When I worked for Serta, I lived in Chicago, just down the street from The Second City on Wells Street. The Second City is a world-famous comedy house and training center that can brag about alumni like Bill Murray, Chris Farley, John and Jim Belushi, and Dan Akroyd – just to name a few.
In addition to putting on incredibly funny shows, The Second City has a corporate communications group that works with companies to help them think outside the box and find humor in their industry or products. The creative session set-up is great: You get six actors, a piano player, writers, director and private black box theater with a full stage. When you turn this combination of talent loose in your world, look out! They will take you on a crazy ride. Going into our day-long session, we hoped The Second City Communications team could help us find and create some comedy that we can unleash in 2012. It was a remarkable experience and here’s what we learned:
1. Intentionally seek outside input. Our time in Chicago was deliberate. I believe it’s important to look for input from outside of my world. The comedians and writers we worked with thought about the bedding industry in a MUCH different way and we had some real “Aha!” moments. We saw our products from new angles and expanded our thinking. Ask people unrelated to your industry how they would make an impact and you’d better prepare yourself for some interesting, eye-opening input.
2. Explain your goals to a stranger. A comedy-focused creative session forces you to get your strategy in order and clearly define and communicate your goals. When you have to explain your business to a stranger, you may just realize how wrong your thinking is. Seeing it through someone else’s eyes can be revealing!
3. Interesting and humorous can have an impact. Much of what we do in the bedding industry is just BORING! If you want to make an impact, which I keep talking about, then you need to make it interesting to your audience. Using humor is going to allow us to engage our audience in a memorable way and attack problems differently than we ever have.
4. Funny is not always funny. What makes a joke work? Have you ever botched the punch line? Me too. Humor isn’t always funny! That’s why we hired a team that is trained in the art of comedy. If you don’t hire a professional to help you out, your so-called funny campaign might end up appealing to the wrong audience. I remember the challenges we ran into with writing The Virgin Mattress. We learned that writing, filming and editing comedy are fine arts. What’s funny to one person may be uninteresting to another. In the end, The Virgin Mattress was successful because it helped us achieve our business goal. In retrospect, I can see the value of teaming with professional comedians.
Using humor as a stand-alone tactic doesn’t always make sense, but if you stir it in with other approaches, you could find the sweet spot. There is a lot of risk in trying to be funny, so be careful. If done well, it can make what you are selling a lot more interesting. Who doesn’t like to laugh, right?
As a special bonus for reading this blog, check out this video with Michael Starcevich and Ronald Feldman from The Second City Communications team.
“A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It’s jolted by every pebble on the road.” – Henry Ward Beecher
What’s the funniest commercial you’ve ever seen? Can you think of a product that used humor to drive its message? Share with me in the comments section!