Humor & Sharing Behavior: How Laughter Rules the Web

And you thought it was kittens and porn!  (There’s plenty of that, too…)


Sudekis Humor Sex Equation
Sudekis Humor Sex Equation

LL Cool Jason

Funny people are popular people.

How else can we explain an average-looking dude like Jason Sudekis scoring some of the hottest Betties in Hollywood?  But when X = funny, well, that’s another story.

And as marketers – hockers of hope, deliverers of dreams and, yes, conduits of cash –we want to be popular.  Correction: we NEED to be popular.

People spend over half of their web-time on content – 53% according to the 2011 AOL-Nielsen Content Sharing Study – some on news, some on cuteness, I expect a considerable amount on pornography… but they spend a LOT of time watching, commenting on and passing along humorous content.

Why People Dig Being eFunny

Humor is communal

In an era of societal fragmentation and political polarization, humor can quickly attract and connect a heterogeneous audience.  (I mean, even my grandma gets a kick out of cats that look like Hitler.)

Humor is timely

It often takes advantage of the latest news and events, allowing us to share topical material in an entertaining way.  (Be wary of the passing trend, however.  Throwing out a #Winning on Twitter these days just makes you a jackass.)

Humor is compartmental and episodic

Most internet humor is quick, clever and easily digestible.  It has the type of ADD (joke-punch line-rinse-repeat) that mirrors the way we absorb the Internet.

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But people really dig being eFunny because…

Humor is reflective

A sharer is able to feel he “told the joke” by passing it along to friends – after all, he found it, so it reflects his good taste and judgment.  He’s funny by proxy.

Why This Matters to Marketers

Humor is product-neutral

Why is this good?  Well, if your product isn’t sexy, or interesting, or dangerous, you can still have a compelling advertising campaign – potentially poking fun at the fact your product isn’t sexy, or interesting, or dangerous.  Whether you’re selling tennis shoes or kitchen tile, a funny campaign can deliver you into that Holiest of Holies: the Consideration Set.

Humor can differentiate your brand (i.e. buy you a personality)

I don’t know if draining 12-packs of  Dos Equis (alone) makes me interesting, worldly and sardonically awesome, but the hell if I ain’t gonna buy it and see!  Beer companies are historically brilliant at creating brand-defining, viral campaigns using humor:  “Great taste, less filling.”  The Budweiser frogs.  WHAZZZZZUP?  For a great e-marketing example, check out the ironic insanity of P&G’s Old Spice promos:

Old Spice Smell is Power

Humor can repair / deflect bad PR

Two words:  Katherine. Heigl.  Ms. Heigl’s been having a rough career patch of late and is justifiably concerned that the American movie-going public sees her as more no-heart than sweetheart.  Her answer?  The following Funny-or-Die sketch:

Still repellant?  Possibly.  Less repellant?  Definitely.

But most importantly,

Humor is highly sharable

Viral Spiral Web Marketing

Of the 23 most shared videos of 2006-2011, 18 of 23 were either laugh-out-loud hilarious, or rooted in a chuckle.  Tina Kelleher, a community manager at Microsoft explains the attraction of sharing The Funny like this:

“Humorous content is the most viral… people love to share info, they really love to share funny stuff.  They enjoy it more when they share it and like to get credit (validation, self-fulfillment) for being the person to bring it into others’ lives.”

And why do we – profit-driven, cold hearted marketers – care about sharing?

Shareability delivers factorial bang for the buck – your brand extends message reach with no additional resource outlay.  In other words, FOR FREE.  (And “free” is an F-Word even the FCC can get behind.)

So Who’s Sharing?

Short answer:  Everyone.

Longer answer:  Everyone, BUT… ages 25-34 “over-index,” meaning they share at a greater rate than other age groups.

AOL overindex sharers

(The AOL graph above also indicates there is a slightly inverse relationship between sharing and age.  It’s more likely your nephew will share video of a big-balled squirrel, than getting Grandma to pass along the latest DePuy hip replacement infographic.)

The Old Gray Lady weighs in…

An August, 2011 study by The New York Times examined the psychology of sharing behavior and broke sharers into six personas: altruists, careerists, hipsters, boomerangs, connectors and selectives.

As marketers, we’re most interested in altruists and hipsters.  Altruists share content exclusively because they like it.  Hipsters share information in order to be – get this! – hip.  But because neither group can be bought, their “shares” are innately trustworthy and deliver the highest value to marketers.

New York Times Study Psychology of Sharing

Factors that influence sharing

The Times isolated five elements that affect pass-along rate:

1.  Motivation
Provide people with something WORTH sharing – something useful, informative or entertaining. Blatant ad pitches don’t cut it, unless they deliver an additional value of some kind.

2.  Trust
People generally only share information from sources they trust.  (It’s embarrassing to get called out on!)

3.  Simplicity

4.  Humor
If you need further clarification on this, return to the top of this post forthwith.  Do Not Pass Go.  Do Not Collect $200.

5.  Urgency
A strong call to action motivates the greatest share behavior.  Is this topical?  Is there an incentive to share this right now?

But keep this in mind…

Viral humor (like all viral marketing) is a two-headed beast… by its very nature, it’s uncontrollable.

As in, if you aren’t willing to risk blow-back – misinterpretations, parodies, hate mail, prison marriage proposals, glib jabs on – you shouldn’t be lighting the fuse.

But, if you live by the maxim that all press is good press, viral humor might prove the vodka to your OJ.

3 Lessons to Race Home and Tell Mom About:

1. Humorous content is some of the most shared content on the web

Interesting content can create a snowball effect, increasing your marketing reach with no additional capital investment.

According to last month’s Ad Age there are 3.5 billion pieces of content shared each week.  That number is predicted to grow in 2012.  Ages 25-34 over-index, where older demos under-index, meaning that if you are trying to create a viral campaign, you should aim for the demo most likely to share it.

2. Humor can make your brand accessible, memorable and separate it from “the pack”

3. Humor probably isn’t the solution to everything, but it can be the solution to a lot

And now, Your Mission, should you choose to accept it:  Crack me up in the comments.

If you do, I’ll share.

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  1. Wow, that animated gif of the dancer falling on his face speaks volumes about the “societal fragmentation and political polarization” you mention

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