With so many marketers using storytelling to engage their audiences, how do brands stand out among the competition? Humor is one way. Not only are consumers wired to read and listen to stories, but they’re also highly receptive to humor because it grabs attention and makes the brand more human. Consumers have a lot more choices, and in today’s stressed world, who couldn’t use a laugh or two while standing out against the competition?

Researchers at business schools at both Wharton and Harvard also validated the use of humor in marketing in 2017. They reported that consumers intuitively related a brand’s humor as an organization in control. They elevated brands that used humor with appropriate content as being competent and confident. And when consumers feel that way, a feeling of trust is also easier to foster.

Things Not To Do

Like many things, humor also has its place. Trying to use it when promoting products dealing with serious psychological or physical is a definite no-no. With today’s heightened sensitivity, jokes even hinting about different ethnic groups and gender are offensive and will deliver the opposite effect. According to marketing consultant, author, and comedian Max Hamm, by the same token, wry, matter-of-fact statements do little to influence consumers these days.

Things To Do

Use imagery with humor. Many of today’s consumers are turned off by being told how they should react to a product. Engaging consumers with humor while creating a visual image empowers their minds and keeps their interest. One way to imagery is creating a “live-action scene” in which the consumer is given an example of how a product delivers satisfaction and the feeling it produces. This beats the old way of simply telling the consumer what the product does.

Brands that share a memory with consumers that especially trigger shared emotions have an excellent opportunity to connect. This comes from knowing the target demographic and appealing to them. Reflecting warmly about a memory of station wagons to a Gen Z audience, for example, will fail miserably. On the other hand, many boomers would likely appreciate it. Injecting the right humor or funny anecdote will make the message resonate even more.


Metaphors, especially those that are unexpected and with a hint of humor, also work well. Think about metaphors that could relate to the brand. How might they be applied with humor? Is there a familiar saying or popular movie title that’s relevant? Succeeding with an unexpected metaphor would make an indelible impression on consumers.


A twist of surprise can add excitement that incites and adds to consumer interest. Imagine a new and novel use of a kitchen appliance or foot massager. User comments sometimes reveal such things. Imagine the enthusiasm and publicity a contest awarding a prize for the brand’s most unusual or novel use could bring. Except for the prize, the cost would be almost nil.

Relief Valve

Do the brand’s customers have an unmet need, or are there certain concerns or questions many of them have in common? Analyzing comments, asking the service center, and listening to customers can sometimes uncover such things. If they’re present, acknowledging and addressing them can be extraordinarily successful in capturing customer trust and loyalty.

Consider applying most or all these techniques and deliver the punchline with stories and humor, when possible. The comments subsequently received might also be valuable as part of a successful case study or blog.

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Ronn Torossian is the Founder & Chairman of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently owned PR firms in the United States. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth and vision, with the agency earning accolades including being named a Top 50 Global PR Agency by PRovoke Media, a top three NYC PR agency by O'Dwyers, one of Inc. Magazine's Best Workplaces and being awarded multiple American Business Awards, including a Stevie Award for PR Agency of the Year. With over 25 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected public relations executives. Throughout his career he has advised leading and high-growth businesses, organizations, leaders and boards across corporate, technology and consumer industries. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications. He has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly in the media and has authored two editions of his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations," which is an industry best-seller. Torossian's strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, a Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, and a recipient of Crain's New York Most Notable in Marketing & PR. Outside of 5W, Torossian serves as a business advisor to and investor in multiple early stage businesses across the media, B2B and B2C landscape. Torossian is the proud father of two daughters. He is an active member of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and a board member of multiple not for profit organizations.