When “Funny” Isn’t: A Social Media Humor Fail


Share on LinkedIn

Social Media Author Jay Baer wrote an interesting piece this week (August 4) about a case of social media humor gone wrong. The culprit: the Facebook page of the Evansville, Indiana airport. The page featured the following post that people were responding to:

We just saw a tweet from Google facts that an airline in India only hires women because they are lighter, so they save $500,000 in fuel!!! Insert your women driver jokes below – haha!

Marketing Kathy Klotz-Guest

You read correctly – they were asking people to submit their “women are crappy drivers” jokes as a way to engage. Shortly after the post started growing, it was taken down.

The Humor Hall of Shame

Certainly it’s not the worst example of a fail. Yet, Jay correctly called out the obvious – not funny. Stereotypes that offend aren’t funny. Hell, from my perspective, they’re not even creative. It’s pandering to the lowest common denominator. To a marketer and comic improviser – that part is as offensive! If you know my blog, you know I love humor. It’s part of my improvisation and sketch background. And there’s a right way to do it.

Offensive Humor Doesn’t Strengthen Relationships

Engagement is about building relationships. Engagement based on negative sentiment and humor is not real engagement – it’s not building a healthy relationship that lasts. Positive, funny humor that works also strengthens relationships. Here’s the thing: stereotypes are rarely funny. There are exceptions. There is the “club” rule in comedy – if you are a member of the club, you can joke about the club (group). Be wary, though – the social media stage isn’t a comedy club. That’s key. Humor has context, timing, etc.

Not to mention the fact that this type of humor opens up the organization to potential liability should female workers claim it creates / contributes to a hostile workplace for women.

What Comedy Teaches us About Marketing KeepingitHuman.com

Testing Marketing Humor to Reduce Risk

Where I disagreed with Baer (and he acknowledged it – because he’s a great social media listener) is that he suggested testing humor by asking a sample of customers, “Do you think this is funny?”

That approach doesn’t work well in my marketing and humor experience. Humor is visceral; something is either funny or it’s not. Humor is a gut reaction – not an intellectual response. It’s not about what you “think.” If you ask for an ‘analysis’ people will craft a position or response they think *you* want to hear if the joke isn’t funny. Here’s how you know if humor works: put your work/picture/joke in front of people and wait for their reaction. It should evoke a laugh or smile or a cringe-worthy grimace – something visceral. Then, you can ask why? You want an honest emotional response – not a “well, it’s not *that* bad” softened rationalization. If it sucks, it sucks. Back to the drawing board. Visceral reactions don’t lie. Rationalizations do (and often unintentionally).

Edgy humor can be great (and this Facebook wasn’t edgy – just dumb). Edgy marketing humor shouldn’t aim at a specific group of people by age, race, gender, etc. Seems incredibly obvious right? Well, even so, people still get that wrong. You shouldn’t need to test for that. Use some common sense. Now does some edgy marketing humor offend and still work? Sadly, yes. However, the odds are against it, and there’s huge downside. So why go there?

Let’s be clear – you can’t mitigate all risk. You want a 100% guaranteed way to reduce the risk that humor will backfire? Don’t use it. And we need more good humor out there, not less.

So what does work? Making fun of situations we can all relate to. If you sell to consultants, for example, poking fun at the ridiculous stuff clients ask for is a universal pain for consultants. Who the hell hasn’t been asked a million times, “Can I pick your brain?” Erika Napoletano wrote a great piece about it called, “Don’t Be an Askhole.” It was funny because it was true; and it poked fun at clueless people who expect freebies without thinking about the ask. And that is not singling out any one specific demographic group.

In the specific case of the Evansville Airport in Indiana – there are many things they could do to have some fun. For example, suppose a large percent of their traffic represents business travelers. Ask people to submit their “worst business travel” stories or “worst travel nightmare.” Or, ask them what they would rather be doing other than business travel (getting a root canal, standing in line at the bank)…there are lots of things that could engage people that don’t involve making people the butt of the joke.

Humor and Redemption

You can bounce back from crimes of un-funny. What the Evansville Airport could have done, for example, was parody itself and its lack of good judgment *after* it apologized and fixed the problem (in this case taking down the post). Own it and fix it first. Parody before remedying the situation trivializes legitimate customer complaints and signals to people that an organization doesn’t get it.

Humor is a Craft: Get Thee To a Writery

Ultimately, humor is a craft. If you’re not sure and you want to start using more edgy humor in your social media (and I’m all for it), hire writers who have a successful track record with it. Anyone can be witty and make people smile – and that’s huge. If you want to be edgy, look for someone with comedy chops.

What do you think? How would you redeem yourself from a social media humor fail?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Kathy Klotz-Guest
For 20 years, Kathy has created successful products, marketing stories, and messaging for companies such as SGI, Gartner, Excite, Autodesk, and MediaMetrix. Kathy turns marketing "messages" into powerful human stories that get results. Her improvisation background helps marketing teams achieve better business outcomes. She is a founding fellow for the Society for New Communications Research, where she recently completed research on video storytelling. Kathy has an MLA from Stanford University, an MBA from UC Berkeley, and an MA in multimedia apps design.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here