When Humor Converts (and When It Doesn’t)


Think about the last thing that made you laugh. Was it a TV ad? Tim from HR? A tweet?

Now think about the last landing page that made you laugh. Really, take a second and try to come up with an answer. Was it just another 404 page?

Studies show that 30% of all ads and 50% of TV ads are based on humor. So, does that mean humor converts? Does that mean landing pages can and should be funny?

Clever vs. Clear: It’s an Old Debate

Lance JonesLance Jones, Flow:

“If you’re an agency or in-house copywriter, you’re likely familiar with this controversial topic. If you’re more of a generalist at your company, or you wear many hats in your role, here’s the gist of it:

In one corner is Clever Marketing. Have you ever laughed aloud while watching a TV commercial but struggled to identify the product being sold? That’s him (at his peak weight). At his optimal weight, Clever does pretty well for himself, most notably between plays at the Super Bowl – creating millions of fans and generating a ton of revenue for advertisers.

In the other corner is Clear Marketing, who fights using a very different style. He’s not there to dance or dazzle. His strengths are messages that make immediate sense to customers, and he packs a mean punch when it’s time to close.

Everyone loves a good fight, and these two heavyweights of the copywriting world have been pitted against each other since people started selling stuff over the airwaves.” (via Copy Hackers)

In recent history, clear marketing has been the winner. UX experts and designers call for clear, simplified sites. Copywriters call for clear, simplified value propositions. Does that mean clever never works? Absolutely not.

Using humor to convert just isn’t that simple.

When It Works: JCD Repair Case Study

In 2013, Copy Hackers released a JCD Repair, a while-you-wait iPhone screen repair service, case study. According to JCD Repair, St. Patrick’s Day is like their Black Friday. As it turns out, when people go out drinking, they tend to damage their phones. (Go figure.)

Here’s the control that Copy Hackers and JCD Repair started with…

JCD Repair Control

Very clear and to the point, right? Well, they wanted to experiment with some more clever copy…

Variation 1:

JCD Repair Variation 1

Variation 2:

JCD Repair Variation 2

Variation 3:

JCD Repair Variation 3

Each variation is more clever than the last. Of course, given the young audience, it’s not surprising that the third variation (the most clever variation) won. Take a look at the results…

JCD Repair Results

Note that the more clever the copy, the larger the improvement.

When It Fails: EZ Grill Case Study

“SusanSusan Lahey, Silicon Hills News:

“But here’s the thing: While there are many companies that have made such ads that quickly translated into rapid sales, other companies with viral videos and other funny content never increased their sales at all, despite millions of shares. The bottom line is humor can create sales, but it has to be done right.” (via Conversion Scientist)

Of course, just because humor converted for one company, doesn’t mean it’ll convert for you. Sometimes, as Susan points out, all humor does is raise awareness.

Consider this EZ Grill, a disposable charcoal grill manufacturer, case study that was released a few years ago. Essentially, EZ Grill decided to lean on traditional PR for increased awareness early on. As a result, the company was featured on the Today show four times and local news stations multiple times. No results.

Years later, EZ Grill turned to a social media marketing company that suggested a viral video based on the popular Will It Blend? YouTube series. In the EZ Grill video, various smartphones were placed on the grill to see which would last the longest.

The video, What Grills Faster, was watched 1.5 million times in 3 days. It was covered by major media outlets like TechCrunch and Engadget. The results? A sizeable increase in Twitter and Facebook engagement, but no sales lift.

In other words, humor didn’t convert at all.

It’s Complicated: Why Humor Does Convert

So, humor converts sometimes, sorta, maybe? Yes, exactly.

Of course, understanding why humor converts when it converts can help you make it work for you. There are four key principles to remember here.

1. It attracts attention.

Humor commands attention.

According to the Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute Letter, “Jokes work because they defy expectations. The surprise aspect of these tales kicks in the frontal lobe’s search for pattern recognition. The punchline moment shifts one’s orientation away from information processing toward an emotional response arising deep within the nucleus accumbens.”

In other words, jokes are unexpected, especially on landing pages. When we come across something funny, our brain stops analyzing and responds emotionally.

“This response is then tagged for an overall relevance check. If the prefrontal cortex, which is part of the frontal lobe, deems the information attention worthy, it dedicates more processing power to it, along with conscious awareness,” they continue.

