There’s this damaging belief in some eCommerce circles that buying online is a sacred process.
That every step of the process, from PPC ad to product page to post-checkout order confirmation, should be orderly and official and officious — because placing an online order is a Big Deal that requires Real Trust.
And, well, because people are not as smart as we’d like to think they are.
But, while it IS crucial to help your prospects and customers understand that your store is trustworthy, it’s also important to show that your brand has a personality.
Make it fun to shop at your store, and your customers will buy. And buy again. And tell their friends. This, my friend, is why you need to put humor to work for your eCommerce store.
Humor works like a big ol’ handful of Skittles in your brain
If you’ve been alive and sentient for at least a few years, you already know that laughter is rewarding. It’s enjoyable to make other people laugh, and (obviously) to laugh yourself.
But do you know the psychological basis behind humor? And the different emotional effects that laughing provokes in the brain?
If you do, you can probably skip the rest of this post. Go pet a furry animal or get coffee or something.
At its most basic, humor stimulates feelings of happiness and satisfaction.
Don’t believe me? WELL HOW ABOUT SOME FACTS, THEN.
The Nielsen-Norman Group found that humor is one of the most universally appealing ways to get your message across, especially in Western markets.
Humor also relieves anxiety. The “tension relief” theory holds that we’re all just tightly wound stressballs (this checks out) — so laughing at a joke every now and then is a much-needed release.
Now, any eCommerce marketer worth their salt knows that tension is a critical part of the persuasion process. After all, you have to create a feeling of urgency to get someone to buy, otherwise they’d never do it!
But there are two types of tension at play in eCommerce. There’s the tension I just mentioned, which is a necessary urgency to trigger an action. And THEN there’s the tension underlying the risky business of buying.
Shoppers are thinking things like, “What if this item isn’t worth it? What if I can’t get my money back? What if my credit card info gets stolen?”
And THAT moment, pals, is the perfect time and place to introduce a little levity. A simple joke can assuage those frantic “what-ifs” and reassure your prospects that you’re trustworthy.
All of this ties into the humanizing effect of writing funnier copy. You’ve probably heard the old, tired adage, “People buy feelings, not things.”
Well, it’s old and tired cause it’s TRUE.
If you make your customers laugh, they’ll want to buy more of that feeling. They’ll want to stick around for your email marketing. They’ll want to share your ads with their friends. Because humor is one of the easiest ways to create virality.
“Comedy is a tool of togetherness. It’s a way of putting your arm around someone, pointing at something, and saying, ‘Isn’t it funny that we do that?’ It’s a way of reaching out.”
– Kate McKinnon
One quick note: We’re focusing on product descriptions here
Hey, before you dig further into this post like an overcaffeinated truffle pig… there’s one thing I should mention.
There are SO MANY places throughout your purchase funnel/customer journey/whatever you want to call the dang thing where humor can play a helpful role.
From getting cold prospects’ attention with video ads that go viral (looking at you, Harmon Brothers) to sassing them on Twitter (if you haven’t yet, you need to check out MoonPie), your brand can crack jokes whenever, wherever.
Do you really not know why https://t.co/QmAtHppelS
— MoonPie (@MoonPie) September 17, 2018
But in the interest of not asking you to read an entire book right now, I’m going to focus on just one spot in this post: the all-important product description.
You know, product description copy — the stuff on the product page that tells prospects more about the thing they’re looking at, with the idea that they decide to buy it.
It’s one thing that virtually all eCommerce stores have in common… and it’s one of the best places to crack a joke for a dose of conversion-boosting, anxiety-reducing neurotransmitters.
How to pin down your brand’s sense of humor
Obviously, there are lots of different types of humor in the world, and different people appreciate different jokes.
While you might find it hilarious that a train full of poop sat in a tiny Alabama town for two months, your grandma might be grievously offended by that same news item (or just totally bemused).
So it’s crucial that the tone and content of your funny product descriptions match what your potential customers want to read.
You can make this magical match happen by (drumroll please…) doing customer research! Here’s my go-to book for everything you need to know about this kind of research. The insights you’ll glean from actually asking your customers the right questions are more valuable than gold, or a box of Lucky Charms with only marshmallows. (Hey, a girl can dream.)
Yep, qualitative customer research is the quickest way to figure out what will tickle your customers’ funny bones, and what jokes or topics you should avoid.
Ask your subscribers and customers what they think is funny — or just start experimenting with a joke here and there in your product descriptions.
Here are a few styles of humor to use as a jumping-off point:
- Goofy and wholesome — Think Foot Cardigan or Dollar Shave Club
- Dark and morbid — Think Allstate’s “Mayhem” character
- Highbrow and witty — Think Grey Poupon
- Lowbrow and raunchy — Think Clorox’s “Bleachable Moments” campaigns
- Absurd and surreal — Think Old Spice and MoonPie
Old Spice is one of the best-known examples of absurd humor in consumer products, for good reason.
When in doubt, I tend to aim for playful humor with a tinge of absurdity, because that’s what comes most naturally to me.
Another helpful rule? Punch up, never down.
“Punching up” means that if you poke fun at something, make sure it’s something or someone that’s more powerful than you or your brand. So, for example, making fun of Trump is fine; making fun of the homeless is not.
