14 thoughts on “Show 9 – Humor Can Be Deadly

  1. Ed

    Really cool…totally agree comedy has it’s realms and the trick is keeping them in check as a marketer! However as an *homo sapien* eat it up, if the satire of humor courses through your veins…that is YOUR blueprint after all!

    1. John Carlton

      Yeah, Ed, it’s a balancing act. I’ve always had an “edge” to my copy, sometimes even writing with a smirk or a wink, but I’ve never risked a sale on a joke or sarcasm. It’s not that tough to be a funny guy and still know when to get serious — you just stay rooted in your prospect’s experience (not your own), and persuade from inside his head, not outside.

      Thanks for the note.

  2. Scott McKinstry

    Great show as always, fellas. This one was a lot of fun to listen to (and you’re conscience is clear: I got home safe.)

    Like you guys point out, humor is a great tool for bonding. The judicious use of it can help you barrel past skepticism and get your prospects to unfold their arms and listen what you’ve got to say.

    But when you use it inappropriately, those doors slam shut and you are branded as An Outsider.

    Humor is a double edged sword.

    I remember a time I felt the pricking end of that sword … back when I was working retail at my college bookstore.

    One day, a group of sorority girls passed through my line, buying big rolls of colored butcher paper to decorate their rooms with. (It happened every year at the same time.) The girls’ conversation was somewhere between inane and jaw-droppingly idiotic.

    When the sorority girls finally pattered away, I turned to my coworker to poke a little fun. My coworker was a temp – though I had worked with her on a few other occasions – and we hadn’t really hit it off yet. I thought I’d make light of what we had just witnessed to break the ice a bit.

    You know – use humor to get past those natural social barriers.

    So I put irony to work: I made some remark about how I was so jealous of those sorority girls … that I had always wanted to join one myself, but they had never let me.

    I was hoping to see a temp from the smirk … or at least an eye-roll in my direction.

    Instead, she stares daggers at me and says: “I don’t think that’s funny.” And she barely said two words to me the rest of the day.

    Belatedly, I realized that my joke could be construed as offensive to the GBLT community.

    I guess I should have realized this … this was in Seattle after all … but it had never occurred to me. And to be honest, it made me irritated. Political correctness strikes again. After all, I was just being absurd – because for me, to want to join a sorority was absurd.

    Well, a few years later I learned that this girl was a transsexual and (last I heard) was going through reassignment surgery.

    Boy, I felt bad. My remark basically mocked her identity as a transsexual (haha, look how ridiculous it is for a boy to want to act like a girl.) Definitely not my intent.

    Now, I hadn’t been trying to sell a product… but I was using humor in the same way: to strengthen a social bond.

    But because I misjudged my audience, my attempts had the complete opposite effect.

    Them’s dangerous waters to navigate. You really gotta know where the shallows and eddies are.

    It kind of makes a good acid test: if you can successfully use humor with your target market, then you really know them.

    So here’s a way to use that test: hop on to a forum where your target market flocks … and tell a joke. If you get a bunch of lol’s, likes, +1’s, retweets, smiley faces, or whatever passes for approval … then you know you’re thinking like your market.

    And if you get banned — or branded as a troll — it’s time to roll up your sleeves and keep researching.

    1. John Carlton

      Ah, “Seattle-landia”. I love the Pacific Northwest, and it’s on my long-range map of possible places to end up someday (if I ever leave the high desert of the Sierra Nevada mountains). But there are strains of stubborn, inane political correctness there that give me pause — I love good arguments, open-minded thinking, and am never shocked by someone with a different view of how to live a good life. I bristle, though, when activists insist I adopt their point of view without question. I’m a very tolerant guy. On the right side of history, in fact, and proud of it… I realize my acceptance of alternative lifestyles rubs so many folks the wrong way today, but I was a hippie way back when, and had my mind opened to breaking the conformist mold so thoroughly, there’s no going back.

      Still, the lack of humor evident with people who have deeply invested their entire self-awareness into some rigid ideology offends me. But you learn to work within whatever framework you’re presented with, as a marketer. Keeps you on your toes (what was hilarious at the bar with fellow writers last night, is offensive to the nice seminar attendees this morning — they aren’t “in” on the joke, and aren’t prepared to see why it’s so funny).

      This is as it should be. You had a lesson delivered to you, and you did the right thing by examining it. Your tool kit is stronger for the experience. Plus, your emotional reaction of “feeling bad” after learning more proves you’re a good guy. Good guys usually get stomped in the real world… but they can still win (even against condensed populations of sociopaths and clueless nerds and bullies and evil fucks) by being malleable, open minded and disciplined at doing the right thing.

