Laugh All the Way to the Bank: Using Humor to Increase Conversions

By Tim Ash, SiteTuners


According to the Nielsen Norman Group, visitors will leave a website in as little as 10 seconds unless they see a clear reason to stay. Making an immediate positive connection with visitors is imperative, and many marketers have found that humor is just the way to do this. Done well, humor can provide an unexpected break from the typical Web experience, helping companies create a personal connection with visitors that can lead to better engagement and - ultimately - higher conversions.


Why should brands use humor?

People are bombarded with marketing and advertisements everywhere they turn, which over time has created a sort of "resistance" to sponsored messaging. Advertisements that at one time might have been considered attention-grabbing are often overlooked today because of the sheer volume of noise that people are filtering out on a daily basis. Breaking through this resistance is one of the toughest challenges marketers face. Humor can help.


Researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands explored how humor impacts the consumer's natural resistance to advertising. They found that humor distracted the viewer from the instinct to resist the ad while also creating a positive brand association. Humor impacted both explicit and implicit brand associations.



Further humor experiments have also shown the benefits of using humor in the corporate world. Brands that have used humor or silliness in their messaging have found that taking themselves less seriously can:


  • Increase positive feelings and associations and appeal to emotions
  • Deflect and discourage criticism
  • Reduce tension the customer might feel toward the company or the buying process
  • Improve communication and make the information more memorable
  • Distract a customer from developing sales objections

That said, one of the most compelling characteristics of humor is its ability to attract and hold attention, particularly in cluttered media environments. And few environments are more cluttered than the Web. Brands that have infused levity, cleverness and humor into their websites and online marketing have learned that being funny can also be good business.



Image: What's the ultimate Valentine's Day Gift? In a tongue-in-cheek video Cisco said it's an $80,000 router.


Using humor to boost conversions

Humor on websites can range from cheeky or offbeat offers on a button to an entire brand that is built around having a laugh. For years, MailChimp was best known for its lightheartedness, offering entertaining graphics, an animated mascot and witty copy throughout its site. Potential customers comparing MailChimp to other email service providers would come to MailChimp's site and immediately notice that it was different. Was it the humor that made people sign up? Probably not. But MailChimp's informal style of branding helped distinguish it from the competitors, breaking through people's natural resistance to "marketing speak" by using a more colloquial tone. MailChimp found that engaging people in a less formal and slightly silly way helped them communicate key selling points that might have been ignored if presented in a more traditional format.


Building humor into a site does not have to encompass the entire brand. Several years ago, Cisco made news when they produced the tongue-in-cheek video "The perfect gift for Valentine's Day," promoting an $80,000 router as the perfect gift for that special someone. In an interview with Forbes, Cisco's social media producer Tim Washer explained that his purpose in taking this humorous approach was to help Cisco stand out from the crowd, gain exposure and make people laugh - something he says is the most intimate connection marketers can make with their customers in a business environment. "When a brand shows that it doesn't always take itself too seriously, it's a powerful way to demonstrate authenticity and confidence, as well as connect with your community," Washer said in the interview.


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Salespeople have long known that humor can be an effective sales tool, and the same logic applies to online selling. Back in 1981 an experiment by O'Quinn and Aronoff showed that when salespeople used humor it helped create a more relaxing environment for the buyer, which subsequently broke down objections and helped win over an otherwise unreceptive audience. The experiment was simple: half the sellers added humor to their "close" with the line "my final offer is $__, and I'll throw in a pet frog." It may sound ridiculous, but the researchers found that buyers were willing to pay more money when the frog joke was used.


Rules for using humor

Humor can be a surprisingly effective and subtle persuasive technique, but there are a few tips for maximizing its value in online marketing.


  • Keep the end goal and brand in mind - Just as a dirty joke told by an innocent 9-year old girl would come across as awkward and inappropriate, corporate humor needs to match the brand or product it is supporting. Using humor on a website should be viewed as a means to build rapport with visitors and support them through their purchase journey. Humor that seems out of place will distract potential customers and could kill conversions.
  • Trigger the right emotion - Remember that humor works in marketing because it touches people's emotions. Ironically, this is also the reason humor can fail. Most purchase decisions are made on an emotional level long before the logical, rational part of the brain kicks in. Marketers who use humor must be careful that their approach to being funny will, in fact, be perceived that way. There must be absolutely no chance that a visitor might be confused, angry or offended by a company's attempt at humor.
  • Keep it simple - Online humor has to work swiftly in order to be effective without becoming a distraction. Visitors shouldn't have to think about the humor being used - it needs to be simple and direct in order to make a connection. Clarity should always win out over cleverness.

Using humor online can be a powerful means of building rapport with visitors, putting them at ease, communicating complex information, breaking down resistance, and creating a memorable experience that could lead to repeat visits and/or positive word-of-mouth marketing. For all of these reasons, infusing a little funny business into a company's website is an excellent technique for marketers to employ as part of their conversion optimization efforts. Done well, humor has a universal appeal that even the most conservative companies can cash in on.


Tim Ash is the CEO of SiteTuners, Chair of Conversion Conference and bestselling author of "Landing Page Optimization."