"The pen is mightier than the sword," you say. Get out your pens and prepare to have your logic tested by steel.
- Simon Munnery
Our regular writer, Mike Burton, lives a double life. By day he writes great copy, by night he’s a comedian and improviser. He’s going to show you how to use humour to connect with your audience, build loyalty and make more money.
KFC only follows 11 people on Twitter; six are called Herb and the other five are The Spice Girls.
Get it? Herbs and spices.
Don’t you like KFC a bit more after hearing that? It’s funny, it’s clever and it’s bang on-brand. And don’t you want to tell someone you know about KFC’s funny Twitter gimmick?
We like people who make us laugh. We feel closer to them. We feel like they understand us. The same is true of brands.
Social media is where brands feel most comfortable expressing their sense of humour. And it’s no doubt effective. But there’s no reason your other content shouldn’t be just as entertaining.
The problem is that creating humorous long-form content is harder than crafting a one-sentence tweet or a “that moment when” meme. However, with the right tools it can be done.
Humour is an unfair advantage
In a moment I’ll give you some techniques that will help you tap into your funny side. Some of them I doubt you’ll find on any other business blog because they’re taken from the nerdy world of improv comedy and the niche corners of the stand-up circuit.
First, I want to make an important point.
Comedy gives power to the underdog. It’s an unfair advantage. Unlike cash, it’s a limitless resource you can draw on to compete in your market.
You might not have the same ad budget as your competitor. You might not be able to beat them on price. And your graphics might not be as fancy.
But you can be funnier.
You can always produce content that is more entertaining, more interesting and more enjoyable.
Humour is hard to replicate. Done well, it’s a natural differentiator. As my favourite comedian, Stewart Lee, once said: “If you don’t fit in you don’t have to compete.”
How to make ‘em laugh
Right, without further ado, here are some ways to channel your inner funny.
Choose weirder words
Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, has an excellent blog post called The Day You Became A Better Writer, in which he says:
“Humor writing is a lot like business writing. It needs to be simple. The main difference is in the choice of words. For humor, don’t say ‘drink’ when you can say ‘swill.’”
Go over your copy and see where you can swap dull words for weirder ones. It won’t instantly turn your writing into pants-wetting comedy gold, but it will lift it into a lighter space.
One way to find those funny words is to get specific. Specificity automatically makes writing more amusing.
Here are a few examples:
Don’t say: ‘The other day I spilled sauce on my shirt.’
Say: ‘The other day I spilled Hellman’s Light Mayonnaise on my Ralph Lauren polo neck.’
Kill cliches, get creative!
Surprise is one of the main elements of comedy. Cliches don’t catch the eye because we’ve seen them a thousand times.
Commit mass murder on the cliches in your copy. Get creative. Replace tired phrases with fresh new metaphors. Find fun ways to say the same thing.
Don’t say: ‘Some sales techniques are as dead as a dodo.’ chocolate teapot
Say: ‘Some sales techniques are as dead as
Don’t say: ‘There’s no “I” in “team”.’
Say: ‘There’s no “I” in “let’s collaborate on a project together”.’
Mock your competition
I saw this ad at the bus stop near my house. And, being a lifelong Pepsi fan, I loved it.
Notice how Pepsi uses Coca Cola’s fame against them. They can’t put Coke’s name on their advert but they can use that particular shade of red - and we all know who that is!
Taking the mick out of your competition is extremely powerful. And it’s a source for generating endless content and audiences love it. However, there’s a right and a wrong way to do it.
An important rule in comedy is to “punch up”. That means making jokes at the expense of someone who is of a higher level of power in terms of status or privilege.
Simply put, a homeless person can mock The Queen but The Queen can’t mock the homeless person.
This should instinctively make sense, unless you’re a sociopath. Mocking someone with less than you is punching down. Or, as it’s more commonly known, bullying.
Pepsi can mock Coke because even they are punching up (Coke is the market leader). And Coke could get away with throwing a jab or two at Pepsi because both are titans of industry. It’s like watching two heavyweight boxers trash talk each other.
But if either brand started mocking Rola Cola or the Fentman’s family we’d find it a bit mean spirited.
Choose your target carefully.
Write as concepts and characters
One of my favourite copywriters, Ian Stanley, does this brilliantly. He regularly changes his name on his emails and writes as a concept or character. It’s a lot of fun and I’ve spent close to £1000 on his courses.
You can use this in almost any market. And if you do it right it's an effective persuasion tool that will bring you tons of engagement.
Here’s an example:
Imagine you’re selling a course that helps people get their finances under control. Why not email your list as their future selves?
Here’s what it might look like:
From: Future you
Subject: we need to talk...
It’s me. I mean, it’s you. I mean, I’m you from the future.
I know, weird.
Listen, we need to talk. It’s about your finances. Things aren’t looking good here, mate.
We never have anything by the end of the month, the credit cards are piling up
and in terms of savings, we’ve got nothing. Nada. Zilch.
It’s affecting my - your - relationships, sleep, everything. I even grind my teeth at night because I’m so stressed.
Anyway, remember when that guy was selling that course which showed you how to get your finances in order?
Don’t miss that opportunity. Otherwise, things are gonna get real messy.
Let’s make a future I don’t regret!
P.s Here’s the link to buy that course, I found it in our email:
This one is a classic tool from the improv comedy circuit. And it will help you generate endlessly fun and creative content.
Mapping is where you take the characteristics of a recognisable genre and ‘map’ it over another situation for comedic effect. It’s best explained through example.
Let’s say you take all the tropes from a police interrogation and map it over a mother and son. It might play out like this:
Mum: A cookie went missing from the cookie jar at 7:45pm on Saturday night and we believe you or your brother are responsible.
Kid: No comment.
Mum: Wise guy, huh? Well, we’ve got ways of dealing with wise guys. You’re grounded for two weeks.
Kid: No, no! Okay, I’ll talk! I’ll tell you who ate the cookie but I want to strike a deal. I’ll give you my brother if you reduce my sentence.
And so on.
This technique has infinite potential in the business world. I recently did an Instagram reel of desperate, hopeless business owners trying to write their own copy. It was in the style of a charity appeal. That’s mapping.
Spend five minutes brainstorming some funny situations to map onto what you do. The more ridiculous the better.
Once you’ve got some ideas, here’s how you can create even more content off the back of each idea.
Ask yourself: if this is true, then what else is true?
For example, you’ve established the premise of kids behaving like criminals and parents behaving like cops. Well, if that’s true then what else is true?
If this was a comedy show you might see kids dealing stolen cookies like drugs, parents playing good cop/bad cop, or a welcome home party for a child who got out of prison (being grounded).
Improvisers use these techniques to effortlessly create sketch comedy in front of live audiences with no preparation. You can apply the same thinking to generate content easily and quickly,
Go be funny!
I could rabbit on about how to get a giggle out of people all day. But practice these techniques and you’ll be well on your way to producing funny, original content that your audience laps up like thirsty kittens.
Open to more unconventional marketing advice? Read this Bruce Lee inspired article.