How to Write Funnier Copy with the Rule of 3

How to Write Funnier Copy with the Rule of 3

The Rule of 3 (also called the “triple”) is a copywriting and comedy commandment.

Think about it.

Everything is just punchier, more memorable, and more enticing in threes — whether you’re creating a bullet-point list, ordering scoops at the ice cream shop, or juggling multiple lovers… none of whom know about the others’ existence. 😬

mesmerizing, isn't it?

This GIF is only tangentially related to that last thing, but honestly, how could I not use it

Schoolhouse Rock even did a song about the rule of 3, which is, like, Jesus, so incredibly creepy:


(Scroll down for an even creepier video on the rule of three. Oh my god, who rubber-stamps this stuff??)

So why does the rule of 3 have such power over us?

Psychological secrets behind the rule of 3

Secret #1: We like things with a beginning, middle, and end

Recently, I saw a newbie try his hand at a local standup comedy open mic.

He grabbed the microphone and started telling a story about his roommate walking in on him while he was masturbating.

Aaaand… that was the end of the story.

Highly dissatisfying. (Probably for everyone involved.)

lame

Actual video of the audience reaction

Why? Because this turdburger didn’t tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end! He left off the end and expected the audience to laugh anyway.

But no one was ready to laugh, because we were still waiting for the story to end (and for this dude to get offstage).

There’s a reason that plays often have three acts… a reason that the trilogy is a popular book and film format…

And that shitty, three-word, period-punctuated headlines like “Cutting-Edge. Superior. Amazing” still appear all over the Internet.

Also in the real world:

Hat tip to Digiday

Secret #2: Three is the minimum number required to create a pattern or “streak”

Remember 10th grade geometry, when your teacher pointed out that it takes a minimum of two points to create a line?

Well, it takes a minimum of three things to create a discernible pattern. That’s why, given a brain-teaser like “Find the 4th number in the sequence: 3, 6, 9, ___,” we can figure out the next number.

Having just “3, 6” wouldn’t tell us what to do next.

Interestingly, one study found that “the third repeat event in a sequence is pivotal to the subjective belief that a streak is occurring.”

Put another way, you need to see your boyfriend do the dishes at least three times before you believe he might actually be worth keeping around.

buuuurn

Lol, gender roles, amirite

Secret #3 (ooooh!): A series of 3 offers a concrete “middle” choice

We also like things in threes because offering three items can help anchor the “middle” choice as the best or most popular. This is a useful pricing tactic, and one you’ll see all over SaaS and other service-provider websites.

Secret #4: Three has a naturally satisfying cadence

Listen to any NPR broadcaster read a series of three items. Their voice will lift or lower on the second one.

It’s just a natural inclination to indicate the difference between one, two, and three.

How to use the rule of 3 in funny copy

In general, if you’re writing copy with a series of three, save the funny word or phrase for the last item in the series. That ensures it’ll have the maximum punch.

What’s funny?

Usually it’s something surprising or shocking. Or something that’s the opposite of what you were led to expect (this is called a reversal).

“I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.”

– Jon Stewart

You can also “heighten” throughout a series.

I could do an entire post on heightening (and I probably will… soon).

sooon

My next blog is just over that ice floe

But for now, think of heightening as moving in a clear direction. You can start small and make something bigger and more bombastic, or the opposite — start “normally” and get ridiculously small or insignificant.

You might go from “safety pin” to “knife” to “harpoon cannon”.

Or you might go the opposite direction, from “President of the Galactic Republic” to “2-term Congressperson” to “night janitor at the local high school”.

It’s the relationship between these items that’s funny, not any single item on its own (though I did titter a little when I came up with “harpoon cannon” just now, ‘cause it sounds good. More on funny words and sounds later… ).

I like how improviser Will Hines defines heightening as “hit[ting] a comedic idea several times in a way that obviously gets more absurd as you go.”

(Side note: buy Will’s book, How to Be the Greatest Improviser on Earth. It rules.)

Where should you use the rule of 3?

Aim to lighten the mood with humor in any of these spots in your copy:

Series of examples  — Item 1, Item 2, Unexpected/Absurd Item 3

 

ComparisonsWriting this post is like having my teeth pulled, only I’m both the dentist and the victim.

