cut through polarization

Humor as Your Brand Signature

Duluth Trading capitalized on the intrinsic humor of men’s ill-fitting underwear to create a brand signature that is memorable and touching. Don’t laugh off humor as a way to give your brand a defining signature.

Duluth Trading capitalized on the intrinsic humor of men’s ill-fitting underwear to create a brand signature that is memorable and touching. Don’t laugh off humor as a way to give your brand a defining signature.

Duluth Trading makes men’s underwear and women’s tank tops funny. Its owners are laughing all the way to the bank because it turns out humor sells.

Buck Naked Underwear, Free Swingin’ Flannel, Uncramp Your Crouch Khakis and Warm Your Chestnuts Fleece Work Pants are marketed with what you might call cheeky humor. Never too offensive, but clearly and lightheartedly delivering the point. Appropriate because, for some reason, men’s underwear is funny.

The company’s brand personality has connected with male and female consumers. Net annual sales have risen from around $150 million in 2013 to an expected $450 million this year. Year-over-year sales growth has reached as high as 40 percent and should exceed 20 percent in 2017.

Duluth Trading has bucked the retail trend by increasing the percentage of its sales in-store as opposed to online and expanding the number of brick-and-mortar outlets every year.

Other brands use humor, too, to turn a buck. The Dollar Shave Club runs ads implying a conspiracy or incompetence at retail stores to prevent selling shaving gear to would-be customers. In one ad, a man who grabs a razor is shot in the neck with a poison dart by a store clerk. The Club’s launch video in 2012 showed the company CEO riding a pitchfork around a warehouse and cracking jokes. It became a social media favorite.

Allstate Insurance, whose tagline is the “Good Hands” people, used sick humor to underscore its brand value. Through a character called Mayhem, played by actor Dean Winters, Allstate reminds people that “stuff happens” – an accidental portable grill explosion, changing a tire in a downpour and being captive at a dull family gathering because of a dead car battery.

Winters has portrayed a hungry raccoon, a pooping pigeon and fog in Seattle. During a football bowl game, he played a nerd burglar who broke into an actual couple’s home who announced on social media they were going on vacation and sold their belongings online. It was a social media hit and helped Mayhem become as recognizable as Geico’s Gecko and Progressive’s Flo, who not so coincidentally is a comedian.

Infusing humor into your marketing rests on a few basic principles. What you are infusing must be humorous. And it can’t cause offense. Both parts of the equation can be tricky.

In the case of a brand, humor is in the eye of the consumer – that is, the buyer. Discomfort in the crotch may make a man grumpy, but it makes a wife an eager buyer. The Buck Naked underwear ads make women beam and reach for their smartphones.

Offending with humor is as easy as spilling mustard from a hot dog on your shirt. Making people appear like klutzes isn’t flattering, but if you can humorously show that animals, inanimate objects and weather fronts can conspire against you, your audience may laugh as they check out their insurance coverage.

With men growing out beards every day, shaving is a bother, only made worse by the hassle of getting the right razor and shaving cream. Turning this frustration into a cartoon while being offered a chance to have shaving gear shipped to your door would make any man with stubble smile.

Injecting humor into your brand doesn’t have to result in guffaws and belly laughs. All you need to do is earn a chuckle and a little space in a consumer memory. The humor doesn’t need to rival Jerry Seinfeld, just come off as clever, maybe a little offbeat and eye-catching.

Humor can be especially welcome at a time when the news is dour and people are polarized. Laughter is one of the few things that can cut through anger and angst. As long as it doesn’t feed the anger and angst.

Brands should consider humor, but not jump online until the humor has been tested from as many angles as relevant. Know the risks. Adjust accordingly. Keep it straight if in doubt.

However, don’t underestimate a gut feeling. An experienced PR team strongly advised against adding “Killer” to “Dave’s Bread.” Adding “killer” wasn’t necessarily funny, but it became the offbeat defining signature for the brand.

The punchline: Don’t laugh off the use of humor as your defining brand signature.