Adam T. Sutton

Humor Has Its Viral Place: But Tread Carefully

June 26th, 2008

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?

Adam T. Sutton

About Adam T. Sutton

Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter, MarketingSherpa
Adam generates content for MarketingSherpa's Email and Inbound Marketing newsletters. His years of experience in interviewing marketers and conveying their insights has spanned topics such as search marketing, social media marketing, ecommerce, email and more. Adam previously powered the content behind MarketingSherpa's Search and Consumer-marketing newsletters and carries that experience into his new role. Today, in addition to writing articles, he contributes content to the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa blogs, as well as MECLABS webinars, workshops and summits.

Prior to joining MarketingSherpa, Adam was the Managing Editor at the Mequoda group. There he created content and promotions for the company's daily email newsletter and managed its schedule.

Categories: Branding, Consumer Marketing, Offline Marketing And Advertising, Uncategorized Tags: , ,

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