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
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…
Very clear and to the point, right? Well, they wanted to experiment with some more clever copy…
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…
Note that the more clever the copy, the larger the improvement.
When It Fails: EZ Grill Case Study
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…
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.
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…
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…
- 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).
- 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)…
Mat even continued the same style of copy to his Twitter account…
I've just added a form on the http://t.co/cN3fLGreiU website for people who want to be notified when we're taking orders again. ╭∩╮(-_-)╭∩╮
— Mathew Carpenter (@matcarpenter) January 18, 2015
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…
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…
Further down the page, you’ll find more subtle humor…
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 CXL 404 page).
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.
Okay, maybe I don’t lift the weights in my house, but three times a day I go up to them and say “Keep up the good work, weights.”
— Skittles (@Skittles) December 2, 2015
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…
- Funnel Entry Points. Signup forms, email captures forms, etc.
- Conversion Points. Cart pages, checkout pages, confirmation pages, etc.
- Support Points. Contact pages, live chat windows, FAQs pages, etc.
- Abandonment Points. Unsubscribe confirmation pages, exit popups, etc.
So, does humor convert? Well, do your visitors know…
- Where they are?
- What they can do on your site?
- Why they should stick around?
If you answered yes to all of the above, the answer is… it depends.
Humor converts best when you…
- Focus on the pain points to emphasize your value proposition. [Tweet It!]
- Are consistent with your level and type (relatable or self-depreciating) of humor.
- 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.