What to joke about in product descriptions
So now you’ve got an idea of the style of humor that will fit your brand and please your prospects. And it’s time to… well… write some actual jokes.
But what should you joke about? I’ve got a few guidelines to keep you from going wrong.
Avoid jokes about…
- Your product’s materials or origins — No matter how well-intentioned, if you so much as hint that your product isn’t well-made or ethically sourced, your customers will take it as the truth — and that’ll hurt conversions
- Your competitors — Naming your competitors and poking fun is just an invitation for a hot, steaming lawsuit. BUT there is a way to do this! See the “Pitfalls of other solutions” bullet below.
- Your customers themselves — Not to say it can’t be done. But with few exceptions, poking fun at your prospective customers introduces friction between them and your product or brand. And as we all know, friction = bad.
Exceptions to this rule include brands like Cards Against Humanity, which can get away with being downright and offensive because its target market (me!) just eats that sh** up:
Along with calling past customers “sucker” and “consumer,” Cards Against Humanity takes a… transparent approach to promotional marketing with subject line “Here Comes Another Holiday Stunt!”
Instead, aim to joke about:
- Your product’s benefits — A little hyperbole goes a long way. Will your product turn the customer into a superhero? Help her feel like she can crush it at work? When you’re riffing on benefits, make sure it’s clear you’re exaggerating… so your denser prospects don’t take things literally.
Here’s a great example of exaggerated benefits from Old Spice:
Another fun thing to do along these lines is add jokey disclaimers, ex. “WARNING: this product may make you smell TOO good. Proceed at your own risk”.
- Pitfalls of other solutions or competitors — Since you’ve obviously done a bunch of in-depth qualitative customer research, you already know your prospects’ concerns with competing products.
Use that research to your advantage by including a jokey line like, “Bonus: Our liquid eyeliner won’t smear, rub, or flake for 12 full hours… meaning you won’t look like a sleep-deprived raccoon by the end of the night.”
- Your hapless employees — Want to humorize and humanize your brand at the same time? Poke fun at a scapegoat for a “mistake”. Here’s how hilarious toilet paper brand Who Gives a Crap does it:
- Normally boring details like shipping or delivery — One of my personal favorite spots to place a joke in product description copy is at the end of a series of items, or in the traditionally staid “Details” bullet points.
This allows you to take advantage of a reversal of expectations, which is surprising and delightful — AKA exactly how you want to make customers feel!
Here’s how I added a dash of unexpected delight in the details for ring retailer Manly Bands:
I also like the way furniture shop Joybird clarifies shipping policies around geographic areas that are difficult to access, such as “islands, mountain residences, or lairs located in volcanoes”:
Worried about going too far too fast? Aim for a balance of 80% straightforward, informative copy, and 20% lightheartedness.
The results of funnier product descriptions
If you’ve made it all the way down here, you’re probably screeching “JUST TELL ME HOW THE JOKES MAKE ME MORE CASH, LIANNA!”
And you know what, Carl? I hear you. I hear you loud and clear.
I’ve got some heartening news in the form of a brand-spankin’-new case study from my lovable clients over at Manly Bands.
They sell rings, but more than that — they’re goofballs and they want to attract goofy customers who appreciate a good joke and a great wedding band. So they hired me to punch up a few of their product descriptions.
One of my favorite descriptions was for a handsome ring called The Journeyman. Here’s the copy I put together:
“Grandpa, where did you get that dope ring, and can we have it?” – Your future heirs.
Meet The Journeyman: one of our favorite rings here at Manly Bands.
This fine piece of hardware melds some of our choicest materials — durable tungsten carbide, genuine deer antler, and real turquoise — into one badass piece of jewelry that says, “Yeah. I’ve been there.”
The Journeyman is steadfast. Enduring. Like your grandpa’s old woodworking tools, it’s built to last and always up to the job.
It’s grounded in wood and horn, with a glint of blue brightness to remind you that hey, life’s an adventure. Don’t play it safe.
And while The Journeyman always stands out, it never looks out of place — whether you’re scaling a mountain or driving a sweet-ass convertible through Milan.
- Tungsten Carbide & 18K Rose Gold Plated — Super-durable, scratch-resistant tungsten carbide gets a loving caress of rose gold around the outside. Like a lingering hug, but not creepy.
- Inlay of genuine Turquoise, Deer Antler and Koa Wood
- 8mm Wide — The most popular ring width for men. We’re not making this shit up.
- Slightly Domed Design with Comfort Fit — Comfy enough to forget you’re wearing it, until you get yet another compliment
And here are the results from Manly Bands’ humor copy investment
Of 4 total product descriptions I wrote, 3 increased both add-to-cart conversions and purchases! (The fourth tanked, and we’re still trying to figure out why. #mystery #intrigue #ecommerce)
- Product #1 saw a 196% increase in add-to-cart conversions, and a 20% increase in purchases
- Product #2 saw a 17% increase in add-to-cart conversions, and a 98% increase in purchases
- Product #3 saw a 67% increase in add-to-cart conversions, and a 95% increase in purchases
I believe this is what’s referred to in law enforcement circles as a STRAIGHT-UP MURDER.
OK, you’re officially primed to hack the ha-ha.
So get out there, write funnier product descriptions, and let me know how it goes!