When Marketing Makes Us Laugh (For Better Or Worse!)
Humour: the universal language. There’s a legend that the first laugh was shared when one caveman, trying to impress a cavewoman, pretended to invent the wheel but just rolled a square rock and fell flat on his face. While the accuracy of that legend is debatable (okay, we just made it up), the power of humour is undeniable.
In the realm of marketing, humour is that spice which, if sprinkled right, can elevate your dish (or ad) to gourmet status. We’ve seen ads that have left us in splits and campaigns that have us reminiscing with a chuckle. But as any chef or marketer will tell you, it’s easy to overdo it with the spice. Too much, or just the wrong kind, and you’re left with a culinary disaster — or in our world, a viral sensation for all the wrong reasons.
Why do we risk it? Because humour breaks barriers. It makes the rigid corporate walls crumble just a bit. It humanises brands, making them feel less like faceless entities and more like that friend who always has a quip ready. But it’s a double-edged sword. When the joke lands, it lands hard, making a brand memorable. But when it flops? It becomes memorable too, but for the oh-so-wrong reasons.
Prepare for a roller coaster of emotions, as we delve into some iconic moments where brands tried to tickle our funny bones. Some succeeded brilliantly, and others… well, let’s just say they gave us a different kind of chuckle. Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
Hashtag Hiccups: When Digital Intentions Meet Digital Reality
Ah, hashtags. When utilised correctly, they can be a marketer’s dream come true, rallying users around a shared theme or cause. But when they go wrong? They’re like that slip of the tongue during a public speech: unforgettable and often cringe-worthy. Let’s see how brands went from trying to be trending to… well, trending for unintended reasons.
#McDStories: McDonald’s surely wanted to wake up and smell the coffee with this one. The idea was simple: share delightful stories from patrons, whether it be about a memorable Happy Meal toy or that time someone had their first Big Mac. What could possibly go wrong? Well, apparently, a lot. Instead of heartwarming tales, the hashtag quickly morphed into a platform for sharing not-so-flattering experiences and anecdotes. And of course, with a hashtag featuring the letter ‘D’, a slew of inevitable (and let’s be honest, somewhat predictable) jokes emerged. Let’s just say McDonald’s probably wasn’t “lovin’ it.”
DiGiorno’s Unpalatable Misstep: Social media requires quick wit, but more importantly, context. DiGiorno’s Pizza, in an attempt to ride a trending hashtag, blurted out a pizza-related joke attached to “#WhyIStayed.” A mere two-minute background check would’ve revealed that the hashtag was tied to a serious conversation about domestic violence. The oversight was like putting rhubarb on a pizza – an unusual pairing that left many scratching their heads. The brand later apologised, but the lesson was clear: Always understand the room (or hashtag) before speaking.
Susan Boyle’s Unintended Invite: In what might be one of the most infamous hashtag gaffes ever, the team promoting Susan Boyle’s new album decided on “#susanalbumparty.” Sure, when you say it slowly, it’s “Susan Album Party.” But a cursory glance might make you think it’s a different kind of party altogether. The snafu was reminiscent of a comedy sketch where the joke is so evident everyone’s in on it, except for the person telling it. Thankfully, the error was spotted and corrected, but not before giving the internet a good chuckle and probably some confused RSVPs.
Hashtags, as we’ve seen, can be a tricky beast. They offer an opportunity for virality, but as these brands discovered, they’re also fraught with peril. A simple slip can become the digital equivalent of a pie in the face – messy, embarrassing, but in retrospect, pretty darn funny.
A Slip Of The Tweet
In the rapid-fire world of Twitter, where posts fly faster than the flapping of a hummingbird’s wings, precision is key. But every once in a while, even the big players get it wrong. Whether it’s a confusing typo, an untimely joke, or just plain old mistaken identity (the dreaded personal account vs. business account conundrum), the Twittersphere has witnessed its fair share of facepalms (not least of which the fact we now have to refer to it as X). Let’s dive into some of the most memorable misfires:
British Red Cross’s Tipsy Tweet: Most of us expect sombre updates or heartwarming stories from humanitarian organisations. Instead, the British Red Cross, in a moment of sheer unexpectedness, announced to the world that they were #slizzard. Turns out, someone mixed up their personal account with the official one. Instead of a major PR disaster, it turned into a lighthearted joke. The Red Cross handled it with grace and humour, teaching everyone a lesson: Sometimes, it’s okay to laugh at your own mistakes. Especially if they involve unintentionally announcing your plans for the evening.
Tesco’s Ill-Timed Sleepiness: The universe has an impeccable sense of timing. Just after Tesco faced backlash over a horse meat scandal, they innocently tweeted about going to “hit the hay”. The horse reference, though unintentional, had the internet in splits. It’s like saying you’re going for a swim right after the Titanic sank. Note to brands: Always double-check your tweets, especially if you’ve recently been in hot water (or in this case, hot meat).