 

Exaggerations This chair is so old, it probably has grandchildren. It probably uses an AARP discount card. It’s so old, it needs its own goddamn chair to sit down and take a load off.

In intros or lead-ins You know, like I did with this post

 

Remember that 3 is the minimum number required to form a pattern. You don’t have to stop at three.

If you want to hammer home the humor and venture into absurdity, you can continue adding to the pattern, like SNL does in this sketch:

The basketball players in the background are what’s funny in this sketch. They get called out by the director three times, and then we see a series of quick cuts where the background players get more and more ridiculous.

(And did you notice the reversal at the end of the sketch?)

Quick caveat here: if you add more to your series of three items, make sure you don’t let your joke outstay its welcome.

PS. The world’s creepiest video on the rule of 3

Told you I’d give it to you.

How do you usually use the Rule of 3?

Take It From the Experts: HBO’s “Talking Funny”

Takeaways from HBO's Talking Funny

Talking Funny is a 49-minute HBO special featuring Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Louis C.K. sitting around and talking about comedy.

They chat about the moments they first felt like real comedians and what they like and dislike about each other’s work.

Also, they do impressions of each other, which rules.

And while I’d have loved to see *literally any* female or nonbinary comic included, the video is absolutely worth a watch for comedy nerds!

NOTE: Yep, Louis C.K. was part of this discussion. This was filmed before we all knew he was/is a big ol’ creep.

SECOND NOTE: There’s a part of the discussion that includes the N-word around minute 16. The discussion moves to curse words in general at minute 17.

So what can you learn from 4 masters of the comedic craft?

Here are my takeaways. Yours might be different, but that’s why this is my blog + not yours

Different comedians build their acts in different ways — While C.K. and Chris Rock both write a new hourlong act every year, Seinfeld tosses 10-20% of his act each year and replaces it with new jokes

 

Wanna get better? Build on the best material you have — Louis C.K. regularly makes himself use his former closing bit as a new opening bit, “just to fuck myself”

 

Jerry Seinfeld sure likes to talk over people (though we knew this from Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee)

 

You can have a great joke, but if you don’t set it up right, it won’t hit because the audience doesn’t understand the premise. Context is everything.

 

To Ricky Gervais, truly great comedy isn’t about being funny, because some things are always funny (ex. personifying animals). It’s about “going out and doing something no one else can do.”

 

In that same vein, jokes that depend purely on profanity aren’t good enough

 

Chris Rock’s take on racist jokes: “Talk about what [people] do, not what they are

 

Have you watched this special? It’s been on my list forever.

Interested to know what you got from it! Leave a comment and let me know. I promise I’ll actually check the draft comments this time. ????

(Side note: I feel like Seinfeld wakes up in the morning and looks in the mirror and growls, “You’re Jerry Fucking Seinfeld, you glorious bastard.”)

Why Your Brand’s Gotta Be Funny

Why Your Brand's Gotta Be Funny

(Pssst, I’m hoping to turn this into a series of posts about the psychology and functions of humor! Let me know in the comments what other topics you want me to cover.)

LET’S GET REAL NERDY FOR A SECOND.

Why should businesses use humor in their marketing?

Well… let’s look at what the research says.

it's a stampede!

cue everyone leaving

Psychologist Michael Apter suggests that there are two social contexts, or states, that humans switch between:

The telic, or goal-oriented state — AKA when we’re focused on gettin sh** done

And the paratelic, or play-oriented state — AKA when we’re goofing off and making jokes

We switch between these modes all the time throughout the day. (Just think of the last meeting you went to, when someone cracked a joke. Everybody laughed… and then y’all all went back to work.)

Now, these moments might just seem like quick breaks, but this kind of playtime actually serves some super-important social, emotional, and cognitive functions.

For example, research has shown that humor is linked to overall improvements in outlook and attitude. It’s a coping mechanism when times are tough. And it helps people bond together as a group.

All of this seems pretty self-evident from, um, being a human in the world, right?

But for some reason, the idea of being funny just FLIES OUT of most people’s brains when they’re putting their marketing campaigns together.

Which is crazy, because marketing is all about forming a real connection with your customers. So why would you just leave one of your best tools in your arsenal?

