Copywriting is an enormous challenge. And while many of us can create at least a somewhat knowledgeable blog post, there are a few things that separate good writers from great writers.
One of those separating factors is humor.
Humor is something we live and interact with every day. Some people are funnier than others, but everyone can crack a joke, even if they’re repeating something they heard.
But, when it comes to using humor in copywriting, even some of the best writers get cold feet.
So, how can you write funnier content that’s more engaging and enjoyable to read? There are books, videos, blogs, podcasts, websites, and people entirely devoted to making you laugh and teaching you how to make other people laugh. We’re gonna dig into it today and see what we can do better to add some humor to our copywriting.
I’m gonna be honest here… The only person that laughs at me when I tell a joke is me and occasionally my mother-in-law.
Let’s figure the science out and maybe crack a few jokes along the way!
Great Writers Tell Stories
The most engaging of all writers, no matter what they’re writing for, tell stories. Not stories like you tell your kids at night, but stories like Charles Dickens wrote. Stories that grab your attention, inform you as a reader, and keep you turning page-over-page until all of a sudden, you’re reaching for the next book.
Copywriting is no different! As copywriters, we’re just storytellers and ultimately our goal is to make every piece of content more and more intriguing. Good storytellers have the facts and grammar right, but we don’t want to be good. We want to be great!
And, what do all great storytelling have? Great humor!
If you’ve never heard of storytelling as a concept in marketing, I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of Donald Miller’s book – Building A StoryBrand. You can also listen to the StoryBrand podcast. There’s no doubt that we can all become better salespeople if we have better stories.
Side-note, I’d love it if I could change my job title from copywriter or SEO writer to storyteller. I definitely think my mom would like that.
The Formula For Great Stories
The scientific formula for storytelling wasn’t written up after mixing some different chemicals to create an explosion. And it isn’t a recent discovery. In fact, it’s older than Issac Newton and the amazing discoveries he made in science.
Storytelling dates back to a world that we wouldn’t easily recognize.
For as long as humanity has existed people have been asking the questions; who, what, where, when, why, and how? And for as long as we’ve been asking those questions, the great storytellers have been finding more and more entertaining ways to answer.
Key Number 1 – Details Make the Best Stories
The more details, the better! As a copywriter, my life is defined by word counts. Maybe not my life, but definitely my job. And I’m sure you can relate to that. Sometimes it’s hard to reach our word counts, and other times, we’re cutting out content to stay within the word count.
Nevertheless, as a general rule, you can’t be too detailed. If you’re going to say your lunch was good, then tell people why. Tell them about your juicy and perfectly cooked steak that came with butter melted on top and a side of lightly seared mushrooms.
Don’t be afraid to get into the details because people love them, and they can help your joke have an especially eggcellent punch line!
Example – “Have you ever wondered how they cook the steak perfectly for you? Golden brown on the outside with a nice light-pink center. And then, when your dates steak comes out, it looks like the restaurant must double as a butcher shop!”
Tie it back to what you’re selling, in this case, kitchen management training. “If you’re tired of putting out products that don’t represent the integrity of your restaurant, then invest in yourself through kitchen management training.”
Stories that capture your attention go into every detail of what someone is wearing or the type of computer that they’re typing on. Even the details in their skin are described at times. As a writer, it might seem like this is a lot to write about, but as the reader, you’ll never complain about having too many details.
Details make for better jokes. With the exception of needing to “explain” a joke, details are your best friend. They allow the reader to step inside the story, and in turn, you get a better reaction!
Key Number 2 – Understand Character Archetypes
Great storytellers use specific characters, and writers with great humor do the same. Develop characters that people can identify with or can understand easily. Characters such as an angry boss, loveable loser, or know-it-all work great! Tie in the issues that these individuals might have to a joke, and then sell the product that can fix it.
After developing a character, play on the assumptions that readers would make about those characters then, surprise them!
Key Number 3 – Use the Element of Surprise
Surprise, as noted by Aristotle, is the number one key to humor. We laugh when we see characters in stories do something that we wouldn’t expect them to do. For instance, you’d never expect the loveable loser to outsmart his math professor or a baby that chose its own outfit to look more put together than the parents do combined!
Surprise can come in many forms. Ultimately you want your reader not to be able to predict everything you’re going to say.
Key Number 4 – Get Outside of Reality
Getting outside of reality isn’t always easy, but if you’re able to do it well, you’ll be one step closer to becoming a great writer.
