Earlier this month, Facebook quietly recruited a new employee. Ricky Van Veen, co-founder of the popular comedy website CollegeHumor, moved into an entirely new position in the company's corporate hierarchy: head of global creative strategy.
Van Veen is far from the first comedian--or plain old funny guy--to apply his talents to business, but his hire is indicative of a growing trend--that is, prioritizing humor. Companies are starting to realize how much of an asset humor can be, especially when it comes to creating content for millennials.
Just ask Inc.com columnist Steve Cody. Outside of his job co-founder and CEO of the PR firm Peppercomm, Cody does monthly stand-up routines in New York City comedy clubs. Humor and business go hand-in-hand, he says, so much so that all of Cody's employees are required to learn how to deliver a good comedy routine.
Internally, he says, comedy can shape office culture, forging personal bonds between employees that foster teamwork and collaboration; it can lead to the kind of creative, cooperative thinking that pushes a company forward. Externally, humor is a great way to set a company apart from the competition, especially as young consumers turn increasingly to humorous sources like The Daily Show, Steven Colbert, or The Onion for entertainment and commentary. The market's appetite for laughter has never been bigger.
In lieu of hiring the cast of Saturday Night Live--which, we promise, you don't need to do--here are two simple ways for your company to lighten up and crack a joke or two.
1. Be authentic and consistent.
You can't make huge changes overnight, Cody warns. At the crux of every funny joke is something true and authentic. If a potential customer or client can't imagine your company saying it, don't.
Are there certain companies that can never lighten up? Sure, says Cody. "For a company you just know is ultra-conservative--the Goldman Sachs of the world--that never in a million years would do something humorous, it won't ring true."
For first-time humorists looking to lighten up their brand image, Cody says an easy beginner step is to look internally at your company's leadership style. It's only once a CEO is able to communicate that he or she is approachable and vulnerable that the rest of the office will feel comfortable adopting the same mindset. Chances are high this will shine from the inside of the company outwards.
One of Cody's favorite examples of a brand using attention-grabbing humor is Air New Zealand, which took a normally boring aspect of its business--the flight instruction video--and turned it on its head. With a series of whimsical ideas (including partnerships with the national rugby team, and well-loved celebrities), Air NZ managed to grab customers' attention, make them laugh, and endear them to the company name, all at once.
2. When in doubt, leave it out.
The classic mistake a company can make is to under think a joke and accidentally alienate customers or clients. This is an especially easy faux pas on social media given the fast pace of content creation. But plenty of brands have made major gaffes on larger platforms, like national ad campaigns. No need to allow this to dissuade you from getting creative with your marketing. The easy solution, Cody says, is to think it through with your head, your heart, and your gut before moving forward.
Ask yourself if the joke might be taken the wrong way. Is there any group or demographic that might feel marginalized by what you're saying? Then, return to the point above and ask yourself if your target audience will see it as a logical thing for your company to say. If not, return to square one.
Next, think with your heart: Is the joke communicating something emotional, too? The best bits of humor has a raw, real edge. Pass the idea around within a creative team and see if it strikes a chord.
Finally, trust your gut. If an idea is edgy, and you think your audience will probably love it, but something just doesn't feel right, table the idea for later and wait. At least you won't fall into the same trap that the women's athletic clothing brand Lululemon did when it tweeted a joke about Beyoncé's new line of workout clothes.
"They do say imitation is the best form of flattery. Maybe Beyoncé is so Crazy In Love with our brand, she made her own," Lululemon tweeted. Fans of the über-popular star--who call themselves the Beyhive--quickly turned on brand. The buzz was so negative that Lululemon deleted the tweet.
The good news: If a brand can bounce back from inciting the wrath of the world's most dedicated fans, your company can probably survive cracking a few jokes, too.