Humor helps you…

 Build genuine relationships with your readers or users — you know, like the relationships you have in real life (if you don’t, well, that’s a different issue)

Address potential objections in a lighthearted way, and paint a realistic picture of what people COULD be doing instead

dealforma screenshot

This benefits copy I wrote for DealForma helps readers better picture their life with clean data

Save face in awkward situations — like when you need to ‘fess up to a mistake, or roll out sensitive new pricing or plan updates

Alleviate anxiety in key moments — for instance, when your user might be worried about whether they need to provide a credit card for a free trial

bluetick.io CTA

Fun little click-trigger copy I wrote for Bluetick.io (check it out. It rules)

AND a whole lot more.

Now, there’s obviously way more to all of this — in fact, there are multiple books about the psychology and function of humor in the brain.

I’m barely scratching the surface here… but scratching sure does feel good.

happy lil sloth scratching

Live video from the Punchline office.

Wanna learn more about how humor works in the brain, and how you can leverage it to improve your marketing?

I’m building a course! Sign up below to hear when I launch it:

Blue Ribbon Ecommerce Mastermind

blue ribbon ecommerce mastermind denver

Hey you! Look at your face. It’s a great one. I’m glad it’s reading this blog.

Soooo. Earlier this month, I had the wild honor of speaking at the Blue  Ribbon Ecommerce Mastermind in Denver!

What’s Blue Ribbon?

The Blue Ribbon Ecommerce Mastermind, run by Smart Marketer, is a group of the most successful ecommerce business owners in the world, plus a sprinkling of tip-top agency owners and marketers.

And they’re somehow ALL shockingly talented Ping-Pong players. Like, shocking.

I mostly drank and watched.

Blue Ribbon members sell their own original products (like Panda Planner and Groove Rings), cool shit they discovered in China, auto parts, supplements, you name it.

If it’s genuinely valuable to customers, if there’s a niche for it, someone at Blue Ribbon is probably selling it or about to sell it. They’re prescient AF like that.

Ezra Firestone is the marketing genius and ecommerce biz owner behind Blue Ribbon. * insert beardy man-bun emoji *

He kicked off the 2-day meeting with a rundown of the biggest challenges facing online store owners.

Ezra’s kickoff session was followed by talks from luminary geniuses like Brett Curry, Drew Sanocki, Moiz Ali, Todd Kriney, Molly Pittman, and more.

patrick eckstein, william painter

Please enjoy this totally gratuitous photo of me and William Painter co-founder Patrick Eckstein, wearing WP’s killer shades.

Oh, I spoke too!

I was super-honored to share my talk on humor in marketing (which boils down to why, how, and where in your marketing funnel it pays to be funny).

Check out the killer live sketchnotes the Smart Marketer team was kind enough to arrange for all the speakers — and then send to us after the event!

blue ribbon ecommerce mastermind sketchnotes

Featuring two extremely hairy Vanna Whites!

A couple of book recs for the road

Here are the two books I added to my list after speakers recommended them:

Here’s How to Pick the Perfect GIF

how to pick the perfect gif

People ask me this a lot: “Lianna, how do you sniff out the GIFs you use obsessively in every piece of content you create?”

I shake my head sadly, and think, Oh, you poor sad slob. If you don’t get it now, you never will.

Then I ride off into the sunset on my high horse.

high horse yeee

Look how condescending this horse is!

Obviously, this is a horrible and shitty thing to think or say.

So instead of saying it, I decided to examine the actual thought process I go through when picking a GIF.

And write it down for you. So you never have to hire me. ????

GIFs are the future

True fact: GIFs (graphical interchange format, for all you acronym nerds) are uniquely hilarious.

Precisely because they’re less immersive — and thus less intimidating or time-consuming to enjoy — than videos, and waaaay more visually interesting than plain ol’ paragraphs of text, GIFs fill a singular role in content.

They ask little and deliver a lot. They’re a low-tech way to entertain, illustrate a point, crack a joke, you name it. Everyone should use ‘em.


I used to pronounce GIF with a hard G. Now I pronounce it with a soft G, like the sugary, salty peanut butter my mom wouldn’t buy us.

Why? Because the guy who invented it SAYS it should be a soft G. Respect, y’all.


I’m gonna walk you step-by-step through picking a GIF for your blog or email, using THIS VERY POST as an example.

It’s so meta that we might both implode, like dying stars or Donald Trump’s colon — but let’s see what happens.

