Humour a powerful tool in branding and engagement

28 Feb 2020

Humour a powerful tool in branding and engagement

Stephanie Davies

When KFC ran out of chicken it made one of the biggest blunders in food retail history. But Colonel Sanders then played a master stroke and used the perfect ingredient to win customers back. Humour. KFC took out full-page ads in The Sun and Metro rearranging their logo to spell FCK, with the message 'we’re sorry'. The stunt was widely praised and diffused the embarrassment. Burger King tried to muscle in on its competitor's misfortune and offered a disappointed KFC fan free food for a year. KFC hit the fun button again and the replied with a self-deprecating tweet which said: “Putting all your chips on the table? Bold move BK. When our chips arrive, we will match your stakes and put all our chips on the table too. Until then we have limited chips." 

The crisis turned out to be one of the best marketing campaigns KFC had run. And the reason for the success was humour. 

Humour, if used properly, can build brand loyalty. We align with brands through emotions and complex neuroscience.  How does the brand help us in our daily lives? Do we have history with it? Do we align to its values? Does it feed a need? These are all subconscious factors which influence how we feel about brands.  Brands are everywhere, and the brain processes a vast amount of information about each brand it encounters. Getting your brand to stand out in the cacophony is vital.  Humour can do this if it’s used in the right way and at the right time. When used effectively, it can even highlight serious topics, as the current add campaign by RNIB illustrates.

So why does humour work? Laughter is an emotional response that makes an imprint in the brain. The positive emotions caused by neurotransmitters released when we laugh help the brain form stronger connections. This is how we create happy memories. The more positive the emotion, the more likely we are to store AND recall that emotion and the triggering event. Nowadays, for brands there is an added bonus. People share things they like on social media and they get positive emotions when those shared things are liked. Likes = dopamine (a happiness neurotransmitter), so when your brand creates funny content, it gets shared and liked. And the sharing and liking creates a sense of community which triggers more positive neurotransmitters.  Triple whammy for your brand. Humour also makes your brand more human.

Top tips for using humour:

Using humour can be risky but following some simple rules can help make your brand stand out.

  • Stay away from anything political, unless it’s a sure thing. For example, Trump has been used in many campaigns successfully.
  • Check the campaign with focus groups, make sure the humour lands and isn't offensive. It can be easy to forget the outside world when working with humour.
  • Incongruity works, but you still must connect with your audience. Don’t go too far.
  • Anthropomorphise content that isn’t human, i.e. dogs, cats, cars. What conversations would they have and why?

The best humour comes naturally. Trying too hard to be funny never works.


Stephanie Davies is Head of Happiness and CEO at Laughology learning and development. Laugh with us and her in her workshop at Retail Week Live in March.

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