Just like a surprise, getting outside of reality keeps the reader from expecting every turn. It’s like driving through a snowstorm or in the fog, you can’t predict everything, so you’re surprised by almost anything. While that surprise probably takes the form of anxiety, which is not something we want our readers to feel… Hopefully, you get the idea.
Key Number 5 – Don’t Doubt Yourself
At this point, you might be thinking of some different ideas for jokes. If you are, then write them down! Ideas can leave just as fast as they come, and there is no reason for you to doubt yourself. Don’t let your fear of failure keep you from writing something amazing! Let it fly and see where it lands.
No-one has gotten it perfect from the start. Everyone has worked to overcome doubt. And everyone has had to write something over and over to get it just right.
Key Number 6 – The Rule of Three
People love three. It doesn’t matter if it’s a slogan, a marketing ad, or a joke a great way to do it is in three parts. Think of a joke that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. We see this form is all the simple jokes.
This rule of three is the perfect place to start. Decide on the who for the beginning, then develop the story in the middle. Answer the questions, where, why, and when, then hit em with surprise in the ending. Take the character “off script.” Take them into the unexpected and see what’s possible!
Key Number 7 – Think of it as a Skill
Like any skill, humor is something that can be developed over time. The more time you spend digging into the skill, the better, you can be. Don’t get discouraged when it doesn’t come quickly, naturally, or easily. Instead, get into it more. Watch more videos, read a few more articles, and ultimately don’t give up.
Key Number 8 – Study Funny Ads
Super Bowl LIV just took place, and with it comes, in some people’s opinions, the best ads of the year. In 2019 these ads were some of the most trafficked things on the internet before and after the Super Bowl. And you can bet that it’s not because of the products. It’s because of the humor. The writers that put together these ads create some of the greatest jokes.
By studying other people’s humorous content, we’re able to gain some insights into how we can make our own content funnier.
Here’s a list with some of the best super bowl commercials of 2020.
Key Number 9 – Watch Comedians + Read Comedy Books
Along with paying attention to different funny ads, watching live or recorded comedians can be a real benefit. You can find recordings on cable, Netflix, Hulu, or Youtube. Ranker put together this great list of 50+ Youtube comedians.
Books are another great and overlooked resource for building up your humor. Reading might also help you see better how you can write out jokes. I’m not too well read-up on comedy books so here’s a list I found from Vulture.
Key Number 10 – Find Correlations Between Unrelated Things
A great way to incorporate humor in copywriting or sales writing is to find correlations between things that aren’t at all related. Here’s an example, “Sometimes when you’re disorganized your office can start to look like a hive of swarming bumblebees. That’s why you need *insert product*.”
Out of context, that’s not too funny but if you put into a boring blog talking about the 7 reasons people need your product then it’s definitely going to help get a giggle and raise your engagement.
Give it a try next time you’re working on a piece. Throw a curve-ball and you might just hit the sweet spot.
Key Number 11 – It’s Better to Fail 100 Times
My boss told me before I started a new job that he’d rather have me fail 100 times than to not try at all. Since then I’ve been working to make it my personal goal not to be afraid of trying.
Whether you’re writing a joke or a copy for a website don’t stay within what you’re comfortable doing. Step out into something new and see what kind of results it can bring. Jokes, more humor, better engagement, keep trying to get better!
Incorporating humor into well-written copy isn’t always easy and often has different implications and strategies depending on what you’re writing about and who you’re writing it for. Writing jokes for the sake of writing jokes is a whole different practice. Here is some great copy/marketing jokes I found!
My personal favorite and one that I’ll be sure to use around the office:
“How do SEO experts celebrate improved search rankings? SERP-rise parties.”
There are tons more out there and whether you’re looking for a good laugh or some inspiration a quick Google search can yield some great laughs!
The inspiration from this article comes from my own desire to become a funnier writer and someday have somebody laugh at my jokes. Thankfully for me and you, we don’t have to figure it out on our own. There are plenty of tools out there to help us.
Jerry Seinfeld did an interview in 2012 with the New York Times. This video is gold and helps immensely if you’re stuck and need some quirky examples.
Ted-X and Ted-Ed have videos to help you better understand why different things are funny. If you know why it’s funny you can always deliver it better.
Here are some other great links, The Skill of Humor, More Than Funny, Leading with Laughter: The Power of Humor in Leadership, and How To Make Your Writing Funnier.
Hopefully, this article can become one of your go-to tools when you’re looking for a starting place to work on funny content. At Hook, we’re all about making sure that we can hook a reader’s attention and keep them coming back. Humor is one of the best ways to hook your reader!
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Good luck writing!