First things first: Decide where you want a GIF

To find the ideal place for your GIF, zoom out and look at the entire structure of your document. You’re looking for…

  • Walls of text
  • Spots where you’re hammering home a point
  • And any other spot where you’d like to lighten the mood or provide a moment of levity

When I finished this post draft, I set my screen to 50% so I could see where I needed a GIF. Here’s what that looked like (META WARNING):

how to find the perfect GIF

Also, as I’m writing, if I know there’s a spot ripe for a joke, I’ll add [GIF] in brackets so I don’t have to interrupt my flow to go find one.

I’ll also include any notes about what I think the GIF could be, so I don’t accidentally publish without finding the GIF. Like so:

[GIF: how dare you]

Next, head to Giphy.com

(AHEM. Another reason it’s pronounced with a soft G? Because that means Giphy.com is pronounced “Jiffy”. As in, “Find your GIF in a jiffy.” YOU’RE WELCOME.)

Now you’re here on Giphy, and you’ve gotta decide what to search. This is where it gets tricky, and where most people are just like,

huh???

uh wat

See what I did there?

The secret search sauce

And now, the secret sauce. Consider it my GIF to you. ????

Read the sentence right before the place you’ve decided to insert the GIF.

Right after you read it, imagine making a SHORT, offhanded, under-your-breath joke to a friend next to you. You’re looking for a two-to-three-word phrase, like:

  • Am I right?
  • Oh God
  • How bout them apples??!

Etc.

Then type that phrase into Giphy, and WATCH THE MAGIC HAPPEN.

Depending on how esoteric your search phrase is, you’ll get a page of either directly or tangentially related GIFs. Fair warning: at least 8% of them will contain boobs.

You can also use GIFs to finish a thought, like I did above with the poodle GIF. Advanced users only, please.

So, here I am on Giphy. I’ve decided I need a GIF to finish the sentence “This is where it gets tricky, and where most people are just like… ”

Because I know that sentence would end with “Huh???” if I were writing it, I search “Huh?” in Giphy.

I get these results:

giphy search results

So many quizzical, bemused faces!!

And I pick the poodle head-tilt GIF, as you already knew.

Why did I pick THAT one? Well, a few reasons…

Lianna’s Very Official, Extremely Important Rules for Picking GIFs

  • GIFs must be high-res. Unless they’re REALLY good. And even then, use small or low-res GIFs sparingly. Only one shitty GIF per content piece (please tweet this)
  • No esoteric pop culture or other references. While it’s so, so awesome to use a GIF from The Office because I know my readers love that shit just as much as I do, there’s always a risk of ascribing too much weight or meaning to a GIF that a reader won’t “get”.

    So aim to pick a GIF that’s funny even without knowing what show, movie, or catastrophic life event it’s from. Like this one:
  • zootopia(It’s from Zootopia, but that doesn’t matter.)

 

  • Nothing overly distracting. GIFs that loop for too long run the risk of distracting your reader, so I try to pick shorter loops. I also often eschew GIFs including text, unless the text can conceivably read like an extension of the writing.
  • Nothing racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive or marginalizing. I tend toward the absurd/surreal anyhow, but if there’s ANY chance a GIF would offend your target reader, it’s better to pick a different one.
  • Don’t settle… but also don’t overthink it. The first GIF that stands out to you and meets all these criteria is probably the right one.
  • Pick a few, then whittle it down. Not sure which GIF is right? Open a few in new tabs, and then pick your fave.

That’s it! Only 6 simple rules to keep in mind.


Six rules isn’t simple, you say? Your mind can only hold three rules at a time? Good thing you can hire me to do this for you, then.


If this process DIDN’T work for you, that’s OK. It happens. Here’s how to troubleshoot crappy or nonexistent GIF search results:

Think of a different or related phrase, and search again.

This isn’t as annoying as it sounds, because you’ll find that your first page of Giphy search results will inspire you to make different searches. Sometimes, just a slight phrasing difference (say, from “no thank you” to “no thanks” or even to “do not want”) will turn up the perfect GIF.

Like this one:

perfect gif is perfect

Try this method and tell me what happens

Especially if you’ve thought “Garsh, I just can’t pick a GIF to save my life!” Which I’m sure all of three people planetwide have thought.

