No Laughing Matter
From auto insurance to stock trading, formerly staid products and industries are reshaping themselves with a new breed of humorous advertising. Can putting some fun in your car wash's marketing have you laughing all the way to the bank?
Humor has been an effective communications tool since the earliest days of advertising
What was your favorite Super Bowl ad? If you're like most of us, it was probably something funny. About four out of five of the pricy spots in the world's most high profile advertising event involve humor –and last year nine out of the ten of the most popular commercials in USA Today's highly regarded annual Super Bowl Ad Meter rankings were funny too.
There's a good reason why America's biggest advertisers consistently make humor the centerpiece of their Super Bowl game plan. Being savvy marketers, they know that if they make us laugh, they also have a much better chance of making us buy.
If you have any doubts, just look at what happed to the auto insurance industry, where a droll gecko and an over-the-top saleswoman with a retro '60s hairdo have transformed GEICO and Progressive from also-rans into the hottest companies in their market. In 1995, GEICO had a 2.2% share of the auto insurance market; and Progressive wasn't doing much better at 2.4%.
Then the two companies turned to humor with the funny gecko and the irrepressible Flo and business boomed. Today, GEICO has an 8.5% share of the market, making it the third largest auto insurer and Progressive is right behind in the number four slot with a 7.7% share. In the process, the two companies changed their industry, forcing traditional insurance giants State Farm and All State to move away from their serious "good hands" marketing messages and unleash their own funny ads. Now, it's reached the point that if visitors from another galaxy suddenly landed on earth, they would think car insurance was a light hearted subject people joked about.
As a car wash operator, you have ample opportunities to weave whimsical, witty or even cornily funny messages into your marketing. For example, if you have SiteWatch® Social Circle® Module, you can include humorous posts on the newsfeeds sent to the Facebook friends of customers who belong to your Social Circle Club.
You can also include funny video, audio, and copy messages on your Xpress Pay Terminal® screens. Another possibility is to print pithy quips on customer receipts based on their purchases, using the Intelligent Receipt Messaging feature in SiteWatch. Your email blasts, coupons, and signage offer other opportunities to interject humor into your sales process.
Humor has been an effective communications tool since the earliest days of advertising, but today the rise of the Internet and social media have made it even more important than ever. The psychologists who study such things tell us that a key reason why people value humor is that it interjects an element of surprise and excitement into ordinary routines; in other words, it keeps things from getting boring.
In a world where 600 tweets are sent every second, one billion videos are viewed on YouTube every day, and 8.1 million Facebook posts are made every hour in the US, the leavening effect of humor is essential to keeping our communications interesting.
Humor is also critically important to another function of social media – sharing. Like high-tech versions of ancient campfires, Facebook, YouTube, and other social media platforms serve as gathering points where people come to reaffirm their sense of belonging. Few currencies are as readily accepted in this campfire exchange as humor. Sharing a funny story or observation instantly establishes a rapport, breaks down barriers, and makes everyone feel more at ease.
The growing importance of making people laugh was recognized early in the digital age. A 2004 study by the Journal of Advertising Research found that most forwarded email messages involved humor. This trend has only gained momentum with the arrival of Facebook and Twitter. A November 2011 poll conducted by Facebook found that humorous posts resulted in five times as many "shares" as other posts – and 150% more likes.
Humorous tweets were also likely to be re-tweeted by 27% more Twitter users than tweets involving personal connections. Another study of 13 million user-initiated video views by the Jun Group between January and September 2011 revealed that viewers were three times more likely to click on a brand's Facebook page from a humorous video than other types of videos. Is it an accident that one of the first and most enduringly popular texting acronyms to come out of the digital age is LOL for "Laughing Out Loud"?
A generation or two ago, long before anyone even thought of the Internet or Facebook, every salesman worth his salt carried around a bag full of jokes that he used to break the ice before his presentation. Some of these jokes were funny, some weren't, but all served a serious bottom-line purpose; they got the person on the other end of the sales pitch to relax.
