couple of its best posts on Twitter.

“Looks like it’s going to be a ginormous latte w/4 extra espresso shots kind of day. (we’re bringing the Charmin with us for the aftermath.)”

“Woke up this morning to find all 3 kids made up their own kind of sporting event: Charmin Unraveling. #tweetfromtheseat”

2. Old Spice

Old Spice – renowned for its male grooming products – has made a name for itself through its funny, and often ridiculous, posts on social media.

Its ‘About’ descriptions on Twitter and Facebook say it all.

Twitter: “Drop-kicking dirt and odor, doing a clothesline on them and then slamming them with a folding chair.”

Facebook: “Old Spice has 74 years of experience helping guys improve their mansmells with deodorant, bodywash, antiperspirant and fragrances.”

3.  Skittles

Skittles – the brand of fruit-flavoured sweets – is also good at using humour to get its message across.

“Zombies never say YOLO” is one of its most loved Facebook posts, while “I didn’t choose the Rainbow life – the Rainbow life chose me” is up there among its best posts on Twitter. Both earned hundreds of shares and retweets.

Funny is memorable

Consumers are more likely to remember a product or service if there is an element of humour in the advertising.

A study by market research firm Lab42 on 500 consumers found that funny ads are the most memorable for 71%, with educational (12%), sexy (8%), serious (4%) and patriotic (3%) ads some way behind.

But it’s not enough to just make consumers laugh: there needs to be an overriding message for them to take home.

People want ads that make them aware of new products, educate them, and relate to them – not necessarily in that order, but you get the gist. Humour must therefore be delicately intertwined with something informative.

Think of humour as a way of getting customers through the door. Brands should then build trust and loyalty by hammering home their message. But there is nothing wrong with maintaining a comedic element.

Funny content also tends to receive more inbound links, acting as link bait and improving SEO.

But how do brands go about retaining their funny side without this resulting in embarrassing mishaps on the international stage?

Tread carefully and learn to adapt

The concept of the ‘survival of the fittest’ – put forward by naturalist and geologist Charles Darwin – can be applied to global marketing. Brands need to constantly adapt to their environment, otherwise risk extinction.

Different countries have different cultures – and senses of humour – so marketers must keep their wits about them.

What’s regarded as funny in one country may not go down well in another one. Some cultures prefer satire, for instance, while others favour slapstick. There are also many different styles that brands may not be aware of.

Just remember that humour isn’t always as universal as you think.

The English and American styles of humour sit at opposite ends of the scales – and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Research is therefore essential before injecting a bit of comedy into international marketing campaigns. After all, you don’t want to waste money on something that isn’t funny or, worse still, offends people.

Lost in translation

Humour can also get lost in translation. Transcreation therefore takes on an extremely important role. It allows marketers to maintain the intent, style, tone and context of a message – humour, in this case – while translating it from one language to another.

The result is a successfully transcreated message that evokes the same emotions and carries the same implications in the target language as it does in the source language. But this is much easier said than done.

Wordplay, such as puns, can be exceedingly difficult to bring from one language to another. Words can have different meanings, for example, so it’s of the utmost importance to get things bang on the money.

This is where a reputable translation agency comes in. If you want something doing properly, it’s worth splashing the cash. Machine translation simply doesn’t cut it when it comes to cross-cultural marketing.

Going for the cheaper alternative can leave you extremely red-faced and considerably out of pocket – something which isn’t the slightest bit funny!


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