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Try Not to Laugh: 7 Hilarious Ways to Use Humor in Your Emails

  • Email Marketing

People like to think that the decisions they make are based on data and analyses of possible alternatives. But, in reality, our emotions greatly influence and, in most cases, determine our decisions.

And that’s one of the reasons humor in email marketing is highly effective.

In fact, 50% of European and American consumers prefer humor in marketing over any other messaging theme.

Everyone loves to laugh. It’s not only good for you (strengthens your immune system), it also makes you more positive towards the sender of the message.

Humor can also give consumers an extra reason to open your emails.

Subscribers may not be interested in your offers, but if they expect a good laugh from your emails, more of your emails get opened and read (and hopefully convince readers to take action).

In this article, I’ll show you how top e-commerce brands use humor to drive more email engagement, and how you can too.

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How to Use Humor to Sale More

This article is quite in-depth. To make life easier, I’ve broken each type of humor down in more detail. Click a link below to jump to a particular section of interest.

Let’s look at each type in more detail.

Email Etiquette: Do Consumers Like Humor in Emails?

Incorporating humor into your email marketing can really set you apart from the competition.

But, beware!

Humor isn’t for everyone, and it’s important you know exactly who you’re writing for if you want to experiment with humor in your email campaigns (or any campaigns for that matter).

Your buyer personas are (or should be) the foundation for all your marketing efforts.

Your audience might not appreciate your humor just because you think it’s funny. (I remember a few times I’ve cracked a joke, and no one laughed… [sad face])

Another important thing to consider is your existing language style.

Can you incorporate humor as a natural extension of your existing language? Or do you need to redefine your communication style to include humor?

If you agree with the latter, you might want to rethink whether humor is the way to go for your brand. It could be effective, but it could also have the opposite effect and distance you from your audience.

With that said, humor can be a great asset to help captivate your audience and make your brand stand out.

So, below, I’ll guide you through seven types of humor you can use in your email marketing, and give you examples of brands who have succeeded with humorous email campaigns.

1. Witty Wordplay

Wit has many definitions, but in this article, we’ll define it as:

“A natural aptitude for using words and ideas in a quick and inventive way to create humor.”

If you want to stand out in your recipient’s inbox, you need a well-crafted subject line.

But sometimes, it’s not the subject line with the best benefit or the greatest discount that gets opened…

…it’s the weird subject line that doesn’t make much sense.

Why?

Because it’s not what readers expect.

Witty wordplay evokes a feeling of joy in the reader, enticing them to open your email.

Plus, it captures their attention.

Here’s an example from Barkbox:

There are three things that make this subject line great.

First, the subject line stands out because it’s in all caps. Now, typically I would refrain from using all caps as it gives the impression you’re yelling at the reader.

But in this case it works, because it’s a reference to a popular and well-known song that is indeed “yelled out” when sung.

Second, both the subject line and the song are relevant to the brand because Barkbox sells to dog owners.

Third, the subject line is relevant to the message in the email. They’ve used the word hula instead of who let which sounds the same when you read it aloud. The clever part lies in the fact that the content of the email is a new product line for dogs with a Hawaiian theme.

When using witty wordplay, consider the following:

  1. Will everyone in your audience understand your wordplay?
  2. Does your wordplay reference your product or brand? Don’t invent words just to stand out. It needs to be relevant to your brand (and the message in the email if you use it in your subject lines)

2. Visual Humor

It should come as no surprise that I’ve added this item to the list. After all, 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual.

Images, videos, GIFs, and memes. They’re everywhere on the internet, and with good reason:

Ninety-three percent of consumers consider visual appearance a key deciding factor in a buying decision.

So, when you combine humor and visuals, you get mind-blowing awesomeness.

Here’s an example from Poo Pourri who have mastered the combination of humor and video:

The first part of the email showcases their product in a humorous way.

This is the video they link to (I dare you not to laugh!)

The second part of the email is a clear call-to-action to buy the product:

(Notice how they’ve also used wordplay?)

They make fun of embarrassing real-life situations and then provide a perfect solution—fragrance sprays for toilets.

Poo Pourri is all about using humor to break the taboo of women using the bathroom at work (women don’t do that, right?).

Even their brand name is a wordplay on two words that would normally never go together: Poo and Pourri (you know the dried flowers some people keep in a bowl in their bathroom?)

When using visual humor, consider the following:

  1. Do you have the time and resources to create good visuals?
  2. Will the visual support your overall message and goal? Don’t just include a funny GIF or video to make people laugh.

3. Farcical Humor

Farcical humor is when something seems too ridiculous to be true.

Ever heard someone say, That’ll happen the day pigs fly? Meaning it will never happen because the idea of pigs being able to fly is ridiculous.

This type of humor should only be used in the right setting because you’re misdirecting your audience (but in a good way, of course).

April Fools’ Day is a great example.

It’s the one day of the year where you do everything in your power to prank an unsuspecting friend only to scream out: “April Fools!”

Beardbrand recently used April Fools’ Day in a promotional campaign:

On April 1st, they sent this email:

The day after, the sent this email:

The purpose of this email was to drive traffic to the Beardbrand website.

This is a good call-to-action when you’re using this type of humor, (read: they’re not trying to sell a product that doesn’t exist) so it’s a fairly innocent “scam” without consequences for those who fall for it.

The day after, they follow up with a fun email letting their audience know it was an April Fools’ Day joke.