ANALYSIS: How Dollar Shave Club Introduces Humor in Its Homepage Copy

Analysis_ Dollar Shave Club

YES, THAT’S RIGHT, IT’S THE SECOND INSTALLMENT OF “UNAUTHORIZED, UNASKED-FOR REVIEWS OF OTHER PEOPLE’S WEB COPY”!

I’m your host, Lianna Patch, and you can read my analysis of Purple’s Seat Cushion Landing page right here if you haven’t already.

Today I’m gonna take you through the current iteration of Dollar Shave Club’s homepage. Like Purple, DSC first went viral with a hilarious ad:

And their branding promises punchy, masculine fun in both their marketing copy and their physical products.

But when I went through DSC’s homepage this weekend, one thing struck me: They play it pretttttty slow and safe when introducing humor into their copy.

Lemme go through why I think they’re taking it slow, since, you know, this is my blog and all.

Here’s the page I’m looking at:

Dollar Shave Club Homepage (as of January 2018)

Click to view a full-size, zoomable version of the annotated page in a new tab. Then scroll down for my thoughts on what DSC is doing, what’s working, and what’s not.

Dollar Shave Club Homepage_Annotated

What Dollar Shave Club is doing on this page

First things first: DSC is currently using its homepage as a sales page for its Starter Sets.

There are 4 calls to action throughout the page. 3 of those link to a landing page with more options for Starter Sets, and one is a direct Add to Cart link.

There are a few reasons why DSC would choose to treat its homepage as a sales page:

  1. Homepages are overrated and usually poorly executed  — “Let’s put everything we do right here on the homepage and make people scroll until they get bored!!11eleventy”
  2. DSC knows most people become customers through the Starter Set, and they want to make that acquisition easier
  3. They know they can more easily show value through their actual service than here on this page, so they’re gunning to get signups/sales as soon as possible.

OR MAYBE IT’S ALL 3! Or maybe there is another Mystery Reason (TM)!

We in agreement? Cool. Let’s check out the page section by section.

Section 1 (Hero: “Experience Butter with the Classic Shave Starter Set”)

The first thing you notice when you land on the homepage is the hero section video, which I ADORE.

It very quickly turns from a standard product shot (a hand reaching for shaving cream — excuse me, shave butter) to a comedic display of what using the product presumably feels like.

AKA riding a creamy Slip N’ Slide to Shave Heaven, where a distinguished older gentleman gently and sweetly blows the beard right off your scruffy face. I’ll take it.

 

Now, this video is our first clue that DSC is aiming to brand itself with humor.

And it’s our only clue. Because the copy in this hero section is straight-up boring by itself.

Imagine the video didn’t load when you visited this page, for one reason or another.

All you’d see is “Experience Butter [with the Classic Shave Starter Set].” What does “Experience Butter” even mean?

The subhead does a good job of explaining and clarifying the offer — “Get Shave Butter and a month supply of our best razor for $5” — but that big headline is a waste of valuable space.

Regardless of the video or image in the hero section, the copy here needs to be able to stand on its own!  And right now, it’s as wobbly as a newborn fawn.

You’re welcome

Without even needing to be funny about it, DSC could have easily picked a more evocative headline; say, “Slip Into a Smoother Shave”. (Y’all can have that one. It’s free.)

So why doesn’t Dollar Shave Club go balls-to-the-wall with humor copywriting right away?

Well, because this is a homepage. They’re getting traffic from all different sources here, and not all of those visitors will know who DSC is or what they sell.

It’s better to be clear up front than potentially confusing a significant portion of that traffic — even at the risk of being boring, which the current hero section copy totally is.

Onward, noble steeds!

Section 2 (Offer: “A Starter Set is the ideal way to start”)

This section doubles down on the offer presented up top: Here’s what you get, here’s what it costs, and here’s what you’re signing up for. Pretty straightforward stuff.

Dollar Shave Club Homepage_Annotated_3

Again, there’s a wretchedly lazy header that isn’t working as hard as it could be. “A starter set is the ideal way to start.”

YOU DON’T SAY.

Quoth the Raven, “That shit was real dumb.”

To avoid this repetition (and redundancy), DSC shoulda gone with something like, “Your smoother shave starts here.” Or… “The Starter Kit is your key to a silkier shave.”

Look, I know it’s not Dickinson, but it’s better, OK?

