The Benefits – and Avoidable Pitfalls – of Humor in Asia-Pacific Corporate Communications
Corporate communications that incorporate humor should target to make their message more memorable by bringing a smile to audiences while avoiding being too forced. Humor helps content stand out to audiences that are spoilt for choice, with 70 million new WordPress blog posts alone appearing each month.
When incorporating humor into corporate communications, care needs to be exercised. Humor should not be interpreted as lacking tact, professionalism or cultural sensitivity. Cultural sensitivity is especially important in the Asia-Pacific context as communications campaigns span across different languages and cultures. If you’re second-guessing something, it probably should be cut. It is a good idea to arrange for local audience representatives to review your work to avoid dealing with an unintended (and totally avoidable) PR disaster. For example, D&G launched a video showing an Asian woman fumbling with a pair of long chopsticks as she was eating Italian food in 2018. This video was made to promote a Shanghai fashion show, but the show was canceled after D&G was accused of cultural insensitivity and demeaning chopsticks, a ubiquitous Chinese cultural icon.
It is vital to stay within the brand guidelines to achieve communications objectives. Firefly, a budget airline subsidiary of Malaysian Airlines, launched a “Dump Your Ex” campaign aimed to draw in new customers aged between 25 to 35 years of age, offering a discount and urging them to convert to Firefly from a competitor! A cheeky move for sure, but one that resonated with a younger audience while staying within Firefly’s cheerful and youthful image.
Localized humor also adds a spark to communications campaigns. For example, Adidas brought basketball royalty James Harden, known for his signature beard, on a tour across major Chinese cities to meet basketball fans. In these events, he donned a Chinese opera costume and interacted with the young participants wearing the iconic Harden beard.
These visuals sparked giggles while incorporating the local culture to make the brand more relatable to Chinese audiences. Adidas also sent a press release to amplify the impact of this tour, to optimize audience reach and influence within China. It was a huge win for Adidas with these images featured on local fashion media and sports discussion groups.
Humor can educate audiences and promote brand recall with a smile when they face similar situations in the future. Take airline pre-flight safety videos for instance – many passengers are bored stiff by the same old videos across different airlines. However, Qatar Airways chose to make a different type of safety video titled “A Safety Video Like Never Before”. Based on a football dressing room setting, a “coach” gives a pre-match talk while demonstrating how to fasten seatbelts, stow luggage in overhead compartments and put on a life jacket. With guest appearances of Qatar cabin crew and singing players, it certainly grabbed the attention of most travelers!
To captivate a larger and more relevant audience, Qatar Airways chose to a multi-channel approach beyond social media sharing, with a press release featuring this video and a quote from Senior Vice President Marketing and Corporate Communications, Ms. Salam Al Shawa, “At Qatar Airways, safety is priority one and we want to ensure everyone, including our most frequent travelers, watches our safety briefings. The level of quality and attention to detail in this video is paramount and I am sure the content will both inform and amuse our global passengers of all ages.”
With a well-crafted video and management explaining why they inserted humor into safety briefings, journalists found this release quite newsworthy, featuring it on industry media such as Arabian Aerospace to reach relevant audiences while winning over 100,000 views on YouTube within a month. The next time these travelers are faced with another boring pre-flight safety video, they are likely to recall this Qatar Airways campaign with a smile!
All three examples share common ground. They show the power of humor in relating emotions, cultural contrasts and situations to audiences’ own experiences. Apart from communicating a brand message, these campaigns also humanize a business, letting the outside world understand your team is not just providing a product or service. There are real human beings — just like you — behind the curtain who are not afraid to laugh.
- Humor in corporate communications does not have to leave your audience rolling on the floor laughing. Getting them to crack a smile is enough – don’t overdo it.
- Humor is hard work – it is vital to strike a balance between being humorous, staying on-brand while not offending audiences.
- Carefully curated cultural contrasts, such as James Harden in a Chinese opera costume, can be very funny.
- Mundane, everyday experiences, such as pre-flight safety videos, are ‘moments’ that humorous communications campaigns may feature to encourage brand recall.
- After putting so much work into a great campaign, it is important to reach larger and more relevant audiences. Consider a multi-channel content distribution strategy that incorporates press releases and social media.
This blog post is contributed by Dhavina Sivanesan, Audience Development Executive at PR Newswire. Dhavina joined PR Newswire several months ago as a newbie to the industry. Holding a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communication from SEGi University, she aims to grow and achieve great heights as a media practitioner.