But it gets better…

They tell their audience they don’t have a magic pillow … but they do have products that will help them keep their beard in perfect shape.

Farcical humor isn’t for everyone; few can pull it off as well as Beardbrand.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t work for you, too. If it’s in line with your communication style, using Farcical humor can do wonders for your brand perception.

When using farcical humor, consider the following:

  1. Have you used humor in your emails previously? If not, an April fools joke may not be the best thing to start with.
  2. Don’t assume that everyone will get it. It’s important you follow up to let people know it was a joke.
  3. When you tell people it was a joke, do it in a way that doesn’t make them feel stupid for falling for it.

4. Stereotypical Humor

Observational humor is often used in stand up comedy where comedians make fun of stereotypes.

Let me give you an example:

Q: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: None–the light bulb will change when it’s ready.

(Please be laughing right now…)

This humor style appeals to a broader audience than most other types of humor as it’s based on situations and stereotypes that most people are familiar with and find funny.

An example is dad-jokes.

We’ve all heard them. They’re so awful and not funny that they become funny (I know, it doesn’t make sense).

Here’s an example from Mack Weldon:

The joke draws attention in the email, and the caption below the image establishes relevance to the product and the purpose of the email.

Also, this email was sent out on Father’s Day, making the joke situational relevant as well.

When using stereotypical humor, consider the following:

  1. Can you make your brand and product relevant? It’s easy to get carried away when using a humor style that appeals to a broad audience. Make sure you stay true to your brand and your product.
  2. Will your target audience relate to your humor? If you make fun of specific demographic groups, you need to make sure your audience’s demographics don’t include people who would be offended by your jokes.

5. Swearing

Some people find swearing funny … Some don’t.

But when done right, swearing makes your emails more fun to read and make your brand stand out.

As Neil Patel says: “[Swearing is] kind of like conjuring your inner Beavis and Butthead who can’t help but find potty humor and cursing funny.”

When you use swearing in your marketing, it’s important to do it in a humorous way and make sure it fits into your language style and your brand image.

Take, for instance, Dollar Shave Club and their value proposition: “Our Blades are F***ing Great.”

It makes them stand out from competitors and it’s a phrase that consumers remember because it’s unusual.

Another great example is Vinomofo:

Mofo (as many of you probably know) is an abbreviation of the F-word.

Vinomofo uses this type of language to establish a strong relationship with their audience by creating an “inner circle” of mofos with a common interest: wine.

They use storytelling to build up to the call-to-action at the bottom which is to purchase the wines they’ve listed below.

All in all, you’re walking a fine line when you swear in your emails, but when done right, you can build a unique brand image and write emails that get open and read.

When using swearing, consider the following:

  1. Who is your audience? Younger audiences typically respond better to this type of humor than older demographics.
  2. Don’t overdo it. Only use it when it supports your message. There is a thing as too much (even for Beavis and Butthead)

6. Dark Humor

Dark humor typically has a pessimistic outlook, and only works for a very specific type of audience.

If you’re selling children’s toys, this isn’t the strategy for you.

But there are cases in which dark humor can strengthen your brand and create a stronger bond with your audience.

A great example is Death Wish Coffee.

Check out one of their recent emails:

The first thing you see is an image of Jason Voorhees (the main character from the horror series Friday the 13th) with a cup of Death Wish Coffee.

Death Wish Coffee identify this fear-inducing character with themselves and their reader in the situation where they’ve run out of coffee.

This establishes relevance to the product and they continue with a bit of visual humor to strengthen their message and connect with the reader:

They finish off with a simple call-to-action that leaves readers with one choice: Buy now.

When using dark humor, consider the following:

  1. Does this type of humor correspond with your brand and the message you’re conveying to your audience?
  2. Dark humor can be very off-putting to some user segments. So, make sure that this type of humor is in line with your existing communication.

7. Aggressive Humor

Aggressive humor is characterized by the use of criticism and ridicule directed towards specific types of people.

Aggressive humor must be used with care because it’s easy for people to take offense when jokes are made at the expense of others.

However, there is a way to use aggressive humor in emails to create exclusivity around your product.

Here’s an example from Ben Settle:

He starts out by telling a story about how a restaurant owner chooses which customers to serve by putting reserved signs on all tables.

Now, many people will feel offended by this statement because they don’t want to be labeled riff-raff (even if it’s behind their back).

He then explains that for the target audience (the people the restaurant owner does want to serve) the restaurant seems more exclusive and desirable.

Ben then uses the same argument to promote his own product: If this way of doing business appeals to you, then my “Email Players” newsletter could be a good fit for you.

This strategy can easily backfire, and it will only work if you have a very specific target group that appreciates this type of communication.

When using aggressive humor, consider the following:

Free Downloadable Bonus

Want More Email Marketing Inspiration?

Let’s face it: writing good marketing emails is TOUGH. To help, we’ve put together an email marketing swipe file, including 41 email marketing examples (organized by category). Plus, a few other goodies not featured below (*cough* killer Facebook Ad examples *cough*).

The Stage is Yours

Humor isn’t for everyone.

Creating an effective humorous campaign takes time and consideration, but hopefully, this article has helped inspire you, and helped you figure out whether using humor in your emails is a good fit for your business.

If you decide to use any of the above types of humor, make sure you keep you don’t lose track of your goal.

Making people laugh should never be the goal of your campaign. It’s only there to support it.

Do you have any experience with humor in your marketing? Or have you seen any awesome or awful examples from other businesses? Share in the comments below.

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