So, if you can make your visitors smile or, even better, laugh, you can capture their attention. Increased attention means your product or service is given more thought, which means your visitors will be able to recall your company better.

Note that this means the idea that humor doesn’t work in “boring” industries is a myth. In fact, it might actually work better. When the humor is especially unexpected, attention increases even more. If Clorox can make bleach funny with their Bleach It Away landing page, you can make your landing page funny.


2. It makes us forget we’re being sold to.

A study from Radboud University Nijmegen found that humor distracts the brain, lowering its resistant to influence. In other words, humor puts your visitors at ease and distracts them from the fact that they are being marketed to. Their defences are lowered and they’re more likely to follow through with the suggested call to action.

Of course, it also builds a connection. The same way you feel closer to a new acquaintance after trading stories and jokes at a bar, your visitors will feel closer to your company if you show personality.

3. It creates positive sentiment.

Thomas Cline, Ph.D., professor of marketing and statistics at Saint Vincent College, has found that humor elevates mood, and that people may then associate their good mood with the product in question.

So, humor makes us happy. Not surprising.

What’s interesting is that the brain will then turn that feeling of joy into a positive opinion about the related product or service. It’s why you have a positive opinion of Poo Pourri, even if you have never purchased it. Or why you think Dollar Shave Club is awesome, even if you aren’t a customer.

A positive sentiment doesn’t guarantee a conversion, evidently. It does, however, make it more likely.

4. It’s social conditioning.

Consider the JCD Repair case study again. Their target audience is college students / young professionals and middle-class parents of teens. The copy Copy Hackers tested was clearly directed to the former. So, does clever only work for the younger generation?

Herman Chan created a video series about real estate and design called Habitat for Hermanity, which makes fun of the real estate business in order to convert. Herman thinks younger generations are, in fact, socially conditioned to respond best to humor.

“Younger generations have been socialized to receive info via humor. My clients don’t watch ’20/20′ or ‘Nightline’ for news, they watch Colbert and Jon Stewart. They want data delivered with a punch line,” he says.

According to Nielsen, it has less to do with age and more to do with geographic location.

Earlier this year, they wrote, “Humor resonates more strongly in Western markets. It tops the list of most appealing message types in Europe and North America, cited by 51% and 50% of respondents, respectively, yet doesn’t rate higher than third in any other region (respondents in Asia-Pacific and Latin America rate it fourth).”

Take a look at how humor stacks up…

Humor as an Advertising Theme

However, younger and older generations do have comedic preferences, Nielsen reports. “Older consumers prefer clever, light-hearted humor, while younger consumers prefer offbeat, sarcastic and slapstick humor. Health- and value-oriented ads are also rated highly by all five generations.”

And Why Humor Doesn’t Convert

You’re reading this on the Internet, so you already know that when companies try to be funny, it doesn’t always go well. What makes them flop, exactly?

1. They go too far.

If you’re hitting the road on a comedy tour, there aren’t many rules. You can basically poke fun at anyone and be as explicit (hey, Nicole Arbour) as you want. People will still laugh, you’ll probably still find an audience.

Since you’re a company, things are a little different. There are rules. You can go too far.

KFC thought it would be funny to spoof the Mick Fanning shark attack. They got a lookalike to twirl a shark in the air, above his head while riding a wave. As it turns out, Mick’s mother didn’t find it all that funny.

Kurl-On Mattresses thought it would be clever to demonstrate the quality of their mattresses by showing a cartoon version of Malala Yousafzai being shot, recovering in a hospital and “bouncing back” to receive an award for her advocacy. Really?

2. They aren’t consistent.

If you’re going to have a funny site, have a funny site. Don’t have one line of copy that results in a roar of laughter followed by ten paragraphs of simple, clear copy. Consistency is important.

Do you have to cram as many jokes into your landing page as possible? Of course not. You don’t want to seem like you’re trying too hard. You should, however, maintain the mood and atmosphere.

It’s better to be consistently clear or consistently funny than to be caught in the middle.

3. They haven’t covered the basics of persuasion.

Clear and clever are not mutually exclusive. You must have some degree of clarity to pave the road for cleverness.

