Funny or die: Why we need brands with a sense of humor

Laughter is the best medicine - even for brands. See what Grey's Bevan Mahaney has to say about it.

It’s rough out there right now. The news is depressing. Our country is divided.

SNL is barely even satire anymore as the jokes have become reality. Between the frenetic election season and the looming holidays, there’s tension in the conference rooms, the dining rooms and on Facebook timelines.

All of this begs the question: what role should brands play in this less-than-comfortable environment? With people very much in need of humor and a sense of reliability., can brands provide relief? Can they help break the tension and facilitate connection? The answer is yes; brands are in a unique position to deliver just that. And how do they do it? Through a sparkling, undeniable sense of humor.

Brands seem to be afraid of leaning into humor because the stakes are higher than ever. But that’s exactly why humor is needed more than ever. Yes there is risk to being funny but great risk leads to greater reward and even greater resonance. In this climate, we’re in a position where humor is not just a nice idea – it’s essential to brand identity and to humanity.

Now more than ever, many brands need to be funny… or die.

Unfortunately, much of the current comedy-focused work moves through so many layers that the humor is killed before it gets anywhere. There are too many voices in the room. We hire great comedic talent but we don't let them play to their strengths. Out of fear or nerves; we bring in the best and then we get in their way. But we can be redeemed. When CMOs and brand managers risk investing in work with a point of view and a sense of humor, everyone wins.

Remember Febreze’s "Bleep Don’t Stink" Super Bowl ad? (Disclosure: We helped.) It was silly. It was risky. It had to get through many layers and you had the issue of a curse word for a P&G brand. But they committed and it worked. It made people smile. It’s not solving the world’s problems but it’s a good example and keeping the integrity of the humor and committing to a joke.

So, when there are so many storytelling and strategic directions a brand can explore… why humor? Because right now, humor’s most pronounced, inherent strengths may provide the most direct path to business solutions. It’s a powerful formula for brands needing to assert their presence. Here’s why:

Humor is undeniable

People are craving truth. It’s time for brands to connect by being undeniable in recognition of that truth. Humor points to the 300-pound gorilla in the room. It’s the purest acknowledgement of the truth. When done right, it’s both sincere and vulnerable. We’re living in a time of spin and opinion presented as fact. Brands can push boundaries just enough with good comedy that points to what we’re all thinking.

Humor breaks tension

Brands can and must break tension, and nothing breaks tension like humor. Humor acknowledges a rainbow of emotion and gets everyone on the same page. It puts people at ease. Now is a time of extreme discomfort with polarized political views and national tragedies happening on the daily. The tension is palpable. Humor is not a solution in totality but it can break the ice and start the conversation.

Humor facilitates connection

Brands need to connect with people but they can also help facilitate connection between individuals. This is something brands have historically always needed to do but the need for human connection and a shared sense of mission is particularly poignant as of late. Grey research shows that 88% of Americans believe "We must unite and come together. It will be a difficult and painful process but in the end we will be a stronger and happier country." This identifies a prioritized business need to provide connections that aren’t happening on their own.  Humor is an incredibly powerful way to bring people together. When we laugh, we bond. Brands can help to create a sense of community through shared feelings and emotions.

Humor brings joy

Brands need to share joy, right now. Because we are in a divided and scary world. Our research also shows that 63 percent are dissatisfied with the current state of unity in the country. So how does humor remedy that? "People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did but people will never forget how they made you feel."- Maya Angelou. With so much hate and anger, it's rare to leave people feeling good about themselves. Small smiles and moments of connection can make big impacts. People innately move towards brands and human beings that make them feel good. And inevitably, they will remember them.

Humor is a powerful tool. It’s a highly intelligent weapon of connection and it’s difficult to get it right. Mostly because brands over think humor, they fear it or they try to appeal to everyone and wind up connecting with very few. The time to be funny is now. Hire brilliant writers, cut out the layers, point out the elephant in the room and go all in. Our culture is hungry for it and very much in need of healing.

We all know that brands are in a unique position to connect with individuals on a mass scale. How lucky we are to be in a business that can make an impact during such a significant time of need.

Bevan Mahaney is a creative director at Grey.

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