Puns have a long-standing history in marketing, advertising and public relations campaigns – and when done right can be a viral moment waiting to happen. If done poorly or without forethought, a brand can be the laughingstock of the internet.
Punny Product Marketing — Ben & Jerry’s
A shining example of successful pun usage is seen in the renowned brand, Ben & Jerry’s. Established in the 1970s, the company ingeniously incorporates pun-filled names into its product offerings. They started with flavors like “Wavy Gravy,” a playful nod to the persona associated with the 1960s Woodstock Festival, who today runs a non-profit focused on children’s welfare.
Throughout the years, Ben & Jerry’s has delighted customers with imaginative flavor names such as “Oat of this Swirled,” “Lights! Caramel! Action! ™”, “Churray for Churros,” and “Cake my Day,” among others.
(Photo source: Winneconne, WI – 12 May 2016: Container of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Cake my day flavor on an isolated background — Photo by homank76)
This strategy worked for the brand because it remained authentic to the company’s history, appealed to its audience’s interests, and contributed to total sales growth as the brand’s popularity continued to skyrocket across the globe.
Other examples of brands that have used puns effectively in marketing campaigns include:
MailChimp (Email Marketing Platform):
- “Our platform is bananas and our users go ape for it! Join the chimp squad and swing into successful email campaigns.”
Lay’s Potato Chips:
- “We’re not just any chip off the old block – we’re the crunch that packs a punch! Grab a bag and get ready to snack-sperience a taste explosion.”
- “Espresso yourself! Wake up and smell the coffee with our brew-tiful selection of handcrafted drinks. Your daily grind just got a whole lot better.”
- “Power on! Our batteries keep you charged up and ready to tackle life’s challenges – no low-energy moments here.”
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts:
- “Donut worry, be happy! Indulge in a hole lot of sweetness with our glazy, sprinkled, and filled treats that are dough-lightful.”
Charmin (Toilet Paper):
- “Enjoy the go with our softest toilet paper! We’re on a roll to keep you feeling comfy and confident.”
- “Home is where the IKEA is! Discover flat-out fantastic furniture and home goods that’ll make your space uniquely you.”
- “Sail into savings! Our clothing deals are as fresh as a sea breeze – dress sharp without making waves in your wallet.”
The effectiveness of puns in marketing can vary based on the brand’s personality, target audience, and the overall message they want to convey. Remember that puns should align with the brand’s voice, values, and target audience to have the right impact. A well-executed pun can add a playful and memorable touch to a campaign, making it more engaging and shareable.
However, in the current ‘cancel culture’ era, brands are hesitant to play into these humor-backed campaigns, worrying they may miss the mark so profoundly the campaign comes off as tone-deaf and offensive. Another consideration, some may be of the opinion that puns are comparable to “dad-jokes” or cheesy gimmicks to attract and retain customers.
Under Water – Lessons from Airbnb’s Pun That Just Sunk
Airbnb, a globally recognized platform for short and long-term stays and experiences, offers a lesson in missing the pun mark. The company’s 2017 “floating world” campaign featured an image of a house atop water, promoting lodgings and attractions related to water themes. This campaign was delivered over email to subscribers and advertised several water-themed homes/attractions encouraging customers to “stay above water,” and “live the life aquatic with these floating homes.”
Now, while this may seem like a harmless gimmick – the issue was the timing of the email campaign. It launched on August 28, 2017 – coinciding with Hurricane Harvey, which was claiming multiple lives, and destroying thousands of homes across the state of Texas.
According to an article by International Business Times, those who received the email on August 26 took to Twitter to voice their criticism of the campaign and it’s unfortunate timing, saying it’s “maybe not the best email to send to Texas this morning”.
The core lesson from this incident is that the use of puns wasn’t the problem – rather, it was the lack of consideration for cultural relevance. The campaign could have been postponed given the unfolding hurricane situation, making it more suitable for content for the next quarter or even year.
So, how does a brand incorporate puns into a campaign – without the fear of being ‘cancelled’ and remaining true to its voice? Ask yourself or your team these questions before incorporating them into your next campaign.
- Relevance and Enhancement: Does the pun complement the campaign or its theme? It should serve as a clever and witty addition rather than dominating the campaign’s essence.
- Tone and Authenticity: Does the pun align with the brand’s voice and authenticity? Balancing these aspects is crucial – integrating puns shouldn’t alienate existing customers while resonating with newer demographics.
- Cultural Relevance: Is the pun sensitive to any current news or events in the world?
Answering this is easier said than done, but keeping a pulse on current events and being ready to pivot direction is crucial to a successful campaign.
Here’s the recipe for success – don’t be frugal when sprinkling puns into your campaigns as long as you are adding them in an appropriate, tasteful and authentic fashion. Need help cooking up success for your brand’s use of puns? Reach out to NST to help you get it right the first thyme. We’ll make sure the results don’t come out half-baked. (chef’s kiss)