Tim Washer

Making the Case for Humor and Nonsense

By: Tim Washer | May 19, 2014 | 

Making the Case for Humor and NonsenseBy Tim Washer

The science behind the effectiveness of humor in marketing includes: 1) Distraction theory: Laughter blocks the brain’s central processing by distracting receivers from constructing counterarguments (Osterhouse & Brock, 1970); and 2) Expectancy violations theory: When individuals act differently than their prescribed roles dictate, then message receivers are surprised, presenting the persuader with an advantage over the audience (Seiter & Gass, 2004).

People like funny videos (Washer 2014).

So often I see brands steer clear of attempting humor because it’s too risky or they can’t guarantee it will sell their products.

Compared to what?

The real risk is continuing to produce “safe” content, which is deemed so because no one ever complained about it.

It’s not only corollary, but also causal: Fewer views, fewer complaints.

While metrics are important in making social media marketing decisions, there are significant opportunity costs for deciding not to experiment due to a lack of quantitative support.

People like funny videos.

Humor Comes from Pain

At one point in time, “What Keeps You Up At Night?” was a good question to ask your customer, but it’s been cliché for more than a decade.

Marketers who demonstrate they understand their customers’ pain points strengthen their relationships. Because much of comedy comes from pain, these nightmare scenarios provide rich fodder.

Start with an industry problem your product/service can solve. Survey the sales team and customer service department about which issue customers tend to get angry about.

Creating a comedy video on that topic demonstrates empathy.

Being Authentic (Or at Least, Creating that Illusion)

“If you’re going to tell someone the truth, make them laugh. Otherwise they’ll kill you.” – Oscar Wilde

Millennials comprise 34 percent of today’s workforce and place a high priority on doing business with brands that are authentic. As their influence over corporate spend grows, organizations must prioritize cultivating and communicating authenticity. Self-deprecating humor provides one of the most efficient means.

For the IBM first YouTube comedy in 2006, we focused on the pain customers faced when dealing with many technology sales reps.

The self-deprecating approach earned us media, meetings with new customers, and increased our daily mainframe blog traffic by more than 100 times.

The San Francisco Chronicle blog noted the video showed our “kindler, humbler” side.

Many experts are quick to point out that if not done correctly, self-deprecating is dangerous.

Same with skydiving.

YouTube is cluttered with empirical evidence of comedy-gone-wrong, and I’m certainly not foolish enough to argue with established science.

If you settle for the proven, approved-buzzword-filled video, your video will likely be safe from negative comments, but that’s probably because no one is watching.

About Tim Washer

Tim Washer is a comedy writer, emcee, and content marketing speaker. Credits include Conan O'Brien, The Onion, and SNL.

  • First, yay! I’m so happy to see you here! Secondly, this made me laugh out loud: “Many experts are quick to point out that if not done correctly, self-deprecating is dangerous. Same with skydiving.”

    I was just reading a study about the differences in generational work habits. The Baby Boomers don’t see the need for humor…Gen X sees the need, but approaches it warily…and Gen Y wants super fun and humor and everything that goes along with it. 

    The tides are changing and we need to be flexible enough to adapt. Plus, you sold me during your Social Brand Forum speech last year so I’m sold!

  • I, for one, am a huge fan of humor and nonsense.

  • I’m also a fan of humor in the small details of how a business represents itself in the marketplace. Small nuances in web copy, seasonal tweaks to the message, and other ways to give a subtle “wink” are as charming to me as some broader approaches at humor.

  • I love this: “So often I see brands steer clear of attempting humor because it’s too risky or they can’t guarantee it will sell their products …The real risk is continuing to produce “safe” content, which is deemed so because no one ever complained about it.”
    Most companies want to play it safe and blend in with the crowd, thus making no impact at all. Great idea to frame safety as the real risk!

  • Funny enough (no pun intended), I was reading this having not read the byline, and I thought to myself, “This sounds like someone I know.” I go up and read the byline, and Tim Washer, yes! I know him! 

    Like ginidietrich said, great time hearing you speak last year at Social Brand Forum! Thanks for sharing more here!

  • “Many experts are quick to point out that if not done correctly, self-deprecating is dangerous. Same with skydiving.” Ditto ginidietrich

    I’m a humorous guy in a ‘serious’ profession and sometimes I wonder if it’s too much. However, if you can’t make fun of yourself and take everything too serious, what fun is that. 

    Smile, and the whole world smiles with you…

  • Humor – especially intelligent and/or self deprecating humor – wins me over every time. Push the boat out, brands. What’s the worst that could happen??

  • Gini Dietrich

    That quote made me LOL

  • You know how I feel about the topic, Tim. Amen, brother;-)

    note about self-deprecating humor in my experience – works well when
    you have a great brand/solid reputation that people trust. Gives you
    leeway. If you have a brand that is undergoing serious credibility
    issues,however, then, yes, skydiving is less risky than self-deprecation.
    So many ways to show humor and lighten up. Too many companies forget
    there is risk in any marketing campaign if you are doing it right and
    pushing the envelope – regardless of whether or not humor is used.

    As I said last week in my MarketingProfs piece: “Safe is the new risky.” Indeed.
    Here’s to nonsense. And lots more of it!

  • timwasher

    wiedenu ginidietrich  Hey John!  nice to see you here!

  • timwasher

    ginidietrich  thanks so much for inviting me to share a post.  Indeed, the tides are changing. As kathyklotzguest says, “Safe is the new risky” http://ow.ly/x9CCz

  • KateNolan

    Ooh! This is where I get to share my favorite video series ever! https://www.youtube.com/user/OffRegister/featured

    I’ve been trying to inch our team to the “humorous” side of the communications table and sometimes they get it and other times they don’t. We were discussing in a meeting this morning the trouble we have getting in touch a particular customer that we’re trying to get back in with. The salesman calls and gets dumped into a “prospective vendor” voicemail box. He calls back and, based on his phone number, is automatically routed to the voicemail again. He drives to the office and there’s a gate with a not very functional speaker on it. So, I suggested sending a letter to the Prospective Vendor Voicemail c/o Printing Company. I got a few strange looks for that one, but I’m pretty sure that letter would at least get opened.

  • 200% behind you on this one Tim! We re-purposed and rebranded our video production company around this very concept (www.yesnonsense.com). I know it’s a concept that demographics are catching up to. You continue to be a one of the shining stars/thought leaders we all count on and appreciate in this movement. Thanks!

  • Ann07


    Emotional content touches most of the audience, and I can say that it’s effective. The most shareable contents are those that connect with people emotionally.

    Focusing on your customers’ pain is such a good idea to connect with them, and it would be brilliant if you add a little bit sense of humor.

    I’ve indeed learned a lot from here. This is such a remarkable piece.

    Thanks for the post! Have a great day ahead. 🙂


    By the way, I found this post shared on Kingged.com

  • Millabrain

    This is
    a very good post. Just wonderful. Truly, I am amazed at what informative
    things you’ve told us today.