      On a final note — I’ve helped a number of folks get through really tough health situations that ended their lives. Relatives, friends, colleagues. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s an integral part of the ride. One of the many lessons I’ve learned is that you cannot predict how someone will face their own imminent mortality. Some get frantic, others resign themselves to going out gently, others dive to the bottom of the morphine drip… and a few get philosophical. My mother told me a joke on her deathbed — she wasn’t happy about leaving us, but she was living right up to the very end on her terms. What a gift — I was brought up in a home rife with laughter and love, and early in my adult fumblings those were the ONLY tools I had in my kit. A sense of the humor about the absurdity of modern life, an embrace of all of it, and the expectation that no matter how bad it gets, there is always a way to look at things that will make me laugh.

      It’s a rare tool. Worth developing, if you don’t have it. Definitely worth passing on, every chance you get.

      Thanks for the story. Keep your sleeves rolled up, Scott…

      1. Scott McKinstry

        Thanks for your thoughts, John. And you’re right – humor can get you through some tough spots. Sometimes it’s a choice between screaming and laughing. I’m grateful to also have grown up in a house that had more of the latter.

  3. Patrick

    Hi John and Kevin,

    Great point: Transparency and honesty sell, you don’t need a great personality or to be funny to be great at selling.

    Heck to create urgency in my face to face sales I have to get into character, a serious character. I mean a serious frown on my face!

    If I’m happy and relaxed, they get relaxed and don’t go into decision mode ( making a decision right now on the spot, is really serious).

    People ask why am I so serious, I say, “it’s my job”
    But I get no simpathy when they find out I can go out and make $1000 in an hour.

    However if I try to joke I could lose the sale.
    Although If I do crack a funny, I need to get straight back into being serious again to win the sale.

    Great insights guys, I really enjoyed the session.


  4. Clarke Echols

    I often use the Geico lizard as an example of corny advertising and the “little pig that cried ‘wee-wee-wee’ all the way home as examples of how NOT to advertise. I had to use my pal Google to figure the pig thing out because I didn’t ‘get’ the joke when the driver told him he was home and could now get out of the car.

    And that stupid Aflac duck — sheesh! My brother’s an Aflac agent and I was telling him I’d seen that stupid duck for years and still didn’t know anything about what exactly the company does. His response: That’s the point. We want you to ask about it at work, and we think it works quite well.

    But I really liked the recent come-back on Geico by E-surance, the subsidary of Allstate with the senior-citizen woman telling all about saving 15% when one of her guests interrupts and says that’s obsolete — that she got her car insurance in only 7-1/2 minutes, and still saved money (though no mention of how much.

    Nice attack on your competitor’s USP tag-line.

    A lot like the hair cream ad on TV back 40 years or so ago when somebody was advertising their product as superior to that “greasy kids’ stuff” (probably Vaseline(R)), and some enterprising guy produced his own product and sold it under the trade name “Greasy Kids Stuff”. Didn’t last. The sponsor of the ads apparently hit him with a copyright violation.

    And the lawyer always win…

    1. John Carlton

      You sound like a cool old-school dude, Clarke. Thanks for the note. I’ll say that while I love the new Jack In The Box ads aimed at stoners (with their late night meal packages), I’m not actually buying tacos at JITBox.

      A few times in my career, my targeted audience has self-selected itself to such an extent that I can be as funny as I care to be, and not harm sales. My first house list, in fact, for the original Rant newsletter, was around 300 hard-core marketing whiz kids who appreciated humor. I made a fortune just being myself, telling the stories I wanted to tell, and creating the courses and coaching programs that spoke my language (outrageous, funny, witty). Outside of that carefully monitored list, I’d be spanked hard by readers who didn’t get the joke. Inside the list, heaven.

      It’s the lesson that overrides all others: Unless you’d bet your life your audience “gets” you, you need to monitor what you write very, very closely. When you write your tell-all book later, you can go balls to the wall. For real profit-producing marketing, though, the audience rules the game…

  5. Ben

    😀 I love the title of your book… It’s funny to recommend it or see the look on people’s face when they ask me what I’m reading…

    1. John Carlton

      Thanks, Ben. I went through some serious shit getting that title through Amazon — they (and a number of colleagues) tried to get me to change it. I was waffling, even, right up to the end. And I probably hurt initial sales, but gutted refunds at the same time: No way can you complain about the writing inside the cover after getting past the title “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together”.

      Good friends were almost crying, trying to get me to change it. Same folks who thought “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” was a bad idea. I may end up on the trash-heap of history, forgotten and ignored… but I’ve done my damn best not to let that happen. How it plays out is up to Fate now…

  6. Barry Friedman

    Wow… listened to the first 3 minutes of this and NEED to hear the rest. So good… I’m one of those guys – http://www.ShowBizBlueprint.com. 32 years in the corporate entertainment market as a professional comedian/juggler and started sharing my success strategies with others.

    Question… any chance of putting up a link to download the MP3 of this? I imagine I’m not the only one that would benefit from hearing this out on a trail, or during a long drive.



    1. James Clouser

      Hi Barry:

      I know… awesome episode, right?

      Thanks for the suggestion. I added a download link for this episode, just below the player.

      James, PI4MM Geek


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