Use Humor as an Attention Grabber

The cliché “the more things change, the more they stay the same” is especially true of marketing in today’s online environment. Despite the dramatic changes and new opportunities brought by the Internet, many of the techniques that were successful in the pre-Internet world of advertising also are effective for marketing on the Web.

Since the beginning of advertising time, savvy marketers have understood that sex and humor are two of the most effective tools for breaking through the clutter. Year in and year out, the most effective ads usually incorporate one of those elements. Marketing on the Internet, it turns out, is no different.

Many of the Web’s most successful content providers are humor sites. Perhaps the greatest testimony to the power of humor in online marketing is the jokes that arrive daily in your e-mail. Billions of jokes are circulating the Internet. Millions of joke e-mails are distributed each day that are then forwarded to friends, relatives and business associates. This “word-of-mouse” delivery system is a gold mine for many marketers because e-mail is about relationship building, and humor is a great tool for building relationships.

It’s no surprise that savvy Internet marketers are incorporating humor and e-mail into their campaigns with dramatic results.

When Harper Collins launched the promotional campaign for its new legal thriller, “Moment of Truth,” by Lisa Scottoline, the company partnered with our flagship e-mail list, Promotions included the e-mails, which reach 1.5 million, inviting members to submit their own lawyer jokes and to vote on their favorites, the best of which are to be included in Scottoline’s next book. Click-throughs to the author’s Web site were five times the rate of the typical banner ad. The book became a best seller.

Everyone knows the Internet offers fewer production hassles, immediate response to testing and new customers in hours instead of months. But as is the case with traditional advertising media, grabbing the attention of the consumer is still a matter of breaking through the clutter with an effective and impactful message.

Humor is a great way to break through the barrier that consumers instinctively put up when they see an advertisement. And jokes, we have discovered, are especially effective because they also have strong pass-through rates. When combined with e-mail, humor is a potent weapon for direct response campaigns.

The reason is simple. The Web — at least for now — is an entertainment medium. People have short attention spans. They like to jump from page to page. E-mail, by contrast, is more focused. If someone clicks on your URL from an e-mail, that person is not just surfing through your site. That person is going there for a reason. Our philosophy is that the Web is about surfing and e-mail is about doing.

The e-mail/humor combination works especially well for other reasons.

Because the Internet offers the opportunity to reach specific groups, comedy can be customized. At The Humor Network, we have developed sites for college students, children, teen-agers, sports fans, political buffs and even farmers. We’ve identified dozens of additional groups that will soon have their own sites.

Every morning subscribers to these sites receive a new joke accompanied by a promotional announcement. And because e-mail is a personal medium, when a joke accompanied by a promotional announcement is forwarded to a friend, it carries with it an implied endorsement from the sender.

In addition, jokes are passed freely on the Internet. You often will see 50 names in the header of a joke you receive — preceded by another header with 50 names in it. This pass-along is a free ride for the advertiser. Even if the recipient only passes the joke to an average of one other person, it effectively cuts the cost per thousand in half.

The result is an effective announcement delivered in a nonthreatening environment using one of marketing’s oldest and most effective tools — humor.

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