Using Fun as a Competitive Advantage


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“Win a FREE ride in a police car just by shoplifting from this store. Lucky winners can also get their name in the newspaper for all their family and friends to see. Won’t mom be so proud.”

We all enjoy humorous service experiences like the sign above in a retail store. But, what are the principles relevant to an organization that elects to use fun as a primary competitive advantage? Comic rules—what makes a joke work—can actually provide underpinings for fun as a competitive strategy. Let’s examine one comic line to illustrate:

From comedian Larry the Cable Guy: “Light travels faster than sound. That’s why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.”

What makes these lines funny…at least to most people?

First and foremost, humor must fit the target audience. Someone might consider any joke delivered by blue color comic Larry to be unfunny. Second, successful humor is simple and easy to get. Finally, great humor has an inclusive quality about it; the audience is drawn into a mental pattern that is then altered. Comedian Bob Hope used to joke, “I had a lousy Christmas. I only got two golf clubs.” Audiences in the ‘50s and ‘60s knew Hope was fond of playing golf. But, then he changed the mental pattern by adding, “And, neither of the golf clubs had a swimming pool.” It was funny at the time!! Let’s examine an illustration of each of these three humor principles.

Know Your Target Intimately

Michael Dubin used a wacky YouTube video to introduce his company, Dollar Shave Club, to the world. Dollar Shave Club is a Ventura, CA based online business that targets men and sells shaving paraphernalia and now toilet paper. The title of Dubin’s video is “Our blades are f***ing great!” His unique brand of toilet paper was introduced with another YouTube video entitled, “Let’s talk about #2.”

Their fun strategy, however, is more than just clever ads. It extends into the packaging with quotes like: “I like shaving with a dull razor. –No one, ever.” All customer reviews are posted. However, the ones highlighted as “Enlightened Customer #164” echo the same irreverent, in your face style as their videos. “I save $100/yr on shaving now. Basically, I’m a genius”—Jeff. Or, “One wipe Charlie’s changed my life”—Ryan S.

The keystone to Dubin’s success was knowing precisely the audience he was targeting and using a style, message and product strategy that would appeal. The Women’s Missionary Union at the Hardshell Baptist Church would likely find Dubin’s approach to be crude, lewd and rude. But, the Gen X upwardly mobile male population would more likely register it as cool, clever and refreshingly honest. Strategic fit, like humor, is in the eye of the beholder.

Keep Execution Simple

The Southwest Airlines flight from Austin to Harlingen landed unusually hard. Even a few oxygen masks fell from the cabin ceiling. As the plane raced down the runway, the captain was heard by everyone onboard saying on the loud speaker, “Whoa, big fella, whoa!” No one remembered the hard landing; everyone was focused on the humor from the cockpit.

Southwest is famous for simple fun! Most travelers get a comical rendition of the mandatory FAA safety briefing…”Can I pretend to have your attention for just a few moments?” or “Folks, it’s a $2,200 fine for tampering with smoke detectors in the lavatory and you know if you had $2,200 you’d be on United Airlines in first class.”

Southwest employs a fun strategy by imbedding it in their culture. Two are their core values include “Have FUN” and “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” They hire employees willing to “color outside the box.” When CEO Gary Kelly dressed up as KISS for their annual Halloween party, the “fun” message was reinforced. But, the most important part is their continuous encouragement of employees to be themselves and to make even the most mundane encounter one that is fun for customers. Great examples of fun tactics are shared with all employees on and Luv Lines.

Envelope Customers in the Strategy

Poppin is an online office supply distribution company with a clear “fun-driven” strategy. On their website they declare their purpose: “Whether you are making grocery lists, taking notes at the latest TED conference or pitching the next big account, Poppin believes you should be able to do it with a smile and style. We are chock-full of people with a crazy-passion of this stuff. We love tape dispensers, file cabinets, and the way a new notebook sounds (and smells) when you turn the cover for the first time.”

When you place an order for supplies you get an email: “‘we know you and your Poppin stuff are really going to love each other! Right now our packers are warming up and stretching so that no one gets hurt in the scurry to get your order packed up, shipped out, and delivered across your threshold so that this new chapter of your work happy life can begin.”

Once your shipment is en route you get another email: “We know that you and your order are both incredibly excited to see each other. While in the throes of such anticipation, it’s totally understandable to lose track of the details, so here they are.” What follows is your tracking number, order number, and a notice your credit card has been charged! But, the fun does not stop with correspondence. Unwrapping the box of supplies you are likely to see a sign that reads: “I was so excited to see you, I could hardly breath.” Everything about the Poppin experience envelopes you in fun.

The fun strategy works if it is totally grin-qualified. This means the value-unique service experience is one very likely to make customers smile and tell a story. There will always be a few professional sour pusses that would never reveal their pleasure no matter how lively the deed. But, organizations committed to fun do not allow those “hearts of darkness” undermine their resolve to make the other 99.9% enjoy the fun.

“Remarkable takes originality, passion, guts and daring,” wrote Seth Godin in his best-selling book Purple Cow. “Not just because going through life with passion and guts beats the alternative (which it does), but because it is the only way to be successful. Today, the one sure way to fail is to be boring. Your one chance for success is to be remarkable.” Fun as a strategy takes imagination. But, most of all it takes guts and daring!

Chip Bell
Chip R. Bell is the founder of the Chip Bell Group ( and a renowned keynote speaker and customer loyalty consultant. Dr. Bell has authored several best-selling books including The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service and, with John Patterson, Take Their Breath Away. His newest book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service, will be released in February.


  1. “All unattended children in this restaurant will be given a puppy and an espresso.” – still makes me laugh when I write it. What better way to say “keep your boisterous kid under control” ?

  2. Fun, if it is consistent with the ‘value-unique service experience’ that is associated with a product or service, can indeed be a positive differentiator. It’s an extension of the good emotional connection and memory a vendor wants to create.

    Many restaurants endeavor to do this with customers, and some succeed, like Buca di Beppo, ( and The Pop Shop in Collingswood, NJ, where we live (


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