There's always been a certain joy to clever and humourous communication from organisations, with light-hearted displays often a welcome change of pace for a public that can be bored or put-off by dry corporate language.
It's a trend that's gained even more momentum thanks to the rise of enterprise social media use. Not only are businesses acknowledging the value in communicating corporate affairs directly with through these channels, many are realising that light-hearted content can engage viewers. On top of this, there's the added potential to have something go viral and extend well beyond an organisation's regular audience.
However, can organisations lose sight of their original goals by focussing solely on humour the appeal of going viral?
Organisations risk taking clever communications too far
A study from the University of Maryland found that while inventive and original communications can deliver benefits to organisations, it can be easy to overdo it. In these cases, not only does the humour miss the mark, so does the underlying message organisations are trying to get across.
The reason many creative communication campaigns fall flat, however, isn't always because the joke isn't funny or the message is too clever. Instead, the study found that modern audiences simply do not have the time to process everything that's contained in some pieces of content. While the research specifically focussed on ads, the lessons are just as valuable for external communications of any description.
"A lot of advertising is being tested over fairly long exposures – several seconds, or even 10 to 20 seconds," says Professor Michel Wedel. "The problem is that ads that do well in that scenario may not do well in short exposures."
This short exposure performance is particularly valuable for online communications, where the researchers found people often deliberately avoid content that may be intrusive.
Balancing humour with engagement
While many organisations have found success with humourous posts that have gone viral, a recent post from Ogilvy PR noted that the quest to follow suit can harm a company's reputation. Although there is value in expanding into new markets with viral content, it's not a phenomenon that can be easily controlled and it's almost impossible to pick exactly how an audience will react.
Instead, the organisation discussed the benefits of offering communications that are consistent in their quality, a strategy Ogilvy PR has a more long-term focus.