Humor Has Its Viral Place: But Tread Carefully
Viral marketing is hard to nail down. It’s hardly a science, but there are recurring themes, like humor. Many successful viral campaigns are just friends sharing funny ads.
The problem is humor is hard, too. Jokes can walk a fine line between offensive and corny. And those are relative terms. Your audience decides if your ad is funny, stupid or appalling.
Heinz recently misjudged its audience and had to pull a U.K. television ad that ended with two men kissing. The ad features a father and children preparing for their day with help from “mom,” a male New York deli chef.
I thought the ad was funny — but I am not typical of Heinz’s audience. Heinz serves a wide demographic. Its humor has to be bland enough to accommodate a range of sensitivities. The more people you’re talking to, the more likely someone will be offended by what you say.
The ad aired in the U.K., but I don’t think it would have gone over well in the U.S., either. Homosexuality is still just barely not taboo in the U.S., depending on where you live. Heinz’s audience is too big to safely joke about the touchy topic.
There is a lesson here. When you’re trying to be funny, be edgy but pay attention to your audience. You may want to stay away from:
o Taboos: drug abuse, adultery, communism, all of them
o Hot political topics: terrorism, homosexuality, immigration, abortion, war, etc.
On a side note, things do change. I wrote a story about a successful campaign that included an interactive microsite for customizing forklifts called PimpMyLift. Do you think this campaign would have gone over 20 years ago?