Got humor? Funny marketing tends to stick — or bomb
Go to any stand-up comedy show with top talent and you will likely encounter lines that make you smile or even laugh. But some of the material might induce cringes instead of grins. A few North Bay companies seek to enhance their brands via humor on billboards, signs and other advertising. Though humorous advertising entails a risky traverse across a high wire, nearly a quarter of national advertisers rely on humor to catch the attention of consumers in prime-time television commercials.
Remember Geico's gecko plopped by helicopter onto Navy battleship Wisconsin, 2015. The reptile waves away dust as the chopper departs; geckos cannot blink, but lick their own eyes to clean and moisten them. We see the ship captain standing at the end of the ship's runway in his white uniform. 'Could have parked a little bit closer,' the green lizard quips. 'It's going to be dark by the time I get there.'
Done tastefully, gentle humor in branding can create warm emotional bonding between customer and company that endures for a lifetime. Bungled, comic debacles can turn customers off forever.
'Humor is a tough thing,' said Chris Denny, founder and president of Santa Rosa-based marketing company The Engine Is Red. The agency has been in business for about a decade.
'When you get it right, it's a human-level connection,' Denny said. 'The human-emotion side of branding is both the pinnacle and the crag. It's where you can create that deep connecting. When you do it right, it's impactful. But man, if you get it wrong, whether it's with humor or fear, it comes off as insincere, disrespectful.'
At a brand level, Denny uses humor sparingly, instead aiming to reach consumers with higher emotions such as delight and joy. On the advertising-campaign level, 'we bring in humor quite a bit more,' he said, about 30 percent of the time. 'We make it casual, approachable. Humor is a great way' to steer a company to not take itself so seriously. It can go a long way,' he said.
'Got poop?' The query rides in lettering several inches high at the back and sides of trucks for Environmental Pump Services, which pumps out septic tanks for residences throughout Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties.
Blaine Cristando and Eric Hawley co-founded Santa Rosa-based EPS about a decade ago. Beyond pumping septic tanks, the company pumps winery waste and material from restaurant grease traps. The business serving restaurants has grown to become most of the company's revenue.
'My wife came up with that,' Cristando said of 'Got poop?'
'People love it,' he said of the slogan. 'A lot of people laugh. We have it on our hats, our trucks, our shirts, our overalls. People stop us and take pictures. People really like it. It breaks the ice. People remember us. We're the 'got poop' guys,' he said.
Garick, LLC, an Ohio-based subsidiary of Waste Management and a Goliath competitor for EPS, has its own twist on humorous branding: 'We are number 1 in the number 2 business.' The company filed for a trademark on the slogan in 2005.
Some in the industry call septic-tank-pumper trucks, 'honey buckets,' Cristando said. He saw one pumper truck emblazoned with the words, 'Full of political promises.' While some folks would chuckle at scatological humor and toss it off, others find it disgusting and offensive. That human unpredictability is precisely what makes humor tricky in marketing.
'I've never had anybody that was offended by it,' Cristando said of the company slogan. 'If they were, I'd be like, really? It's all just good fun. We all do. We're all human.'
'Got poop' likely derived from the long-running campaign by the dairy industry, 'Got milk?'
Clover Sonoma, a Petaluma-based creamery that last year changed its name from Clover Stornetta, has its own long-running comedy campaign with Clo the Cow making comic twists and cringe-worthy puns from billboards along Highway 101.
Clover Sonoma launched Clo the Cow as a mascot in 1969, according to the company's published history spanning 100 years. Clo is a saucy bovine with a wry sense of humor and a hefty ego. She portrayed herself as Vincent Van Clo and Moona Lisa. In one billboard, she donned a black robe as a justice under the line, 'Supreme Quart.'
One of the cleverest signs that buoyed the brand famously was Clover's 1989 takeoff on a 1929 song written by Al Dubin and Joe Burke, initially sung by Nick Lucas then covered in lofty falsetto in 1968 by Tiny Tim. Clover's two-pun twist on the song title delighted drivers: 'Tip Clo through your two lips.'
Recent billboards carry less comic punch, such as meditating Clo in modified lotus position in a pasture with the words, 'Keep calm and dairy on.' The sign greets drivers as they go from Santa Rosa into Rohnert Park.