One of the major objectives of any trade show exhibit is to create a lasting impression in the attendee’s mind. After all, if a visitor can’t remember you, how can he give you his business? You also want to create a positive impression, and unfortunately, that’s harder to do than the negative equivalent.
Which brings us to humor. People love to laugh – and they like other people to laugh with them. Witness the almost constant flood of jokes and cartoons that flit across the internet: Proof that humor cannot be stopped. You’ll often find that people go out of their way to remember great jokes, where they’ll never, ever stop to jot down the details of an eye-catching graphic. This makes humor an invaluable marketing tool -–if you can make it serve your corporate objectives.
Some of you are dismissing this idea out of hand. “There’s nothing funny about my product!" I can hear you saying. Well, what’s funny about rental cars? Beer? Car insurance? None of these items are inheriently funny, yet companies in all three sectors have effectively used humor to fix their products in the public eye.
It is important to remember that your trade show campaign should be fully integrated into your marketing plan as a whole. If you are using humor in your television and print media, bring it to the show floor. However, if you are known as a stoic and conservative company, playing for laughs at the convention center will fall flat. Consistency in corporate image is key.
What can we learn from companies that have successfully used humor? There are four key lessons.
Avis Rental Cars “We try harder" campaign centers on humorous scenarios highlighting what would happen if a rental car company wasn’t willing to go the extra mile. They film ridiculous situations, such as an attendant handing out books to customers waiting in long lines, and contrast them with the bright, efficient service a customer could expect from their company. It gets a chuckle – but you’d better believe that when a weary traveler is eyeing the rental car company kiosks at the airport, an image of that book-toting attendant flashes through his mind.
Key #1: Exaggerate the norm. Contrast exaggerated examples of industry ‘norms’ with how your company excels. A restaurant chain that serves large portions could highlight the much smaller servings to be had at the competitor’s. Wendy’s did this very effectively with the “Where’s The Beef?" campaign in the Eighties. Be careful not to explicitly or implicity identify your competitors, or you’ll be hearing from some very angry lawyers.
Remember the Budwiser frogs? How about the lizards? Or the donkey that wanted to be a Clydesdale? Each of these campaigns was phenomenonally successful, yet only tangentially related to the product at hand. Each approach was slightly different. Frogs croaking Bud – wis – er can be inheriently funny, especially if you’ve already had a few brews yourself. It also appealed to the coveted young drinker demographic, as studies have shown an intense brand loyalty among drinkers, generally established in the early twenties. The lizard campaign capitalized on the wry, sarcastic humor enjoyed by Budwiser’s target audience. The donkey campaign tied into the traditional Clydesdale imagery, a strong if staid marketing tool.
Key #2: Know your target audience. Jokes that appeal to one demographic may not work with another. Gen Y shoppers have especially sharp funny bones, and may appreciate dry wit. Tie in your classic marketing efforts whenever possible.
Geico and AFLAC have recently done very well with their talking animal ads. By using the same animals over and over to reinforce the marketing message – after all, that poor duck could surely use some disability insurance of his own by now! – both companies have created a brand awareness second to none. Ask the random person to identify a disability insurance company, and chances are that they’ll tell you about AFLAC. Ask them about another disability insurance company, and you’ll be lucky if they can name even one.
Key #3: Create a character. Create a ‘character’ as part of your brand image. This character should show up EVERYWHERE – including television commercials, on the literature you distribute at the show, in your signage and graphics, and potentially as stuffed animals. The Serta Sheep toys have taken on a life of their own, and each and every one of them goes out with the company name blazoned on the side. That’s humorous marketing at work. Consumers buy these secondary products because of the laugh-factor, and bring a constant advertisement into their home. The influence on subsequent purchasing decisions may be minor, but it is in fact there.
Humor can be a great way to convey your marketing message. Geico has done this very well with the “I saved money on my car insurance by switching to Geico!" series of commercials. Exercise equipment salesmen, politicians, animated characters – all have been pressed into service to recite those ten words. Using different settings keeps the audience engaged, while constant repitition drives the message home.
Key #4: Repetition counts. Remember, consumers need to hear a message at least six times before they’ll recall it easily. The trick is to keep the presentation fresh while the message remains constant.
Comedians world-wide will tell you that humor is a tough business. It’s hard to tell what will make one person laugh and another roll their eyes in disgust. However, if a joke falls flat for a comedian, they simply move on to the next joke and keep moving. If you’ve invested tons of time and money in your humor campaign, you need to know these three things:
1. It must be funny. Test the campaign on objective people. Lots of objective people. If the majority laugh, you’re golden. However, if less than half the people get the joke, drop it.
2. It must be quick. There are great funny jokes that take half an hour to tell. That’s nice. Inflict them on your relatives or when you’ve got a whole room full of trapped subordinates. Customers aren’t going to give you that much of their time. You’ve got half a minute tops to get them laughing.
3. It must reflect well on your company. Ethnic, racial, sexual, and gender based humor has absolutely no place in the corporate world. Perceived slurs – even if they are made in the guise of a joke – will travel around the world as fast as the internet can move, and suddenly your company will have all kinds of attention they don’t want.
Laughing is a lot of hard work, isn’t it? But once you’ve found the right balance, you’ll have an advertising campaign that will draw the crowds into your exhibit – and more importantly, toward buying your products and services.
Written by Susan A. Friedmann, CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, author: “Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies, " working with companies to improve their meeting and event success through coaching, consulting and training. Trade Show Marketing by “The Trade Show Coach" – Susan Friedmann, CSP. For a free copy of “10 Common Mistakes Exhibitors Make", e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ; website: http://www.thetradeshowcoach.com