Let’s begin with my failure.

I was writing a strategy document for a client not too long ago where I suggested they use a “humorous tone on Twitter.” To illustrate my point, I came up with some humorous-ish tweet examples. They were funny enough, I thought.

I then sent this document over to a coworker to review. After receiving their edits, I saw a note attached to my tweet example that said something more delicate than this, but the point was basically, “these are not funny.”

Message received.

There is literally nothing worse than thinking something is funny to be met with… crickets. This is as true in real life as it is on social media. I’ve had MANY a tweet that I thought was gold, only to… well enough about my failings.

The points is, when developing marketing messaging for social media, it can be very tempting to go for the humorous. In a way, it feels like going for the kill, in a metaphorical sense.

The potential reward is so high ­– an instant connection with your audience and creating an honestly memorable moment; but the downside – an eye roll, unfollow or, even worse, completely moving on from your brand – makes this a risky proposition.

So here are some examples of humor gone wrong, some for when it works out, and a key way to think about when humor is acceptable – even worthwhile.

Not-So-Good Humor

If you google “funniest marketing accounts” or something similar, you’ll come across a whole mess of terribly unfunny posts found in a listicle. Great.

To be honest, while researching this post I came across a lot of these, and I experienced an equal amount of cringe. They’re all collections of what I’ll refer to as “branded funny.”

This is where a brand wants to get across a message, but somewhere along the line thought if they could only make it funny, then they’d really connect with people. Which is a good observation. Only these things are mostly never funny, and there is nothing worse than branded funny.

Here’s an example from national purveyor of low grade beef, Taco Bell.

If you had to reread that tweet, you’re not alone. Taco Bell was trying to get more interactive with their Twitter audience (that such a thing exists makes my heart hurt) by asking them to tweet in an emoji of a taco (brands have begun to officially ruin emojis, FYI) THEN another emoji. After that, Taco Bell will respond with a gif of the two emojis mashed up in some way. Like a taco and a beer gif would lead to a taco cartoon chugging hot sauce, for example.

But instead, a wholllllllle bunch of people just tweeted a taco emoji at Taco Bell. In response, the Taco Bell account would reply with the same form tweet, telling users they were close, and sharing a gif explaining exactly what they meant. Which raises the question, why didn’t they just attach that gif to the original tweet in the first place?

Regardless, not funny. Poor execution and desperately trying to seem hip makes this branded funny cringe worthy.

The Disaster

Then there are the times when everything just goes horribly, completely wrong.

For example, DiGiorno. Maker of frozen pizzas, better than delivery, rising crust, etc.

Back in 2014, former NFL player Ray Rice made news by knocking his fiancé unconscious in an elevator. For anyone who saw the video, it was a terrible sight, made only worse by the NFL’s inability to acknowledge that it was such a terrible event. Only when the video came out and public reaction was appropriately horrified did the NFL increase what was a laughable two game suspension.

In the aftermath of this, popular attention was turned to domestic violence in a way never really seen before. For once, the discussion was on trying to understand this all too common epidemic. The hashtag “Why I Stayed,” was born in this moment, allowing survivors of domestic abuse to share their stories.

It was a powerful moment and example of how social media really can drive important, meaningful discussions, and bring people together.

Then DiGiorno tweeted this:


Obviously, this is simply terrible. Shortly after this was posted, DiGiorno took it down and posted an apology, stating that they didn’t read what the hashtag was about before tweeting. They also responded to hundreds of angry tweets from Twitter users shocked at this careless messaging.

Which, in the long run, means nothing. This should have never happened. There are a lot of internet sins here: not being up-to-date with the hashtag, failing to recognize this discussion bubbling up in popular culture, and then just an overt desire to force “funny” into everything.

Even taking DiGiorno at their word, a tweet like this comes from the intent to comment on things as quickly as possible in a humorous manner.

The thing is, the reason that people like Twitter is the ability to see other people’s comments. Forgetting the seriousness of this hashtag, if I happen to just be scrolling through something trending, say a hashtag like “Wednesday Wisdom,” I really don’t want to come across a manufactured tweet from DiGiorno that is trying to get me to buy frozen pizzas.

Understated and Good

On the other hand, now that we’ve gone through that awfulness, lets look at some humorous messaging that (I think) succeeds.

This made me laugh much harder than it probably should have. But it hit all the right notes for me. Maybe its because I have an acute case of dad humor, but this post is simple, slightly obvious, and slyly comments on the article its promoting.

It’s also, for the most part, a throw away. Intended to make you smile or laugh the way you would at a solid dad joke, but that’s all. It’s also clever, which is probably the most important thing here.

It’s important to keep in mind that, overall, social media is drowning in noise. Everyone is bombarded by messaging at all times. Therefore, not making a messaging ploy, instead taking a kind of anti-marketing stance, can be a welcome respite. Take this post, for example:

This says nothing about Old Spice at all – but is right in line with their brand. It’s just a humorous observation about how Twitter sets up their polls. I could see one of my friends tweeting this and making me laugh.

So, when it comes to humor in marketing on social media, maybe the best way to go is to just throw something irrelevant out there if it suits your brand. Avoid hashtags like the plague (unless you’re making fun of them), don’t try and tie any of your approved messaging in there, and most importantly, just be human.

That’s what really sets these last two posts apart. Just looking at them, you can tell that a real human sat there and came up with it.

They don’t reek of being sent through marketing… then design… then up and down the organization for approval from whomever. They’re not like that misguided DiGiorno tweet either, desperately trying to be funny with no contextual understanding.

Social media, in it’s most ideal form, celebrates people as individuals. It lets people connect with one another over shared interests, hobbies, and so on across different backgrounds and even continents. A brand tweeting generic, not-really-funny marketing messaging, is the exact antithesis of this.

So just ask yourself the next time you want to make a humorous tweet or post, “Does this sound like something a human would say?” Empathy goes a long way.