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Marketers often worry humour isn’t premium or isn’t right for their category

This year is shaping up to be a transformative one for fmcg. After more than two years of inflation, the cost of living crisis is finally beginning to ease and customer sentiment is on the up. In fact, most of the UK’s biggest grocers – including Tesco, M&S, and Sainsbury’s – are anticipating bumper profits this year.

While that’s good news for the industry, consumer behaviour is currently in flux. Driving loyalty and building long-lasting relationships with customers is therefore even more important for the success of brands. The question is, how?

For 10 years, I spent my weekends performing stand-up comedy. Not with the ambition of becoming a professional, but to enhance my skills in advertising. Still, to this day all of our creatives are trained to be stand-up comedians. Yes, it’s a somewhat unique approach to upskilling, but the skills and processes required to make an audience laugh can be just as effective when trying to engage an audience with a brand.

So here are four lessons I learnt as a stand-up that I used to help brands outsmart their competition and not outspend.

1. Any subject matter can be funny

Anecdotally, when I speak to marketers, they worry humour isn’t premium or isn’t right for their category. This is completely untrue.

Humour has proven to increase brand power, recall, and even purchase intent in any category. However, only 33% of brands utilise this effective tool, according to a recent Kantar report.

From cancer charities to car manufacturers, some of the most prestigious and powerful brands are starting to test humour and finding it hugely successful. Guinness’s ‘Holding out for a zero’ campaign – one of several funny ads to make it into The Grocer’s Top Campaigns of 2023 list – had pints of 0.0% Guinness with frothy faces sing Bonnie Tyler’s power ballad Holding Out for a Hero. Such was the campaign’s success that just a few months later, parent company Diageo announced plans to triple production of Guinness’s zero-alcohol version to meet the surge in demand.

2. Create personalisation at scale

To really land a joke, every person in the audience must feel the joke was written for them alone. To do this, comedians find specific insights and dig deeply into them so they resonate with people’s lived experiences.

Any advertising campaign looking to make a lasting impression uses a similar principle. Why was the Snickers campaign ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’ so compelling and funny? It was built on an insight we all recognised in ourselves but hadn’t expressed. That is the key to a good joke and a great campaign.

3. Get people to remember one thing and drive talkability

Be honest – have you ever left a comedy show able to remember all the jokes you heard? When people are bombarded with messages, very few stick, and that’s true for brand campaigns.

A comedian will have one joke in their set they want you to remember. They want you to retell it to your friends and family, creating fame. Brands need to do the same. Identify the one thing you want consumers to remember from your campaign and ramp up that moment, whether through music, colour, or a change in tone. Change the dynamic in any way to get the message stuck in people’s memories and they will talk about it.

4. Don’t be afraid to fail

Not every joke lands in stand-up, and that’s okay. Failure can break down the wall between you and your audience and endear them to love you. KFC’s ‘FCK’ campaign when it ran out of chicken is an excellent example of that – people queued outside their stores waiting for the chicken to return.

So don’t be afraid to go all out with your campaign – often, the only way to fall is up. If you’re worried, use your social channels to test out humour, and I promise you’ll never look back.