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News And Views

News & Views

  • 24 June 2015
  • Craig Stockwell

How brands create engagement through humour

Last week we hosted a full house for our Humour in Communications event in the screening room at the Charlotte Street Hotel in central London - a fitting venue as it could equally have been hosting an intimate stand-up gig. As it happens, we had four great speakers to take us through some very different approaches to how brands are using humour to engage with consumers.

First up was O2 social media manager Jonny Excell, showing how the mobile phone brand uses humour on social media, with a not wholly unique philosophy:

Engagement triangle

  1. Answer like a human being
  2. Judge the situation
  3. Don't come across as cocky or arrogant
  4. Every interaction's an opportunity to entertain
  5. It's important to be helpful and funny
  6. Speak to people in the way they speak to you
  7. O2 should allow its people the freedom to act on engagement opportunities

It's clear to see that through faith in its people, and an understanding of consumers, O2 has its social game up there with the best of them - which was confirmed by their Best. Graph. Ever:

Best Graph Ever

This sentiment analysis, recorded during its network outage in 2012, shows that O2 has REALLY changed the way it talks to consumers for the better - it even got a pretty good Father’s Day gag in at the weekend:


This style of communication has allowed O2 to get a few steps ahead of the competition with its engagement, even retaining customers who were ready to jump ship to another telco.

Next up was our own creative director, Stuart Yeardsley, who started with something called the Expectation Economy, in the form of a tweet from journalist Janine Gibson quoting Andrew McAfee:

Expectation Economy

As consumers, we are constantly bombarded by messages and invited to join brands for their experiences - and they get stale pretty quickly. So even something as thrilling as driverless cars, which by all accounts should be pretty cool (right?), become tedious once the novelty has worn off - and within minutes we’re looking for the next thing on our hedonic treadmill, constantly surrounded by screens, ads and yet more messages who fight for our attention and our cash.

However humour, as Stu pointed out, can be genuinely memorable and contagious, and when something entertains us we feel compelled to share - it’s an emotion that engages us. Something like this response from Bodyform after a Facebook post to its page went viral – the video has since seen close to six million views, and for good reason:Stu also shared research from Buzzsumo and OkDork, which has looked into the science behind ‘physiological arousal’, and the conclusions are clear: awe, laughter and amusement are way out in front - so how come so many marketing messages have sadness, fear and empathy at their core?

Popular Emotions

A key part of this is to understand that humour can be applied to serious messages - and we were thrilled to welcome our next speaker, Nora Russell from Scope, to discuss its campaign #EndTheAwkward, as well as a campaign of which we at 3 Monkeys are particularly proud: Ready When U Are for Standard Life. Both took serious messages and executed them in a humorous way that has proved incredibly successful for both brands:This humorous message can also be applied to different channels: being in the business of earned media, 3 Monkeys is always finding ways to get our clients cut through in the press. Picture stories, pop-ups and other inspired ideas appeal to all sorts of audiences, and a humorous message that lands alongside it has been effective for us this year – referencing back to our popular emotions…

Awe: Castrol demonstrating its ultimate automotive performance at the Wilton Supercar Festival in Wiltshire


Amusement: Wills and Kate give a royal seal of approval for Morrisons Jersey Royals when they arrived in-store early this season

Jersey Royals

Joy: The McVitie's cuddle cafe put a smile on people's faces in London earlier this year

McVities Cuddle Cafe

Last up, we welcomed Ben Thompson from Hoot Comedy, who shared some great examples of how knowing your audience and investing in the writing is imperative when it comes to delivering humour well. Among many brilliant social assets created for Dave, this was our favourite:

Dave Engagement

We also liked this quote he shared from ad man Bob Thacker:

Bob Thacker

Ben discussed how certain brands can get away with - and actively encourage - NOT having their brand front and centre:We learned some important points when it comes to doing humour well across different channels - and that it isn’t reserved for traditionally “funny” brands. Humour can be for just about everyone when duly considered.

Key take outs:

  • Understand your audience
  • “Entertain me, and I’ll spend time with you”
  • Brands don’t need to have their message front and centre all the time especially if it dilutes the quality of the content being delivered
  • It's OK to take a risk and gamble on a bold idea

Finally, a big thank you to all our delegates and speakers plus the good folk at PR Moment, for making the night a success. We look forward to more of the same in the future.


To see the slides from the event, check out our slideshare embed below: