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No fooling: Marketing goes for laughs

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It’s a funny thing when you mix humor and marketing. Surely, Mark Anderson hopes so.

Don’t call him Shirley. Instead, call him a professional cartoonist, what Anderson calls the best job in the world.

He talked with Ivana Taylor and Iva Ignjatovic about how to add humor in different areas of your marketing.

Ignjatovic is a marketing, strategy, leadership and business consultant. She works closely with Taylor, who owns DIYMarketers, a company “committed to helping small business owners get out of overwhelm.”

“My sense of humor is mostly good-natured observation,” Anderson said. “I like to poke fun at things, but I don’t really have an axe to grind. It depends on the day. Sometimes weird stuff comes out, though.”

Taylor calls her sense of humor “a cross between observational and self-deprecating.”

“Kids are indeed the best source for funny stuff — except when it isn’t funny and there you are covered in flour or mess,” she said. “Then you just have to laugh.”

Ignjatovic demurs from claiming a sense of humor, although she strikes others differently.

“I’m sarcastic and cynical when expressing my views,” she said. “However, people usually find that amusing.

“I don’t laugh much, not ever, not my style,” Ignjatovic said. “That doesn’t mean that I’m unhappy, or a Grinch. Laughing out loud is not me.”

The passage of time affects what makes people laugh. Taylor finds that she laughs at different things today, often about the absurdity of life.

“Since making humor my profession, it’s harder to surprise me,” Anderson said. “If you get a big honest laugh out of me, you can feel good about that.

“If you can get a laugh out of someone, you’ve broken down a barrier,” he said. “I’ve heard someone refer to using a cartoon as a pattern interrupt. Also, a trojan horse. Long story short, people like to do business with people they like. And people like to laugh.”

Anderson contends that looking closely at humor gets too clinical, or as EB White said, “Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.”

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“What’s weird is I don’t laugh a lot out loud at cartoons and such,” Anderson said. “I more appreciate them quietly. An actual laugh out loud from me is rare. You have to earn that.”

Seriously, laughter builds communities.

“Humor is all about observing and asking questions that get people to think and laugh at themselves,” Taylor said. “When people laugh together, they connect.”

Ignjatovic added that humor dispels myths.

“Humor is a safe way to mock the stereotypes and our weaknesses,” she said. “It also maintains our mental health in difficult or stressful situations.

“We can all be funny in our own way, but to tell a story in a humorous way is a different thing,” Ignjatovic said. “That can be learned, but it’s so much better when you don’t have to.”

Anderson believes people can be funny, left to their own comedy devices.

“People certainly have different senses of humor, but if you’re not funny now, you’re probably not going to be funny in time for tomorrow’s PowerPoint,” he said. “You might use a cartoon instead.

“Being able to laugh at yourself is a sign of maturity. Or you’re just loony. Both are good,” Anderson said. “Most people have a funny bag of tricks. Some people just keep it more well-stocked.”

Taylor added that she has taken a comedy class.

“I learned that while being ‘funny’ comes naturally to some, there are techniques you can learn and ways of thinking you can practice to improve or increase your ability to be funny,” she said.

A good sense of humor doesn’t take things too seriously while having good-natured fun with others.

“It comes from keen observation and making intuitive and uncommon connections,” Taylor said. “It’s harder than it looks.”

Ignjatovic said the core of a good sense of humor comes from the desire to make other people happy.

“You have to be willing to play along,” Anderson said. “The people that make me laugh the hardest are the people who aren’t worried about what other people think.”

Humor well done gives business a personal touch.

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“It’s a great way to get around defenses,” Anderson said. “There’s so much information and advertising vying for our attention. A good laugh is a welcome change.”

Taylor sees humor as a bridge.

“When you make an observation of a shared experience that puts a smile on everyone’s face, you connect,” she said.

This is especially helpful when, as Ignjatovic noted, “cultural differences are big. A funny story on personal expense can make communication easier.”

Not everyone can tell — or understand — a joke. Businesses should take care not to think what strikes them funny will apply to others. There are too many examples of “Who thought that was a good idea?”

“Obviously, you want to stay away from religion, race, sex and so on,” Anderson said. “Keep it clean and simple. You can never go wrong with self-deprecating, either.

“Making fun of yourself is always safe,” he said. “Joking about others, especially those under you, is never good.”

Taylor knows how this can be taken too far.

“Too often, leaders default to punch lines or bullying humor that makes fun of people,” she said. “This can really damage your business.”

Without communication and awareness, levity is irrelevant. 

“Humor is not a problem,” Ignjatovic said. “It’s the level of connection with people, and the context that we have to pay attention to — and cultural differences.”

Savvy business leaders use humor to manage and motivate people, especially if they are not funny.

“The key for a business leader is to be authentic,” Taylor said. “Sometimes simply sharing your insecurities or the things you wonder or worry about connects you to employees and motivates them.”

Acknowledging that things aren’t going as well as you’d like is easier with humor, according to Anderson. 

“Sharing a laugh sort of puts everyone in the same proverbial boat,” he said. “IF you’re not funny, don’t risk it. Use a professional.”

Overreach can easily backfire.

“If you’re not a funny person, don’t try it,” Ignjatovic said. “It would look weird and clumsy. It can damage relationships. Find some other way to motivate people.”

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Thinking you’re funny when you’re not — and persisting — will open you up to people laughing at rather than with you, and your credibility ebbs away.

“Some business leaders don’t filter their personal type of humor in business or public situations,” Taylor said. “Honestly, humor is a type of intelligence. If you don’t have it, it can hurt your business.”

Even when not in doubt, it never hurts to check.

“A good, honest sense of humor is never a negative,” Anderson said. “If you think something is questionable, though, run it past someone first.

“You want to have fun, not offend,” he said. “For example, a certain cartoon might be funny, but maybe not for work.”

Ignjatovic added that all humor is personal.

“What’s funny to me, might not be funny to others,” she said. “Humor doesn’t have to be offensive. In that case, it can impact and lower the productivity, or come across as immature.”

If you do humor well — and only your best, honest friends will tell you so — try humor in business. Other than that, leave the funny business to professionals.

“The key is to find authentic observations and listen. Humor will find you,” Taylor said.

As with any communication, know your audience.

“Get to know people and business and clients before you venture out in full-scale humor,” Ignjatovic said. “If you want people to have fun, organize stand-up comedian events for the employees.”

No matter how funny, Anderson urges leaders to maintain decorum.

“Keep it clean,” he said. “Make fun of yourself — or at least punch up. Always consult your local professional cartoonist.”

Anderson and Taylor continued their fun conversation in a DIY Marketers video.

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Jim Katzaman
Jim Katzaman is a manager at Largo Financial Services. A writer by trade, he graduated from Lebanon Valley College, Pennsylvania, with a Bachelor of Arts in English. He enlisted in the Air Force and served for 25 years in public affairs – better known in the civilian world as public relations. He also earned an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science in Public Affairs. Since retiring, he has been a consultant and in the federal General Service as a public affairs specialist. He also acquired life and health insurance licenses, which resulted in his present affiliation with Largo Financial Services. In addition to expertise in financial affairs, he gathers the majority of his story content from Twitter chats. This has led him to publish about a wide range of topics such as social media, marketing, sexual harassment, workplace trends, productivity and financial management. Medium has named him a top writer in social media.

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