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Levick Daily. Thoughts. Perspectives. Insights.

Corporate & Reputation

Corporate Humor: Context is Key

Mikah Sellers

Let’s face it, 99 percent of corporate videos are unbearably boring. Whether it’s an internal training device or an external piece aimed at personalizing an organization and its people, most companies err on the side of caution when drafting the script, selecting their spokespeople, or choosing locations and backdrops. They rarely step outside of the bounds of what is “safe” or “comfortable.” As a result, they are often left with footage that makes Ishtar look like Citizen Kane. The product is safe; but safe doesn’t get you noticed – especially amid all competing content that clutters the online space.
That’s likely why we are seeing more and more organizations beginning to exercise a sense of humor when it comes to Web video. As is the case with other forms of corporate communication, there examples to emulate and cautionary tales alike; but those that get it right often provide themselves a powerful tool for telling their stories, driving brand engagement, and recruiting the talent they need to execute their strategy and operations.
There are, of course, risks when companies try to be funny – and many of them extend further than that sinking feeling that accompanies the sound of crickets chirping. As such, they need to ask themselves the right questions before letting the hilarity ensue. Is there a chance we could offend our audience or create negative backlash? Will our audience get it? Is this just humor for humor’s sake, or does it reflect our core values? What does the joke say about our brand?
Some organizations take the time to consider these questions – and, unfortunately, some do not.
Take, for example, the Kixeye recruiting video “The Interview.” The piece is silly, irreverent, and laced with profanity. To some, it clearly crosses the line between what’s acceptable and what’s inappropriate in the corporate context; but I would be surprised if any of those would-be critics fall within the video’s target audience of 20-30-year-old video game developers. Kixeye considered its audience before unleashing the funny. As a result, its message achieves the dual goals of not only resonating with the fun-loving people Kixeye is trying to reach; but gaining the viral visibility all Web videos ultimately covet.
For Kixeye this video works. For Barclays or McKinsey, it most certainly would not. As such, we learn the valuable lesson that context is absolutely critical.
Now, let’s look at a video produced by LocumTenens.com, a physician recruiting agency that pairs doctors with communities in which they want to work. “The Agent” employs the same irreverent tone as the Kixeye video mentioned above – but the audience isn’t hip young video game developers; it’s buttoned up doctors who are likely looking for a little more professionalism from those with which they would entrust their careers. The video is funny; but funny is not an objective in and of itself. The humor has to serve a higher purpose. Here, it undercuts the underlying message rather than reinforce it. In the end, it seems that LocumTenens.com forgot the cardinal rule that context is key.
Every organization takes a chance when donning a clown suit; but the rewards can be well worth the risk when companies take the time to carefully weigh how – and if – humor can positively impact their brands. As Winston Churchill famously said “a joke is a very serious thing.” In the corporate context, truer words have never been spoken.
Mikah Sellers is the Vice President of Marketing at LEVICK and a contributing author to LEVICK Daily.

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