Lance JonesLance Jones, Flow:

“Your landing page visitors need to understand (1) where they are, (2) what they can do on your site, and (3) why they should stick around. If you’re at all unclear about any of these things, you’ll lose credibility and the visitor.

But once you have the essential messages in place (and as clear as Voss water!), it’s okay to have some fun and let the creative juices flow. Chances are that if your message makes your target audience smile, you’re more likely to be remembered. And in a sea of Google search results, being memorable is a very good thing.” (via Copy Hackers)

You can choose to be just clear. But you cannot be just clever.

How to Make Humor Convert for You

So, how can you use humor on your landing pages? Ann Handley of MarketingProfs suggests focusing on the pain…

“AnnAnn Handley, MarketingProfs:

“Much of what’s funny emanates from pain. If you think about it, that’s probably true of your business, too: You started producing a product or launched a service because you perceived a void or frustration in the market. Humor allows you to explore that pain and harness it, by using hyperbole to amplify the frustration to an absurd level.

Most marketing focuses on the product or service being sold. But customers are more interested in how what you sell can help them. How does it shoulder their burdens or ease a pain?” (via Entrepreneur)

Use humor to highlight your visitors’ pain points. What’s plaguing them? What have they come to you to fix? Amplify the pain until it’s funny. Then, use that to emphasize your value proposition.

There are two main types of humor you can use…

  1. Relatable Humor – Think of Ellen DeGeneres. Her humor appeals to a wide audience, it’s highly relevant. It helps bring people together and feel close to one another because they can all laugh together (i.e. they all share the same, everyday pains).
  2. Self-Depreciating Humor – Think of this as the opposite of a political ad. Poking fun at someone else is risky, but mocking yourself can go a long way.

Good Example #1: ShipYourEnemiesGlitter.com

When Mat Carpenter launched ShipYourEnemiesGlitter.com, he used both types of humor. Here are some screenshots of his original landing page (he sold the site for $85,000 shortly after launch)…

ShipYourEnemiesGlitter Home

ShipYourEnemiesGlitter Process

Mat even continued the same style of copy to his Twitter account…

Within four days, ShipYourEnemiesGlitter had been visited 2.5 million times and generated over $20,000 in sales (remember, it’s a $9.99 product). When asked about the role humor played in his success, Mat had this to say…

Mat CarpenterMat Carpenter, ShipYourEnemiesGlitter:

“Using humor to convert visitors into customers is difficult but can be done as evident through the success of ShipYourEnemiesGlitter earlier this year. The company didn’t receive tens of thousands of dollars worth of orders within hours because there was a huge demand for sending glitter envelopes to friends & family, it was due to the copy that millions of people found hilarious and made them want to try it.

Had the websites copy been serious (read: boring) and not from the point of view of a pissed off Aussie who fucking hates glitter I highly doubt it would have gotten the level of attention it received.”

Good Example #2: Eat24

Ok, so ShipYourEnemiesGlitter is a product designed to be funny and Mat makes his living on products that are clever. What about average companies that just happen to be funny? One of my favorite examples is Eat24.

Take a look at their homepage copy…

Eat24 Example 1

Eat24 Example 2

Further down the page, you’ll find more subtle humor…

Eat24 Example 3

Eat24’s humor isn’t as in-your-face as ShipYourEnemiesGlitter’s humor. It’s subtle, it’s used to show personality and create positive emotion.

How You Can Use Humor

You’ve been exposed to a funny site or two in your lifetime, I’m sure of it. Typically, you see humor being used on 404 pages, in “viral” videos and on social media.

1. 404 Pages

Since the 404 page isn’t part of the main site, companies tend to have a bit of fun with 404 sites. After all, the best way to reduce tension and frustration is through humor, right? They can also be used to set your visitors on the right path (see the ConversionXL 404 page).

Example: Tinsanity

Tinsanity 404

Example: ConversionXL

ConversionXL 404

2. Viral Videos

This one is painfully obvious. Companies try to create “viral” videos all the time. A small fraction of them are successful. An even smaller fraction actually turn their video into revenue.

You can have the world’s most viral video, the video everyone is talking about. But if it doesn’t convert to sales, what do you have? You have a funny video and $4,000 less in the bank.