Vodafone’s Inappropriate Post: Ah, the perils of confusing personal and professional Twitter accounts. A Vodafone UK employee learned this the hard way, inadvertently posting a message that was… well, not quite suitable for a professional setting. A swift deletion and a prompt apology followed, but not before the ever-watchful eyes of the internet caught the blunder. The lesson? Always, always double-check which account you’re tweeting from. And maybe don’t save personal and professional accounts on the same device if you can’t keep them straight.
Ads with the Best and Worst Intentions
Advertisements: The battleground where humour either shines like a diamond or flops like a soggy pizza slice. When humour hits the mark, it’s celebratory confetti; when it misses, it’s more like spilled milk (which no one should cry over, by the way). Let’s dive into these iconic moments in advertising history.
Dollar Shave Club’s Humorous Hello: CEO Mike Dubin’s no-nonsense tour of the warehouse combined sharp wit with a sprinkle of absurdity. Who knew razor blade marketing could offer such comedic chops?
Geico’s Weekday Celebration: A camel joyously navigating an office, ecstatic about Hump Day. It’s silly, over-the-top, and a delightful mid-week pick-me-up.
Budweiser’s Friendly Shout: A group of friends, simply catching up over the phone, evolved into a universal greeting. The prolonged, exaggerated “Wassup!” became an instant cultural catchphrase.
Snickers’ Hunger Alter Egos: From Betty White playing rough football to a party-loving Godzilla, and Mr Bean’s inept ninja antics, Snickers humorously reminded us that we’re just not ourselves when we’re hungry.
Kmart’s Play On Words: Clever wordplay turned a simple shipping service into a viral sensation. The idea that one could “ship their pants” was as audacious as it was hilarious.
Skittles’ Strange Touch: Everything this man touched turned into Skittles. From office items to his own son, this bizarre Midas touch was as unsettling as it was unforgettable.
Pepsi’s Meme-Worthy Movement: What was meant to be a heartwarming gesture turned cringe-worthy when Pepsi’s ad insinuated societal conflicts could be solved with a soda. The internet was quick to meme-ify Kendall Jenner’s optimistic can offering.
Microsoft’s Awkward House Party: Aiming to celebrate Windows 7 with a bang, Microsoft’s quirky ‘How to Host a Launch Party’ came off more like a guide on “How to Host an Awkward Gathering.” It was cheesy, overly scripted, and awkwardly entertaining.
In the world of ads, it’s clear that humour can be a double-edged sword. When wielded right, it cuts through the noise, but when mishandled, it leaves a memorable mark of its own. Here’s to the brave brands that take the leap and keep us entertained, one way or another!
Brand Blunders Turned Comic Gold
Branding: the delicate art of building a company’s image. But what happens when that image momentarily skews towards the comically absurd? It’s like spilling coffee on a white shirt just before an important meeting, except in this case, the whole world’s watching. And chuckling. Here are a few such moments where brands slipped on the proverbial banana peel.
Cinnabon’s Galactic Gaffe: Cinnabon attempted to commemorate Carrie Fisher with an image of her iconic Princess Leia hairdo crafted out of cinnamon. The caption? “RIP Carrie Fisher, you’ll always have the best buns in the galaxy.” Was it a delightful nod or a cringe-worthy misstep? The universe (and the internet) was divided.
American Apparel’s Explosive Error: Seeking to post a celebratory Fourth of July image, American Apparel mistakenly used a picture related to the Challenger space shuttle disaster, thinking it was fireworks. The lesson? A quick Google search can save a galaxy of embarrassment.
US Airways’ Eye-Popping Mistake: Everyone’s had that moment of sending a message to the wrong person. But US Airways took it to a new level by tweeting a very NSFW image. It was hastily removed, but not before the internet did its thing, making it an immortal slip-up.
While some of these blunders made us facepalm, they also reminded us of the human side of brands. They make mistakes, just like us. And sometimes, those mistakes are comically, hilariously golden.
The Comedic Chronicles Of Planet X (Formerly Twitter)
When one of the world’s richest men buys a platform out of spite and rebrands it to “X,” you know you’re in for a rollercoaster. Elon Musk’s takeover and subsequent changes to Twitter have not only reshaped the social media landscape but have also provided an endless stream of comedic fodder. A stark reminder that in the online world, even titans can trip.
When Marketing Makes Us Laugh
Pinpointing the single funniest thing anyone has ever done while marketing a business is subjective, as humour is often in the eye of the beholder. However, some standout moments that many have found hilarious include:
Poo-Pourri’s “Girls Don’t Poop” Campaign: A humorous approach to a sensitive subject. Poo-Pourri’s ad brought the taboo topic of bathroom odours to the forefront with elegance and a dash of sass. A poised woman discussing her bathroom escapades in a variety of unexpected settings had the internet in stitches.
Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”: A roller coaster of whimsical scenarios that took viewers from showers to boats to horses, all presented by the suave Isaiah Mustafa. This surreal ad brought a fresh comedic twist that played a major role in reviving the brand.
Cards Against Humanity’s Black Friday “Sale”: A cheeky take on consumerism, this campaign offered “nothing” for $5 during Black Friday. People were actually paying $5 to receive absolutely nada. A brilliantly humorous take on consumer culture.
Just Eat’s Manband Advert: In an attempt to promote their food delivery service, Just Eat created a memorable ad that featured a fictional boy band called “Balti”, singing about the joy of takeaway food. With catchy tunes and hilarious lyrics, it became an instant favourite.
The Mail on Sunday’s “Two Tribes” Ad for ‘You’ Magazine: In one of the most cinematic adverts for a newspaper supplement, the Mail on Sunday gave us a humorously exaggerated battle of the sexes. Men and women, representing two warring tribes, face off in an urban gladiator setting. With Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “When Two Tribes Go to War” providing the epic soundtrack, the ad takes playful jabs at gender stereotypes, giving readers a taste of the diverse content they’d find in the ‘You’ magazine. A masterclass in using humour and high production values (not to mention chihuahuas and remote control trucks) to promote print media.
Angry Neeson 52: In a hilarious turn of events, Liam Neeson showed up in a Clash of Clans commercial as “AngryNeeson52,” seeking vengeance for his destroyed village while waiting for his scone at a coffee shop. The ad brilliantly played on Neeson’s intimidating roles from movies, turning his usual threat-laden monologues into a humorous plea for revenge against an online player. The juxtaposition of his intense demeanor in a casual setting was comedic gold.
These campaigns illustrate that thinking out of the box, combined with a dash of humour, can work wonders in resonating with audiences and making a brand stand out. However, it’s crucial to understand that while humour can be a powerful tool, it needs to be wielded with a deep understanding of the target audience.
Lessons Learned From Laughter: Navigating the Marketing Minefield
Marketing has its challenges, but with challenges come lessons (and sometimes those lessons come with a side of chuckles). If you’re trying to market your business without becoming the next viral blunder, consider these takeaways:
Context is King: Before hopping on a hashtag or trend, do your research. Understand its origins and how people are using it. Otherwise, you might end up with your own “#WhyIStayed” moment.
Timing is Everything: If your brand has recently faced a scandal or is in the middle of a crisis, be cautious with your content. Humour is great, but not when it inadvertently reminds everyone of that recent PR nightmare (looking at you, Tesco).
Double-Check Everything: It sounds simple, but ensuring there’s a process in place to review and approve content can save many headaches. This includes ensuring you’re posting from the right account, using appropriate images, and spelling hashtags correctly.
Stay Authentic: People love brands that feel human, but there’s a fine line between genuine human touch and trying too hard. If humour is not your brand’s strong suit, don’t force it. Find what’s authentic to your brand voice and stick with it.
Apologise When Necessary: If you do make a blunder, own up to it. A sincere apology can go a long way in mending fences. And if possible, inject some humility and humour into the situation (like the British Red Cross’s response to their #slizzard tweet).
Embrace the Unexpected: Sometimes, an unplanned moment can turn into marketing gold. Instead of shying away from unintended humour, embrace it if it aligns with your brand. It can humanise your brand and make it more relatable.
Learn and Evolve: The digital landscape is ever-changing. What’s hilarious today may be considered in bad taste tomorrow. Stay updated, listen to feedback, and be ready to pivot your strategy as needed.
As we wrap up this joyride through marketing’s funniest moments, remember that the goal is connection. Whether through humour, emotion, or sheer wit, effective marketing builds a bridge between brands and their audience. Just ensure that bridge has sturdy guardrails so you don’t tumble into the comedic abyss below. (But if you do, at least make sure it’s caught on camera. You know, for the laughs.)
In A Nutshell
Navigating the wild, unpredictable terrain of marketing is much like trying to juggle flaming torches – it’s all fun and games until you accidentally set your pants on fire. As we’ve seen, the path to laughter can be a tightrope walk between genius and… well, tweets you wish you could permanently erase from memory. So, when you’re crafting that next big campaign or social media quip, remember: comedy is an art, not a science. And if you misstep? Just do the moonwalk out of it and give it another go. Because in marketing, sometimes the blunders are just as memorable as the blockbusters. Here’s to stepping on the comedy rake and coming out smiling. Cheers to the highs, the lows, and the LOLs of marketing!
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Rebel Wolf Marketing is run by Hazel Butler, an award-winning writer and creative content marketer specialising in SEO. Hazel has over a decade of experience in all things wordy and digital. She’s worked with big names like The BBC, huge sites like The Huffington Post, marketing ninjas like Plann, and snazzy brands like BMW and Subaru. She’s also worked with countless small businesses and entrepreneurs to produce epic content, rock their SEO, and help them create passive income streams in their businesses. You can find her freelance copywriting services at The Write Copy Girl.
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