Funny-Not Funny

Issue #113—November 20, 2020

There's a reason why so many of us are scared of telling a joke in front of others. We're afraid our audience won't "get it". Even worse, we're worried we're going to offend somebody. And we're terrified we're not going to get those laughs we were counting on...and instead get radio silence. It's one reason why even the most courageous and accomplished stand-up comedians sweat bullets before going on stage. (It's also why I prefer doing Improv, since messing up usually makes things funnier, which removes some of the stress.) These uncharted and risky waters can be just as dangerous when it comes to using humor in your sales copy or promos. What YOU might think is funny and unoffensive may not be what your avatar thinks...

(This is why it's SO important to do in-depth research and KNOW what their dreams, hopes, fears, frustrations, and worries are, just like you do your own...especially if you're a 25-year-old writing to the 65-plus age group.) Now, am I saying you can NEVER be funny and get someone to chuckle as they read your copy? Absolutely not...I'm not that much of a killjoy. (-; But you do have to tread carefully. Otherwise, you risk being "funny-not funny"...which the Urban Dictionary defines as follows... When an idea first strikes you as funny, then you quickly realize its seriousness, and the funniness disappears, leaving you only with the feeling of how not funny it really is. Let's look at that definition again...because it's instructive about what can go wrong when humor is misused in copy: "When an idea strikes you as funny, then you quickly realize its seriousness..." Many of the problems we're writing to our prospects about are serious. Even if they're not life or death problems, they affect our prospects' lives in meaningful ways. So a clever joke or cartoon might initially seem funny, until they realize the joke's on them... "...and the funniness disappears, leaving you only with the feeling of how not funny it really is." This is where you risk losing your prospect right out of the gate by turning them off...just like the dreaded "radio silence", booing, or even walking out the door that the wrong joke told on stage can generate. As a result, your promo ends up getting trashed or ignored. I'm going to explain more and give you some examples...actual, real-life examples that effectively and successfully incorporate the use of humor (it CAN be done!) Let me give you some perspective first though. I remember way back when I was working at what was the biggest direct response publisher at the time, Phillips Publishing. I was in a marketing management meeting with other marketers along with Bob King, who was the brilliant President of the consumer division. Bob was sharing his opinion on the use of humor in the magalogs and other direct mail promos the company mailed in the millions to promote their newsletters (many of these promos were written by legendary freelance copywriters like Clayton Makepeace, Gene Schwartz, Gary Bencivenga, Jim Rutz, and others). He advised us of the same "rule of thumb" that I'm sharing here: tread carefully. First off, we were talking to prospects about topics that they considered important, if not vital: their health and their finances. These are not topics they take lightly. So if we were putting ourselves out there as a trusted advisor whose newsletter they should subscribe to, and we didn't seem to be taking things seriously, it would erode their ability to trust us...and ultimately buy. It also could make them feel demeaned or if the problems that were affecting them--like that swollen prostate that was making their lives miserable and could cause them to go under the knife...or the big market drop that ate away 25% of their hard-earned nest egg--were not serious ones. On the other hand, since hearing this advice from the late Bob King, and writing for many other clients and products as a freelancer, I've seen many examples where humor DOES work. Yes, even for health and financial products. Let's look at some principles that I think can help guide you when deciding whether or not to use humor in your copy (plus some examples): #1: Is there a common enemy that unites your audience? Naming (and agitating about) a common enemy is an effective way to tap into the prospect's dominant emotions about the problem your product solves for them. It also can be a way to build trust that ultimately leads to closing the sale, since it makes your prospect feel like you understand them. If your target audience has a common enemy they can universally agree on, and that's relevant to your product or the problem you're solving, this can open the door to using humor in your promo. Years ago, Boardroom had a newsletter called Tax Hotline. It was about finding ways to beat the IRS at its own game and ensure you were getting every tax break you could. Parris Lampropoulus had written a control that mailed for 7 years and was unbeatable...until I was hired to go up against him. I ended up beating him with a "faux issue" magalog that was packed with great fascinations and other strong copy. But it also incorporated some cartoon-like sketches on the pages throughout, along with inset boxes with funny (or agitating) quotes about taxes in them that I had pulled together. Many of the quotes and sketches were humorous and provided a bit of comic relief, as well as put emphasis on the problem to be solved and the benefits of doing so. But more importantly, they were designed to resonate with the prospect...confirm this product was for them...and that the editor understood their pain points. Here's a look at one of the inside pages of the promo. Notice the IRS "dragon" cartoon at the top and the humorous quote in the inset box near it, as well as the Uncle Sam sketch in the sidebar showcasing the benefit of tax-free income...