Example: Dollar Shave Club

Dollar Shave Club had 12,000 new customers in the first 48 hour following their video launch.

3. Social Media

Social media is inherently, well… social. It’s perceived as less “risky” to use humor there. In fact, it’s encouraged. You’ve probably seen plenty of examples of big brands engaging with one another, hopping on pop culture bandwagons, etc.

Example: Skittles

Here’s the Problem…

Traditionally, humor is separated from landing pages. It feels “risky” and largely untested. On a 404 page, in a viral video or on social media, it’s safer and more familiar.

Humor captures attention, makes your visitors think about what you’re saying and puts them in a better mood. Why not test humor near points of friction and frustration?

Here are some points of friction / frustration that you could begin testing with…

  1. Funnel Entry Points. Signup forms, email captures forms, etc.
  2. Conversion Points. Cart pages, checkout pages, confirmation pages, etc.
  3. Support Points. Contact pages, live chat windows, FAQs pages, etc.
  4. Abandonment Points. Unsubscribe confirmation pages, exit popups, etc.


So, does humor convert? Well, do your visitors know…

  1. Where they are?
  2. What they can do on your site?
  3. Why they should stick around?

If you answered yes to all of the above, the answer is… it depends.

Humor converts best when you…

  1. Focus on the pain points to emphasize your value proposition. [Tweet It!]
  2. Are consistent with your level and type (relatable or self-depreciating) of humor.
  3. Use it near points of friction / frustration.

However, the only way to know if it will work for your audience is to test it. And don’t be scared to test it on your landing page itself.

Join the Conversation Add Your Comment

  1. This is an amazing article Shanelle! “When we come across something funny, our brain stops analyzing and responds emotionally.” Love that!! Thank you for giving you the time of creating it and sharing it.

    1. Shanelle Mullin

      Thanks for reading, Fabiola! Glad you enjoyed it and found it helpful.

  2. Love this! I kind of feel like humorous (or at least lighthearted) copy is my thing, since I don’t really know how to be serious and interesting at the same time. :P This helps!

    I think the main difference in your first 2 examples (iPhone repair copy that worked vs. grill vid that didn’t) is that the first landing page still conveys the value for the visitor. And there’s the difference.

    In the grill videos, too much focus is on the phones and humor, and not enough about the grill (which, whoa, looks awesome for my smore obsession). It was kind of about the most durable phone instead of what they were putting them through. With the will it blend vids, I feel like the focus is still on the blenders and their strength.

    And I’d forgotten about SYEG! So amazing. That whole story is just a unicorn, for lack of a better word or of another sufficiently glittery metaphor.

    1. Shanelle Mullin

      I totally agree with you. EZ Grill focused more on the phones than the grill itself. A good example of cleverness overpowering clarity.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to share your thoughts, Brittany! (I’ll skip you on my SYEG hit list.)

  3. I’m in the process of revamping a neighborhood council website. Were volunteers whose mission is to make the neighborhood better and allow people to get through government bureaucracy and get the services they need quickly. Our main obastacle is the boring nature of a council and that it needs a lot of explaining for people to even grasp what we do. Could humorous copy be helpful or hurtful to our organization?

    1. Shanelle Mullin

      The short answer? Possibly.

      Do you have enough traffic to run an A/B test? If so, start by adding humor to address reasons for hesitation (e.g. “council meetings are long and boring”).

      Alternatively, you could conduct some qualitative research. This article might be helpful…


      I hope this helps!

  4. Bit of apples and oranges, no? The iPhone repair is directly pushing for conversions (buy now) with copy adjustments on a landing page. And it targets a pain point and a problem – humor is a byproduct:

    The grill is doing videos that have no CTA. No CTA, no sales.

    What’s eat24’s conversion rates and test results against other variations? You can praise the copy – but what are the #s?

    1. Shanelle Mullin

      You’re right. I was actually demonstrating your point exactly. Humor on its own (EZ Grill) is rarely effective. It has to be carefully and thoughtfully combined with great copy, a compelling CTA, etc. (iPhone Repair).

      And yeah, I would absolutely love to know if Eat24 has run humor-related tests. Of course, I don’t have access to their data.

      Thanks for reading!

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When Humor Converts (and When It Doesn’t)