A Humorous Approach to Marketing Can Be a Moneymaker

December 2019

Liberty Mutual Insurance "Bad Job" actor

Image: Courtesy of Liberty Mutual Insurance

I laugh every time the young “Liberty-bibity” dude appears in the Liberty Mutual Insurance TV ad spot called “Bad Job.” I find myself mimicking his silly hand gestures. I’m disappointed when the brand airs an alternate ad from their long-running “Truth Tellers” campaign, like LiMu Emu & Doug, because Bad Job is exceedingly funny. In any case, bravo, Liberty Mutual … as a consumer, I’ve taken notice of your brand. 

The insurance giant’s Bad Job ad spot features a luckless actor who comically bungles his lines and ad libs through a lengthy script promoting the insurance company. The ad concept accentuates the superfluous ramblings of the actor in contrast to a voiceover that commandingly states the basic point of the insurance company—“only pay for what you need.”

Funny is memorable

A marketer’s challenge is to attract attention, hold that attention, focus it on a fact or impression, and establish a memory. This is best achieved with an emotional appeal intended to create a connection to a brand. Humorous ads can bundle that desired effect. People remember information better when they perceive it as funny. This psychological phenomenon is called the “humor effect.”

An AdAge article quotes Emily Fink, chief digital officer at Liberty Mutual, as saying, “Humor drives memorability—the funnier the ads, the more people tend to remember them.” The numbers prove her right. Jenna Lebel, chief marketing officer at Liberty Mutual, stated in Muse by Clio that “the last round of ‘Truth Tellers’ work resulted in a 25 percent lift, year over year, in unaided awareness for the brand.”

Funny can flop

Tread carefully, marketers, as some humor in advertising risks being very offensive. With an ad spend of $297 million in 2018, you can be sure Liberty Mutual tested their recent Truth Tellers campaign on a sampling of their target audience before going primetime to avoid a failure backlash.

The lengthy list of twenty nine creatives at Liberty Mutual’s agency, GS&P, credited on the Truth Tellers spots may be intimidating for smaller marketing teams, but there are ways that you too can skillfully infuse some memorable humor into your advertising and marketing efforts. 

Content marketer and influencer Steve Olenski offers some practical guidelines to make your campaigns more memorable through humor in a Forbes article, “The CMO’s Guide To Using Humor In Marketing,” summarized here:

  • If you’re writing content that’s helping people understand a complex topic, making an occasional joke or writing with a tongue-in-cheek voice may make that work more appealing and memorable.
  • Test variations of a joke with a small audience first to be sure the humor doesn’t cross a line and appeals to your target audience. (When thinking about the speed and spread of viral content, I would add that it’s wise not to offend anyone.)
  • Use a humorous voice to distinguish your brand. This is especially effective in dry, or otherwise “boring” industries.

Perhaps it’s time to take a risk and leverage humor, but I would emphasize Olenski’s second tip to avoid being offensive—a marketing error that is sure to damage you and your company’s reputation. Smaller marketing teams should work together (for the sake of checks and balances) when crafting a humorous approach to campaigns.

—Maureen Joyce
Creative Director, Twirling Tiger Media