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Does Your Brand Have a Sense of Humor?

  |  March 11, 2003   |  Comments

A smile couldn't hurt your brand. It could even help.

Most of us have been through security procedures at airports, and many of us may have at one time or another found the experience irritating. There are petty dictators in every field, but when they have the power to detain and question you without basis, security officers can turn a necessary and important procedure into one that's ineffective and gratuitous.

The other day, when I encountered security procedures with personality, I was happily surprised. Passing through a Las Vegas airport, I found humor incorporated thoughtfully into what seemed to be pretty effective security procedures. One guard sang his instructions. Another went to extremes, explaining anyone wearing high heels, Cuban heels, court shoes, Oxford shoes, pumps, clogs, boots, gym shoes, thigh boots, gum boots, boat shoes, loafers, brogues, slippers, cowboy boots, or footwear of any kind had to remove their shoes before passing through the metal detectors. A third assured passengers the guy didn't want everyone to take their belts and boots off because he wanted to see them naked... and the banter continued.

A 5-minute security necessity turned into an entertaining 15-minute show. Everyone in the "audience" listened, laughed, complied, even enjoyed their brush with the security team. A twist of humor worked so well. Creative use of humor has become essential to our lives and remains one of the most effective ways to get messages through to people without engendering defensiveness, resentment, or inattention.

A major Asian clothing store called Mister Woods, known for a signature hat worn by all staff, wanted to sponsor Tiger Woods. The price suggested, according to rumors, was $1 million, which put the store's sponsorship ambitions on hold. Then, the company creative director got an idea: pay 500 school kids to wear a special Mister Woods T-shirt and the store's unique hat while following Tiger Woods around the course at a big tournament.

Soon enough, the press was running pictures of Tiger himself and the Mister Woods kids, the latter all wearing T-shirts that asked, "Mr. Woods: Have you ever been to Mister Woods?" The headlines made the investment worthwhile.

Both ideas use humor creatively and to purposeful effect. Online, for some reason, there's scarcely anything to chuckle about. The Internet is jam-packed with dead serious sites. It's as if everyone's terrified of being sued if they inject a bit of humor. Fact is, people love humor. Laughter is a visceral, involuntary response that unites people. It's an important aspect of individual and brand personalities.

Do you have any obligatory copy on your site? If so, you may want to review its effectiveness. Does it make the visitor fall asleep? How much more effectively would legalese, procedural instructions, or whatever it is be served if a degree of friendly humor were injected?

I'm a big fan of humor in communications, especially on branded Web sites. Humor adds another dimension to brands. We're all human. Why shouldn't Web sites recognize this? Review your site's copy. Does it make people smile? Does it convey a brand personality? Does it distinguish your brand by being provocative? Attend to error messages, for example. If a visitor clicks on a broken link, offer a branded message and use humor to defuse the situation.

Humor in all its forms will soon become a primary frame of reference for the brand-building world. Next time you review your company's policies, marketing plan, and advertising strategy, remember embracing human touches such as humor will advance your message. Humor provokes a sense of happiness and well-being. Smiles will win your brand fans.

My Las Vegas security experience was a positive one, from both a creative and a procedural point of view. A highly necessary service was conducted successfully. A good impression was left in travelers' minds. Apply this scenario to your site. Is there a parallel? Or are visitors at the usual impasse: queuing up, trapped in a thoughtlessly conceived monologue, and dying to get their business over with so they can escape and proceed to the lounge?

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Martin Lindstrom

Martin Lindstrom is recognized as one of the world's primary on- and offline branding gurus by the Chartered Institute of Marketing. He is the author of several best-selling branding books including his latest, "BRAND sense: Build Powerful Brands through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight, and Sound," published by Free Press. BRANDsense.com details information about Lindstrom's "BRAND sense" and the BRAND sense Symposium, a branding conference running in 51 cities in 31 countries.

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