B2B often gets a bad rap in advertising. Many companies quickly default to creating communications that appeal purely to the head, emphasizing features, functions and facts to make a case. There is far less appeal to the heart and the funny bone. The net effect is what can seem like a sea of sameness.
At the Advertising Research (ARF) RE!THINK Conference last week, I ran into an old friend from business school who I haven’t seen in years. When I told her about the research I was presenting with Dr. Kartik Pashupati from Research Now on the use of humor in B2B, her response was, “That’s perfect, B2B is soooo BORING!”
This fact has spelled opportunity for organizations that understand the power of human relevance in B2B marketing. And at gyro, this is our obsession. We’re on a constant quest to tap into human insights that help our clients create meaningful connections with their audiences.
In doing so, we’ve developed some amazing creative ideas that respect the head, emphasize the heart and, sometimes, the funny bone. But, the challenge we’ve experienced is that many B2B clients seem “afraid” or unwilling to buy a concept that includes humor for a variety of reasons – because it’s subjective, because it’s risky, because they believe humor doesn’t align with their brand’s personality or tone, or because they feel it’s just not “appropriate” for a serious target audience making serious business decisions.
This resistance stands in contrast to what we know through 40 years of advertising research that prove humor is often more effective in comparison to other techniques. In other words: humor works. There’s no shortage of studies and theories about what makes something funny in and out of advertising, as well as the physical and emotional effects of humor.
Results of a study recently published by a researcher at Indiana University Media School proved the profound effect that watching a cat video online has on our perspective. It turns out that looking at the likes of Grumpy Cat does more than entertain; it has been proven to boost viewers’ energy and positive emotions and decrease negative feelings. At its most basic level, humor unites us as humans.
There’s a range of obvious physical and emotional responses that we can experience in reaction to seeing a humorous ad. We refer to this internally as the smile spectrum. At one extreme, there are ads that are clever and may make us smile on the inside or smirk; midrange, there are pieces that make us smile on the outside; at the other extreme, there’s creative that makes us “LOL.” The effect that humor has on us across this spectrum can trigger positive emotions.
Related to this idea, Thales Teixeira from Harvard Business School and Horst Stipp from the Advertising Research Foundation recently published a study showing there’s actually an optimal level for humor to strike in advertising that will have the most positive impact on sales. The fact is, positive emotions engage us, and in marketing they can have stopping power.
Which brings me to the subject of our research. We suspected that humor in B2B, if done well, could get the attention of increasingly bombarded and incredibly distracted business buyers, engage them in a meaningful way, and create a connection with the brand. Interestingly, the vast majority of research on the subject of humor in advertising has focused on consumer campaigns. But, we could not find ANY published research specifically on the effect of using humor in B2B marketing.
We were very curious about this, and wondered if we had data to support the hypothesis that even human beings who happen to be engineers, IT leaders or in the C-suite might just possibly respond to humor. Then, perhaps, just maybe we could challenge conventional assumptions in the B-to-B world.
So we set out on our journey with our partner Research Now to determine if humor is a viable vehicle for B2B communications. We wanted to know if the objections we often hear are founded in fact or fear.
Learn more about the study and check out what we’re finding at gyro.com/B2B-humor.
Judy Begehr – Senior Vice President Account Planning, gyro Cincinnati
Judy Begehr is Senior Vice President, Account Planning, at gyro. Judy’s 15-plus year career in advertising has been focused on the intersection between strategy, the psychology of decision-making, and creative communications in business markets. She has mined market and audience insights leading to breakthrough strategies and award-winning integrated marketing programs for clients including SAP, GE, Kellogg, Tyco, Avaya, Pitney Bowes, Transamerica, AOL, Haworth, Zebra, Terumo, USG, Bright House Networks, Eaton, Mutual Service Corp, Deloitte Consulting, Food For All, Cincinnati Bell, and Allianz Global Risks.