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October 23, 2015

Getting Marketing Humor Down to a Science …. or Something Like That

In grade 5, I did a speech on humor.

It was probably a sight to be seen. Little 4-foot-something me jumped on stage to share the history of jokes, why we love to laugh, and what makes a good one-liner. And yeah, I threw joke after joke in there and you can bet that this curly-haired young’un loved the feeling of a receptive audience roaring with laughter … well … at the very least, giggling.

And I’m not alone. Laughter and humor are universal concepts.

A lot of what I spoke about in that speech – back when I thought braces were a status symbol – can still be applied to my job today and using humor in marketing. Unfortunately – or more realistically, fortunately – I couldn’t seem to retrieve that speech out of my tote filled with crayons, oddly random scraps of yarn, artwork that proved I wasn’t cut out for the visual arts, and old schoolwork.

So instead I guess I’ll have to approach this like a real grownup. Let’s take a look at what you need to know to effectively add a dash of humor to your video marketing activities – and the science behind it all.

Why Do We Like to Laugh?

A child’s first laugh typically happens around 3.5-4 months of age. Long before children can even speak. Laughter is (generally) the physical manifestation of humor and humor, argues Scott Weems, author of Ha!: The Science of When and Why we Laugh and Why, is a state of mind.

But why do we like to laugh? Because it makes us feel good. Laughter emits dopamine in the brain, which makes us feel happy and less stressed. It’s the same release you get when you do something pleasurable – like eating chocolate. And according to Weems, “humor is really a natural high”.

The one thing that’s tricky about humor is that what one person finds funny, another doesn’t. People’s sense of humor differs. So while you may have clearly defined a target persona with a meticulous attention to detail, chances are that this one attribute isn’t the same across your whole target buying group.

What Do We Laugh At?

According to Bill Nye (yes, the Science Guy) and also an accomplished comedian, “Comedy is generally based on stereotypes and expectations. Some say that your unconscious mind is anticipating what’s going to happen and then the joke ends up being not what you expected”.

Weems agrees. As he explains, and as we all probably know already, there are no rules for humor. That’s part of what makes it so difficult. But according to Weems, there are some key ingredients that need to be present in order for something to be delivered as “funny” that can help us out. The three biggest components are:

  1. Expectation: humor arises when your brain expects something but the actual result is something different. Of course, this alone, doesn’t create humor. You also need a destination.
  2. Destination: this is what we would generally call the punchline. There has to be a firm destination where the expectation is confronted and quashed.  
  3. Conflict: Weems says that the anterior cingulate, a region of the brain that deals with conflict, is almost always activated when humans listen to jokes. It goes hand-in-hand with expectation.

Just take this famous Groucho Marx joke as an example:

“One morning I shot an elephant in my pyjamas. …

… How he got into my pyjamas, I don’t know.”


The expectation here is that Groucho is the one in his pyjamas. But in reality, it’s the elephant. And the destination here: an elephant in pyjamas, is humorous in itself! Right?!

A final note about what makes us laugh is that we are remarkably more likely to laugh when in a group setting. Generally, we find things funnier when we experience them with other people and the closer we are to those people, the funnier we’ll find it. But even laughter, alone, is more likely to produce laughter in someone else, even if they aren’t aware of the source of your laughter. (Did I say laughter enough times in that sentence?) Consider the last time you said “I’m just laughing because you’re laughing!”. It happens. Even to these traveling gigglers that spread across the web a few months ago.

Be honest now. Did you laugh? Crack a smile, at least? I swear I do every time!

How Can We Deliver Humor in Marketing?

So now that you understand a little bit of the science behind humor, how can you apply it to marketing and why would you want to?

The two greatest reasons for using humor in your marketing activities is (a) a positive feeling while interacting with your brand (thank you dopamine) and (b) building trust. In a 2013 Nielsen Survey of Trust in Advertising from 58 countries, 47% said humor resonated better than any other content approach.

When trying to brainstorm ways to add a laugh to your video marketing, consider these 6 common types of humor.


This style is defined more by funny actions than by what’s actually said. Like the nerf dart to the face in our recent campaign video at 0:47-0:50 or Jon kicking the ball out from Stark in our Video Marketing Handbook video at 1:10-1:15.

Humor in Marketing

Humor in Marketing

Potty Humor

This type of humor focuses on being really gross. That’s literally the extent of it. There’s a time and a place for it, but Goodwipes does a pretty good job of this – if you’re into this kind of humor!

Topical Humor

Topical humor is just that – topical. This is when you make fun of current events. This is pretty much evening talk shows in a nutshell. This is Jimmy Fallon’s jam.


The art of parody is mocking something through imitation. You know, like Miley Cyrus’ wrecking ball in our Marketing Maven Melissa video at 0:10-0:25.

Video Marketing Humor

Surreal Comedy

Surreal comedy involves defying logic and showcasing absurd and non-sensical situations.  A good example of this is Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

What’s the Secret to Humor in Video Marketing?

At Vidyard, as you’ve probably noticed, we believe strongly in using humor in our videos. I spoke to three of our creative team members: Katie, Blake, and Mat who play key roles in producing our videos to see what they recommend for adding humor in video. Here were their 5 top tips.

  1. Hire for emotional intelligence. If you’re outsourcing your video production, make sure you hire a videographer who has a strong sense of emotional intelligence and a good sense of humor themselves.
  2. Avoid inside jokes. Test your video concepts and final videos with a few people outside your organization to ensure that you’re not cracking yourselves up on inside jokes that no one else is going to find funny.
  3. Start with the content first. The basis of your videos should still surround a message you want to convey to your audience. Layering humor in over top of the base messaging means that even if your jokes fall flat, the main message will still come across.
  4. When in doubt, go with off-the-cuff. Sometimes the best way to deliver funny content is just to keep the camera rolling and allow your on-screen talent to take some liberties with the script. Some of our best moments on camera were unscripted moments in between scenes.
  5. Just go for it. Sometimes you don’t know if your work is going to be funny or not until it’s a finished product. So just go with it!

Who Else has Nailed Humor in Video Marketing?

Check out these other examples for some funny inspiration.

Haynes Beans

New Kinexions

Adobe Marketing Cloud

Toyota Camry


Kimbe MacMaster

Kimbe MacMaster

Kimbe is the previous Manager of Content Marketing at Vidyard. She loves all aspects of content marketing and has a special place in her heart for using video to drive real business results. She is also moderately (okay extremely) obsessed with her fluffy chow chow, Noah.

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