Humour and Email Marketing belong together funny.

It’s Groundhog Day in my inbox.  In fact, I know if I read every single email in my inbox once, I would be reciting them by heart at the end of the month.  Change the record already.  There are a couple of newsletters I am subscribed to, and I can’t even remember what it is they sell.  They are missing the humour.  They miss the funny.

Yes yes, the problem here is my poor organisation – and potentially my unrivalled craving for entertainment – but there is something definitely missing from these emails.  I want to say personality.  I want to say they’re not human enough. They’re missing the quirky, the cheeky, the glint-in-the-eye, and that little something that makes me want to read the next campaign that they send.

I’m talking about humour.   Many email marketers are shying away from humour, and I don’t know why.


I do know why, and it is nothing to do with ability.  People don’t add humour because it is dangerous.  A lot of marketers are steering away from a tongue-in-cheek tone and a light joke because:

a) Like all the best things in life, there is a line.  You can go too far, and when you go to far, you can offend someone.  If you offend them, you alienate them.  If you alienate your customers, they buy from somewhere else, and some of them make sure to put in a nice lengthy complaint before they leave.  Or leave a scathing review.

b) Humour is not a ‘one size fits all’ endeavour.  Facetious subtlety or satire may go over some heads, and direct scatological farce might seem inappropriate to others.  The last thing an email marketer wants to do is come across as though he is “trying” to be funny, particularly if they are already unsure about their customer’s sense of humour.  You can understand their reticence really.  Why put yourself through that?

Well because humour is funny.

Those writing email marketing campaigns with a few sly witticisms aren’t script-writing for Michael McIntyre, they are not trying to make you roll around your office with laughter.  They are going for a smile, moderate recognition that an email had a humourous moment that  might just be worth sharing – or at least remembering.  I can think of many good reasons that an email marketing content writer should begin using  humour, but I am only going to give you my top three.

Who doesn’t laugh at the internet?

Let’s be honest, we like the internet because it makes us laugh.  The internet is that box of tricks where you can share a meme, after posting a GIF, directly after splitting your sides with a cat video on YouTube.  Not that I am making any judgment, but the average social media user is a part time satirist, and almost everyone’s feed is littered with humour.  The internet is the place to go when you are looking for some light relief.

Aleks Krotoski, in her Guardian article ‘What effect has the internet had on comedy?‘, quite astutely notes that “Humour is the heart and soul of the web. It makes it the place we want to be.”  But why should we leave humour on the internet waiting for people to find it?  Let it be delivered straight to them.

Funny is what us Humans do!

There is nothing more Human than the ability to craft humour.  That’s not to say that humour isn’t random either.  We laugh at the antics of our pets, tears stream down our faces at the laws of gravity, but to intentionally craft humour is very Human.  This is what a little lighthearted chuckle brings to email marketing campaigns.  It humanises your company, makes them seem more approachable.

It is like the phone conversations you may have with cold callers operating on scripts day in and day out. You know the ones I am talking about – those people you doubt would ever be able to convince a Captcha.  These are the people that you want to hang-up on.

Could this affect your email marketing?  I believe so.  In fact, every day on my personal email, I delete emails without opening them, because I know they won’t interest me, and I know there will be nothing worth repeating.  For the crime of mediocrity, these companies have lost out on potential sales.

Connection and recollection

There’s some good science behind this point, illustrated quite eloquently in Kieth A. Carlson‘s ‘The impact of humor on memory’ found in the International Journal of Humor Research.  A publication I am sure exists on everyone’s coffee table.  However, his article contains the results of a study arguing that “humorous material tends to be recalled at higher rates than non-humorous material “.

There is something folkloric about humour.  Funny stays in our memory, and we pass it to our friends and children, and the stories we tell are often remembered most when they are funny.  It is the very way that jokes and limericks work.  As well as remembering what makes us laugh, we also remember who made us laugh.  We connect to Rhod Gilbert as he argues about an egg sandwich on a train.  It is natural for us to connect humour to the source, and to form a connection with the person who made us laugh.  We like to laugh, and we like people who can make us laugh.

Wrapping up

I am not saying your email campaigns have to be outrageous.  I am not suggesting you turn your marketing department into a circus looking for cheap laughs – you still have a company to represent and you must remain professional.  But there is a large difference between a subtle play on words, and a rude scatological anecdote about what a nun did in a monastery.  In short there are three golden rules if you are going to try and connect to your customers through humour.

1)  Keep it clean.

2) Give the widest berth possible to Politics, Religion, or any social prejudices that could cause offence.

3) Humour is better used in moderation.  Overuse might just make you annoying to some readers.

All in all I dare you to have a little fun.  Make your next email campaign memorable, make your next newsletter funny.



Adam Ward