Since the SiteWatch Xpress Pay Terminal (XPT) is in essence a digital salesperson, the same ice breaking principle that worked for human salespeople a generation ago should also apply to today's self-pay stations. Adding a touch of humor to your menu options should increase the relaxation level at your terminals, which should in turn increase sales.
Customers are not only more relaxed when your humor puts them in a better mood; they're also going to pay more attention to your marketing message. The old time salesman knew this instinctively; now Dr. Keith Carlson has supported this intuition with research.
A professor at Valparaiso University, Dr. Carlson conducted a study that demonstrated the stickiness of humorous marketing messages. He created inspirational and humorous versions of the same poster, and then showed both to subjects in his study. The posters used the same illustrations and layout; the only difference between them was that one had serious wording, and the other humorous wording. Later, Dr. Carlson asked his subjects about the posters; the humorous version was recalled 50% more often than the serious one.
Another recent study by Oxygen Media and Grey Global also demonstrated the power of humor to capture and hold our attention. Almost nine out ten (88%) of the women polled in this study were less likely to change TV channels during a commercial break if they thought the ad was funny.
IF You're Not Cool, Be Funny!
Humorous tweets were also likely to be re-tweeted by 27% more Twitter users than tweets involving personal connections
The use of humor in marketing has risen steadily since the arrival of the Internet, followed by the explosive growth of social media. According to the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire and the New York Times, 36% of Super Bowl ads were humorous in 1984, then (after the Internet hit), this number jumped to 54%. By 2009, with social media on the scene, it reached 80%.
This growth has not been spread evenly among all products and services. Ironically, things that are more colorful and exciting are far less likely to be marketed with humor. Flashy European sports cars and designer clothing lines aren’t promoted with funny ads, but more prosaic car insurance is, as are stock brokerage services such as E*TRADE, with its famously funny "talking baby," who has now appeared in six consecutive Super Bowls without aging a bit past his infancy!
The E*TRADE baby has proven to be quite a precocious salesperson. After a recent Super Bowl, the company drew 19 million visitors to its website to download outtakes of the bantering baby doing his thing. More importantly, it saw a 19% increase in online applications for its services.
There is nothing inherently funny about stock trading services. On the contrary, it's serious business, since you're often dealing with investing people's life savings! However, for most people investment services are, well… boring, so the marketers at E*TRADE felt it necessary to attract and hold more attention with humor.
Like a stock brokerage or auto insurance company, a car wash provides a valuable service to its customers. However, it doesn't necessarily rank high on the excitement list, the way a trip to a trendy restaurant or a Starbucks does. This makes a car wash more ideally suited for humorous ads than many other businesses.
Few products are more "boring" than milk, a product that for many symbolizes the very notion of blandness. This is probably why milk is also the beneficiary of what many regard as one of the cleverest marketing campaigns in history.
In the early 1990s, milk sales in California were suffering through over a decade of steady decline. A statewide industry group tried everything to reverse the trend, including a series of expensive ads that touted the benefits of drinking milk. However, surveys showed that 93% of Californians knew that milk was good for them, and 70% percent even drank it occasionally. Their consumption wasn't enough, however, to reverse declining milk sales.
Then the association hired San Francisco ad agency Goodby Sliverstein & Partners, who came up with an outside the box approach of using humor to sell the dairy product by showing people with silly milk mustaches. After the campaign was introduced in 1994, California milk sales rose 7%, their first increase in 15 years. The "Got Milk?" campaign was soon adopted by the national dairy industry – and the rest, as they say, is history.
As a car wash operator, there's a lesson to be learned from the California dairy association's experience. Milk was already being consumed by 70% of Californians; so the success of this campaign wasn't based on attracting large numbers of new customers, it was in getting existing customers to drink more milk. This is something to keep in mind when communicating with customers who belong to your VIP club run with the SiteWatch Loyalty Promotion Module.
There's another reason why humor is such an effective marketing tool: it conveys a sense of sharing and giving to your customers. A witty, clever or funny message tells customers that you aren't just trying to sell them something, but are also going the extra mile to brighten their day with a good laugh – and who among us wouldn't like that?
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