the business of being funny: the good, the bad, the ugly

Erin | 04.18.19

Ethos, pathos and logos - more commonly referred to today as credibility, emotion and logic (or the three pillars of communication) - have been used in marketing and advertising since the beginning of marketing and advertising. Getting a bit more granular, the humor appeal (emotion) has been used as a tactic to lower consumer defenses and to enable brands to appear more relatable and subsequently more socially shareable. However, humor is subjective. To avoid coming across as offensive or crass, deep knowledge of the intended audience is key. The following are some examples of brands who got it right and the perils of getting it wrong.


Zomato is a restaurant discovery mobile app that uses humor liberally in its consumer marketing. Good examples of how they execute that humor can be seen in their social media accounts.

By associating their name with popular TV shows they are able to stay top of mind across a wide range of target interest groups. And this has worked for them. They have acquired over 1.3 million followers on Facebook and Twitter, and have close to 25 thousand app downloads.

Now, Zomato is a brand that has intentionally set out to be quirky and to push boundaries. But not all brands have an identity that naturally lends itself to cheeky promotional material.


The "Work Can Work Better" campaign by Xerox (one of the world's largest business-services providers) is an excellent example of how a more serious brand can use humor to better relate with audiences without losing sight of the benefit they provide. (click on image to view campaign)

While getting it right can have big payoffs in terms of brand perception and sales, getting it wrong can do serious and potentially longterm damage to a brand's reputation. And there have been some whoppers.


While their clever tweet was supposed to illicit a giggle while showing support for the 2015 5-4 Supreme Court ruling, it instead was met was criticism with many believing it to be offensive. While not a complete blow, it did cause a bit of a PR nightmare for the brand.

Sheets Energy Strips

Terrible (terrible) pun on the word "sheet" landed this attempt at humor in the #1 spot for the worst campaign of the year.

A good reminder for all of us to not let our own perceived funny and clever marketing turn into "sheet". Know your audience and develop a strategy to really connect and engage.