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What does your gut say to this question: are we too sensitive right now for humor in marketing?

We say, “H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks no!” However, we recommend you attempt it while wearing kid gloves. No matter the current social climate, we suggest you avoid any semblance of humor in marketing related to the subjects of illness, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. But … what about death?

Can death marketing be funny?

Better yet, can death sell a product? Historically, the answer is yes.

Going back nearly a century, a company called Peterman’s used humor to sell roach pesticides. A 1927 print ad featured a cartoon mama roach with a baby on her knee, and the line, “Beware, my son, beware! Stay away from Peterman’s! It has killed your whole family.”

That ad is pretty safe. It’s doubtful many people were upset by a humanized family of roaches being killed by bug powder. However, fast forward to 2018, when one UK-based company upped the death-related marketing ante.

First, a little background. There’s a slow yet steady movement of death-positive individuals and organizations encouraging people to consider talking about the inevitable in an effort to make death less scary and more approachable. There are death cafes where living people get together to chat about all topics surrounding croaking – from celebration of life parties to shooting off cremated remains into a fireworks display.

Beyond, a funeral cost comparison website, put a clever yet controversial spin on everyday life events. One print ad appears to be a bride-to-be shopping with a wedding planner at a boutique. The tagline is, “For that perfect look on your big day.” On second glance, you notice a big, pink coffin in the background on the sales floor.

Another ad parodies a beach vacation. In it, a young couple is jogging on the beach. The list of benefits for this “vacation” say:

  • All inclusive
  • Roasting temperatures
  • Depart from anywhere

Yes, it’s an ad for cremation and the young couple is carrying coffins instead of surfboards. Beyond’s ads were rejected by some British publications for insensitivity toward the subject matter. Social media outcry claimed, “truly awful.” But, articles written about the ads pushed Beyond into the spotlight – a top goal for the company.

“We’re turning up the volume to 10 in the hope it paves the way for everyone else to at least make it to five — planting a flag and saying, ‘Here’s permission to talk about death,’” Beyond co-founder said in The New York Times.

Say it with sass

We applaud Beyond for its bold campaign (though the company’s marketing is less extreme these days, as evidenced by its website). While we see the humor in Beyond’s campaign, a visceral reaction from the public is not our aim at Savoir Faire. That said, we do dip our toes in the water.

Conversations about end-of-life planning and understanding funeral service options are goals for one of our clients, and for a recent e-book, we came up with the title, “Everything You Wanted to Know About THE END But Were Afraid to Ask.” For the book’s cover, the title is chiseled into a tombstone. It’s slightly sassy.

That’s a trademark of Savoir Faire’s branding – playful sass to catch the eye and deliver a smile. For our clients, we consider humor when it’s appropriate and whether or not it is in line with their brand. Hesitancy around humor in marketing makes sense these days, but there are low-risk ways to dabble in it, such as winking plays on words.

What’s my line?

An email subject line is a wonderful opportunity to play with humor. Online content trains us for instant satisfaction, so grabbing someone’s attention with a fast, funny phrase is a solid way to garner clicks.

For example, this subject line is spit take worthy as the kicker is so unexpected: “Best of Groupon: The Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve).”

Savoir Faire sends a marketing tips newsletter twice a month with six bite-size posts, and we try to keep the subject lines playful, such as this recent one, “I feel Privy, oh, so Privy.” Our most-recent uses a classic movie quote to time with the 35th anniversary of “Ghostbusters”: “Who you gonna call?”

The point is to grab some eyeballs, get clicks AND stay on brand. Times are tough for coming up with humor that’s both funny and won’t kill your reputation. We love flexing the humor part of our brains at Savoir Faire, so if you need a couple more tips, we’ve got plenty of sass to cover your …  needs.

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