emotional appeal in social media marketing

5 Tips for Using Humor to Engage an Audience Online…Without Cat Memes?!

Ever wonder how cat memes and videos can so easily go viral? It’s true that cats are pretty likable by most – with their cute whisker-faces, and soft cuddly fur. (And, let’s be real, part of our job is to make cats like our office cat Cady into internet stars). But there’s more reasoning behind the success of these videos than the inherent traits of cats. Funny viral cat videos help to effectively show the importance of emotional appeal in social media marketing. Using humor to engage an audience is not a new concept, but meow, with the ever-increasing use of social media, it’s easier to highlight the relatable, witty side of your brand. If you do it correctly (using the pro tips below), your audience will want to share your brand’s message, too.

1. Learn the Science Behind Emotional Appeal in Social Media Marketing

Advertisers have been using emotional marketing since the beginning of advertising itself. Few purchases are made based on logic and reason only – emotions greatly influence our decisions whether we realize it or not. In fact, a study by Psychology Today found that emotional response to an advertisement influenced conversions more than the content itself. Humor specifically helps humanize your brand, build rapport, and increase relatability (and thus trust). It also correlates your brand with a direct positive experience that even includes health benefits.emotional appeal in social media marketing

It’s no secret that laughter can be the best medicine. It relaxes your muscles, boosts immunity, lowers stress hormones, eases anxiety, increases blood flow, and more. So adding a dash of humor can benefit your audience as well as their engagement with your marketing campaigns.

Plus, audiences want humorous material. According to a survey, 56% of Americans said they would prefer their online ads to make them laugh rather than just give them the facts (44%). And it proves to have a correlation to the ‘viral-ness’ of your digital marketing. Of course, involving a cute kitty doesn’t automatically make your content viral. Humor, however, was used at near unanimous levels for all viral ads and was identified as the universal appeal for making content viral.

2. Stay Classy by Using the Right Kind of Funny

While humor can be a good way to address uncomfortable or confrontational subjects, your brand’s reputation is on the line. Timely humor can be tricky, but relating to current trends and events creates a positive shared experience around your brand that’s grounded in real-life experiences. But you have to keep it classy.

The wrong kind of  funny can totally ruin a brand’s reputation. Some examples include DiGiorno’s careless use of the hashtag #WhyIStayed or Kenneth Cole’s insensitivity about Cairo. A few tips for avoiding such a catastrophe? Always do your research and avoid shooting straight from the hip. A good proofread is a powerful safety net too, but everyone from private marketing companies to the government makes mistakes on social media.

Maya Angelou once said, “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” If you make your audience feel offended or disgusted, they will remember it. And meow, with the long life of social media posts, your exact words matter too. Humorous social media campaigns should be tailored to your audience, mindful of current events, and be carefully tracked.

3. Keep Your Brand Voice on Point

Just because you think that clip of cats terrified by cucumbers is funny doesn’t mean it’s a good post for your brand. Using humor to engage an audience must be relatable to your audience, as well as your product or message. The best brand voices are balanced between two of three tones in the tone voice triangle by Bruce Daisley. Using this triangle can help you to balance your voice between fun, helpful, and informational.


If it is difficult to make your brand voice ‘fun’, there are still a few ways you can utilize humor as a subliminal emotional appeal in social media marketing. Consider creating a different persona for your brand that can speak in a more humorous manner – like Progressive added Flo. But even if you segment your marketing voice, it should still be relevant to your brand. It’s best when the audience can retain the funny message and connect it to your product or service. 

A good example of this is Kmart’s “I shipped my pants” campaign. The humor is seamlessly weaved into their message, but it still references their services. Think of how much less effective a “You can have pants shipped from the online store” message would be – boring! But because they understood the benefits of using humor to engage an audience, if someone asks ‘Does Kmart ship products?’, you’ll likely be able to happily recall this service. 

4. Make it Interactive & Easily Shareable

When you share a good laugh with someone, you build a relationship with them. And we all know that relationships aren’t real unless they’re Facebook official. Using humor on social media can not only get your current followers to fall in love you with more, but it can also attract new followers when your posts are shareably funny. According to Social Media Today, “over 70% of business-to-consumer marketers have acquired their customers through Facebook,” and on Twitter, the average user follows 5 or more brands.

And the funnier it is, the more shareable it is. Americans are more motivated to share “funny” than “important” content (43%). This statistic makes sense because “most people use social media as an escape from their daily lives, which means they’re hoping to see something good.” I personally would much rather watch funny cat videos for 30 minutes than read up on the Congressional Review Act for 30 minutes (though one is clearly more important).

Shares and retweets of humorous posts by your brand go beyond ‘sharing is caring.’ For social media consumers, the goal is, first and foremost, self-definition. By sharing your brand’s witty post (whether they’re aware it’s branded or not), they can define themselves as witty. This also creates unity and belonging with others who have shared the post.

5. Don’t Forget to Take Your Chill Pills

Your audience expects your brand to be more relaxed on social media anyway, so let loose a little bit. Social media platforms allow your brand to be kind of like a mullet: business in the front, party in the back! A perfect junction exists between boring branded “it’s-all-about-me” sales pitches (spolier alert: social media isn’t actually about you) and offensive or risque material. To find this sweet spot, you may have to take some risks. For instance, replacing the word “now” with “meow”. Is it actually funny in a post about using emotional appeal in social media marketing? Perhaps. But it likely won’t invoke a negative feeling (need we remind you of the inherent lovable qualities of cats?). Some examples of funny brands who take risks with a chill voice include Newcastle Brown Ale, Dollar Shave Club, and Taco Bell

Laughter is an invaluable tool for reducing stress, revitalizing energy and bondingarka-pana-logo people together in social situations. It’s also an extremely useful tool for engaging an audience online. In regards to intellect versus emotion controlling conversions, our brains are hardwired to give emotions the upper hand. There are many ways that you can utilize emotional appeal in your social media strategy. But if you’re not sure how to do that, don’t just go posting cute pictures of cats. (We did have to put a funny cat with this post though). There are plenty of wonderfully helpful people who can offer support and consulting for getting the most out of your digital marketing campaigns.




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