#2: Is there some common frustration point that your audience can relate to? A key part of making your prospect feel understood is to tap into a common frustration point. It can be related to the problem itself...i.e., embarrassing menopause symptoms or needing to rush to the bathroom and "go" all the time. Or it can be a frustration point with other so-called "solutions" (similar to finding a common enemy). One way to inject humor and engage the prospect in a way that boosts your promo's chances of success (versus hurting it) is to focus on this common frustration point. Then use humor or immediately-relatable cartoons or sketches to show a transformation that gives the prospect hope and a sense that yes, this could be the solution they've been waiting for. My good friend and top A-lister Carline Anglade-Cole has effectively used this approach for several of her control magalogs in the supplement niche. I've seen her use cartoons on the front cover for everything from bladder control to anti-aging. Below is an example of a front cover for a thyroid supplement promotion that I got from her website. Carline's main headline masterfully captures the prospect's frustrations, in their own words, about thyroid problems (this is a great way to call out the main pain point in your headline). She then uses a before-and-after set of cartoon-like sketches down below the headline and deck copy. Check out how, even if you may suffer from thyroid symptoms like hair loss and sugar/carb cravings, the "before" sketch puts a somewhat humorous spin on a commonly-felt frustration, making it instantly relatable. Then the "after" sketch shows the promised transformation...painting a picture of life without those commonly-felt frustrations. And both sketches tie in perfectly with the testimonial-style headline (which does a great job of telling a testimonial story but also making it about the prospect by using their own words).

What works here may not always work for every product or promo--it depends on the copy, visuals used, and whether it's focusing on a common enemy, frustration point, or dream that's appropriate for humor. (It may be difficult if not impossible to get your prospect laughing about say cancer, or a recent stock market crash that wiped out their IRA). This is why we test! #3: Can you attract more eyeballs and communicate your message more quickly with an engaging visual than you can with long copy? The cartoon-like sketches in Carline's promo do more than tap into a prospect's frustrations and show a transformation. They also help grab eyeballs and "tell the story" at a glance, without requiring the prospect to read a bunch of copy in order to figure it out. Even though there are 19 more pages of magalog copy that follow Carline's front cover that help close the sale, her front cover is doing a great job of getting more people inside the promo. But what if you could skip the 19 additional pages of copy, and use a cartoon or other visual to shortcut the sales process? One super-talented copywriter and marketer I know, Eric Bakey, has had success in the B2B (business-to-business) market using cartoons as standalone ads. Eric is a genius at creating these cartoons that tell the story behind the product. They demonstrate the problem or opportunity and lead the prospect to the desired action...something that long-copy sales letters could take pages to do. With B2B promos, brevity often wins, as people are busy and aren't leisurely paging through your promo while sitting in their easy chair. The market also tends to be younger, and less inclined to read than the older market. Here's an example of one of Eric's successful "conversion cartoons". He generally uses these "direct-response doodles" and influential infographics to, as he puts it, "cut through the noise of the blah-blah-blah webinar world". (If you'd like to get in touch with Eric about his work, reply back to this email and I'll make an intro).

I hope I've helped you see some ways using humor can send your sales results soaring. It can also have the opposite effect if used incorrectly. If you've got some examples of funny ads or promos that did or didn't work (or even if you don't know the results), send them over to me at Perhaps I'll share them in a future issue. After all, we could all use a laugh these days, and maybe we'll learn something new, too! Yours for smarter marketing, Kim P.S. I appreciate all the great feedback I got from those of you who caught my interview and mini-control breakdowns that aired Wednesday as part of the Health Copywriting Profits summit. Copy Insider Derek Doepker had this to say: "Hey Kim, I wanted to drop a note to say, in addition to how great your regular copy breakdowns via email are, I loved your 3 breakdowns on the Health Copywriting Summit. The way you approach beating controls is genius. While I don't write copy for supplements, seeing the thought process you go through is eye-opening. I was inspired by your headline about why you can take probiotics, etc. and still have digestive issues. I can see modeling that psychology (why you can do X, Y, Z and still not see results) in a lot of different markets. Also, a phrase like 'starts working the very first day' is something I would have never thought to say. It got me thinking about new ways to convey speed of results. Thanks for sharing your insights!" I've just been informed that the host of the summit is offering the chance for any of you stragglers to sign up to view all of the interviews that aired this week. Not just mine, but also those with Ben Settle, David Deutsch, Brian Kurtz, Doberman Dan, Bond Halbert, Kevin Rogers, and many other big names...for the next 48 hours only. This complimentary 48-hour encore is available to everyone who's signed up, so if you haven't done so yet you can go here and grab your seat. Have the popcorn ready (and whatever you like to use to take notes!)

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