Why so serious? Liven up your web presence with a little humor.

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Too often, when I’m reviewing marketing copy from new clients, I’m struck by how dry and boring it is. Granted, for some products (I’m looking at you, hydraulic pump gaskets), no amount of humor is going to make them entertaining. Frequently, though, it seems that in the rush to sound “professional”, the natural cadence of conversation is replaced in website text by buzzword filled ExecutiveSpeak:

“Our advanced filing system will synergize your workforce by leveraging unique opportunities in process refinement to maximize workflow while reducing inefficiencies in your production line. Call TODAY to find out how you can save 75% off retail!”

While this may be entirely (and pedantically) accurate, it has a yawn factor of 12, and glazed my eyes over just typing it. Consider instead the tone of this Groupon pitch for discounted home furniture:

“A comfortable chair is like a good friend: it’s always there when you need it and it doesn’t mind if you drool on it after the late local news. Find fashionable new friends with today’s Groupon: for $75, you get $300 worth of modern home furnishings at DoMA Home Furnishings, with locations in Tampa and St. Petersburg.”

Although it closes with a traditional sales call to action, the injection of light humor at the beginning softens the impact of the marketing spiel. In hiring writers, Groupon includes these directives on writing style:

“Avoid marketing clichés such as:

  • Got X problem? This deal is your answer!
  • Exclamation points
  • Broad, unsubstantiated claims (superlatives, etc.)

For humor, use absurd, unexpected imagery that reacts to actual details.

Shoot for 80% informative content and 20% creative content.”

Groupon’s formula for humorous copy has been so successful that it led the New York Times to say: “If good advertising is supposed to be memorable, this is very good.” Laughter may be the best medicine, but it’s also the best pitch.

I know, I know, you’re thinking “But Web Guy, I’m not a comedian! How am I supposed to make my sales copy funny?” Well, you’re not a copywriter either, and yet there you sit with a dictionary and a dog eared copy of some Tony Robbins or Zig Ziglar book trying to “incorporate action words” and “create urgency”. You’re telling me it wouldn’t be easier to just be a little irreverent? While you may not be destined to get your own HBO Comedy Special anytime soon, you certainly have the ability to brain storm with friends and colleagues about ways to add a chuckle to your product or service descriptions. What’s more, a bad joke will always be more memorable than the most polished stuff shirt sales pitch.

And at the end of the day, isn’t that the point?