Seriously folks: Serious marketing for serious people

Or, conversely, funny marketing for funny people?

Last week I participated in a pitch contest event run by The Capital Network. Like most pitch events, most of the startup entrepreneurs were there for the connections and not really interested in the $100 gift card and bottles of wine prizes.  (Although nice…)

But one entrepreneur took the pitch to a whole different level with a song he composed and sang himself.  Amusing and well done, it didn’t land him in the winning spot but it generated a lot of conversation about the humorous approach.  Big risk, potentially big rewards.

In this case, I thought it went well – the song communicated the value proposition, the target audience, even the competition.  It opened up conversations and was memorable – like most elevator pitches, it didn’t have to stand alone but could be a starter for a longer conversation.  The singer also used it in a forum (a pitch competition) where it was appropriate.  In fact, he mentioned that he didn’t feel it was right to use it in individual conversations.

Another local startup sent out a momentum press release in November that reads like it was written by a rapper – an erudite rapper but it was full of slang and casual conversation you rarely see in a press release.  It was cute and it stood out.

A local marketing agency has made a business out of crafting in-your-face, supposedly break-out messaging.  While some of the campaigns seem to be true genius, others seem to be too heavily peppered with uncomfortable images that could come back to bite the clients later on.  Not every company can pull off this approach.  Not every company needs this approach. And, there are some that don’t strike anyone as funny.

Humor, satire and out-of-the-box thinking are marketing staples.  Quick, think back to some of the all-time classic commercials.  A major portion of them are memorable because they are funny.

Remember the Taco Bell April Fool’s Day campaign?  Buying the Liberty Bell?  Funny but also irked the living daylights out of some people, spurring actual protests before the stunt was revealed.  Positive or negative impact on the business?  Hard to say.

Before you approve that next “breakout” marketing campaign, consider a few things:

  • Like the Hippocratic oath, marketers should first pledge to do no harm.  Will this project hurt your business?  Today or in the future.  Will what may be considered OK for a small local business today  be something you need to explain away someday in the future?
  • Know your audience — that “momentum” release quoted the company CEO – “We found that small businesses tend to purchase from companies they trust most. “  But do small businesses trust “non-serious” people with the life blood of their business?  Will humor win customers or turn them off? (Of course, the other side of the equation is, without humor, will the customer ever know you exist?)
  • Is it really a break-through message or just an amusing project for the marketing team?

What do you think?  Stunt marketing – for or against it?  (Meanwhile, I have this campaign that includes zombies that I keep threatening to pull out.)