How Dollar Shave Club is Changing the Way We Look at Branded Humor
I'm shocking no one reading this by writing that people love to laugh. No matter where you go, laughter reigns supreme as one of the most important and influential social and behavioral catalysts. When we laugh we feel the most at ease, the most connected with the people around us, and the most comforted in times of hardship. Countless psychological studies suggest that humor is a valuable social bonding mechanism and a powerful way to diffuse tension, gain intimacy, and buffer stress.
No matter where you go, laughter reigns supreme as one of the most important and influential social and behavioral catalysts.
Humor as a Tool for Social Bonding
Have you ever noticed how you’re more likely to laugh in groups than when you’re alone? According to Robert R Provine, professor of neurobiology and psychology at the University of Maryland, this isn’t a case of you trying to fit in with your cohorts. He explains that laughter is a legitimate form of communication, now used primarily to show emotion and intention between people in similar social situations. The ability to facilitate laugher, or at least make someone crack a disarming grin, can help forge significant emotional and behavioral bonds between people. The formation of these bonds helps build positive relationships in a multitude of ways, as it promotes trust, imbues a sense of togetherness, and, perhaps most importantly, makes the one telling the joke more likable.
Over the last couple of years, comedy has begun seeping into a variety of business contexts. Marketing and advertising, two industries that are deeply invested in bringing people together, are capitalizing on these effects of humor and in turn are creating ads that resonate with their audiences like never before. Turn on your TV or browse the internet for a few hours and it’s not difficult to notice how prevalent comedic content has become. However, humor done wrong can fall very flat: Humor in a business context must be approached thoughtfully and marketers must have a deep understanding of their audience’s persona, how they interact with branded content, and what they are looking for specifically in a brand before they can build an effective campaign.
How Humor is Taking Over the Industry
Comedy has been an extremely effective way to reach younger audiences. Need statistical proof? Look to textbook rental site Chegg’s recent study, which found 80% of college-aged kids remember ads that make them laugh. You can probably think of some funny ads off the top of your head, as well. Maybe you think of the wildly popular Old Spice campaign, whose comedic genius was awarded an Emmy back in 2010. Or perhaps you think of a couple hilarious Super Bowl advertisements from years past. The fact you are able to recall a humorous ad from 5, maybe even 8, years ago highlights the sheer power of comedic marketing. The increase of quirky, nuanced, and slapstick content signifies the formation of new avenues through which brands can foster communities, encourage sharing and brand buzz, and develop a fully fleshed-out voice for themselves.
Today’s marketing world is also propelled by emotional meaning, a concept that is often seen as incompatible with the dry, seemingly base characteristics of humor. It may come as no surprise that today’s marketing and advertising pros are taking more time in developing their brand’s sense of empathy and using it to showcase their core beliefs, authenticity, and social credibility. Dollar Shave Club, a company that is certainly no stranger to humor, proved that it is possible to blend these two disparate characteristics in their most recent ad campaign, “Getting Ready”. The ad certainly doesn’t shy away from inclusivity, as it showcases everything from a drag queen shaving her legs, to a young man experimenting with new hairstyles, to a more heavy-set, middle-aged man bathing in the warm glow of candlelight. Additionally, the campaign spends a considerable amount of time featuring women. Whether they are shown using the razors to shave their legs, their head, or anywhere else, the ad creates a space for women which previously didn’t exist.
Dozens of bathroom scenes are lit up and we get to see the customers of Dollar Shave Club at their most vulnerable, and perhaps, their most intimate. The campaign is powerful in its own subtle way, as we get a sneak-peak behind the curtain to see the ways people grapple with insecurities, issues surrounding body image, and the burden of grooming routines every day. It’s an unfortunate reality that all of us endure; glancing in the bathroom mirror to find out your hair isn’t cooperating, your new exercise routine isn’t showing the results you were promised, and that pesky pimple is rearing its ugly head again. The advertisement helps dissolve the boundaries between brand and customer without being hokey or overly sentimental. Everyone can see some part of themselves represented in the commercial, and the comedic elements make them think; "Yep, I’ve been there." This campaign addresses some key social issues that are important today: ideas of toxic masculinity, cases of race and national identity and how they affect us emotionally, and the idea of body positivity (in both men and women). In an interview with Adweek, Michael Dubin, CEO of Dollar Shave Club, stated “We’ve sold products out of the shaving category for a long time now, and while we’ve certainly told those products’ stories, it was time for us to weave it all together. We wanted to talk more holistically about who we are as a brand, and what we want to represent in your life”.
The Future of Branded Humor
It is important to note that the campaign keeps the same comedic undertones that first propelled it into internet and advertising fame back in 2011. This is exemplified by its kitschy art direction and the campy effervescence of some of the actors' performances. What’s different this time is that the ad shows how comedy has evolved since the early 2010s, highlighting the benefits of brands capable of developing both a keen sense of humor and a well-rounded empathetic persona. In the same interview as above, Dubin said that while this spot has “an elevated tone and a little more polish” than the brand’s previous campaigns, it still remains true to the comedic ethos Dollar Shave Club has become known for. In “Getting Ready”, Dollar Shave Club proves that blending humor with political meaning is a great way to evoke emotional meaning through meaningful subtexts, gain brand awareness through captivating visuals and smart humor, and, most importantly, become likable.
80% of college-aged kids remembered ads that made them laugh.
Ask any young consumer today about what makes a brand’s marketing strategy appealing and you will likely get the same response: Brands who ditch the standard ideas of marketing are cooler, for they prioritize creativity, emotional depth, and well-timed humor. In cases of corporate humor, it’s often not whether you’re funny or not, but what kind of funny you are. Going for the laughs in your company’s strategy can be a slippery slope, and if not approached correctly can cause serious damage to your brand voice and image. To minimize the risk of this, simply be honest and authentic. If you can’t be “ha-ha” funny at least be “a-ha!” funny; clever is often good enough.