Then we move on to a smaller section — let’s call it 2A — where readers get the deets on the Starter Kit and everything it contains month to month.

I’m not sure why there’s not more info available (like, in a hover or accordion or dropdown) about each of the included items.

Especially the Bathroom Minutes, since I’m guessing not a lot of people can intuit that that it’s a tiny, poop-pun-filled newspaper that DSC sends out with each of its cartridge refills. Why not specify?? It could be a selling point for… some people. 

But OK, they want to keep the page as uncomplicated as possible. Sure. Fine. Next.

Section 3 (Benefits: “3 reasons to try DSC”)

Another lazy swing and miss for this headline. Yes, it’s clear. But it’s also soooo boring.

A simple tweak could make this more persuasive — again, without even needing to inject humor:

“3 reasons to try DSC”  —> “Why should I try DSC?”

Putting this header in the reader’s voice helps the copy relate to what the user is probably asking him- (or her)self at that moment.

Notice how it’s “Why should I”  — not “Why should you,” which is how the original version is phrased (“3 reasons [why you should] try DSC”).

Make it about the reader, y’all

But here’s the interesting thing… this is the section where we start to see some flavor coming into the copy. Not in the headers — that might be too risky! — but in the body copy, right at the end. Just the way you might try to coax a friend into coming to a party when you know she’d rather stay at home in her footie pajamas.

We also get our first real, concrete, funny image: “level 9 yogi flexibility”.

Sadly, this is one of only three such “word pictures” that DSC paints on this page. (First person to find the other two gets a pat on the head from me and a hi-res photo of my cat lying upside down!

Actually, y’all can just have that photo now. You’re welcome.)

Such floof. Much relax!

Section 4 (The we just remembered this was a homepage, so here’s some content, we guess section: “We want more than just your body”)

Readers who have been following the thread of this homepage might do a double-take upon getting to this section, which seems like DSC’s marketing team remembered that homepages are supposed to offer something for everyone, so they threw up a bunch of blog links.

More subpar headline and subhead writing here. “We want more than just your body” is vague, awkwardly phrased, not really about the reader, and doesn’t connect with the subhead below–which is thus given the unfair burden of explaining that hey, DSC also runs a blog. 

I do like those intentionally gross blog thumbnail illustrations, though.

Section 4 (FAQ: “So what’s the catch?”)

Aha! LOOK THERE! A headline written from the user’s point of view! Thank glob.

We’ve finally reached the point where the copywriter(s) who wrote this page were allowed to start having some real fun. Either that, or they started drinking.

It’s been about 8 years. Time for another Mad Men GIF.

The way these FAQs are written is the tone we’ve WANTED from DSC, the tone they HINTED at throughout this page, dangled, and then snatched away.

Oh, to savor this major tone shift now, in the expanded accordion FAQ section! So far down the page!

Why? If someone has read this far, chances are they’re open to copy that takes a few more risks in trying to get their attention. Plus, the extra-sassy copy in some spots will feel like a reward to careful readers. 

TL;DR

Throughout the page, Dollar Shave Club graaaadually introduces humor into its copy. It gets fully up to its normal, buoyant self by the very bottom. DSC takes the conservative approach to homepage humor, and I get that.

Unfortunately, the last CTA comes in like a wet fart, with an extra line that makes the ‘Club look more anxious than confident. But hey, sometimes all you need is a good editor.

What do y’all think of this page?

And whose copy should I tackle next?

FACE PUN(CH): You’ll Never Think About Puns the Same Way Again

Humor Copywriting and Puns

There is no sweeter sound in the world than the long, sighing groan that follows a truly magnificent pun.

You lay it down. You wait a millisecond (OK, sometimes longer).

And then you get the crinkled-up disgust face and the “AUUUUGHHH.”

Puns as aggression? Nahhh

Bret is disappointed in you.

But it turns out some humor theorists (one in particular) don’t find that sound so sweet.

Let me introduce you to Charles Gruner, who literally made it his life’s work to argue that fun actually = pain.

I’m oversimplifying a bit, but basically, Gruner’s theory of humor is that jokes are a form of “playful aggression”. With the exception of what he calls “good-natured play,” Gruner suggested that humor is a contest or competition. Meaning every joke results in a winner and a loser.

no waaaay brah

Basically, Gruner saw puns as a game of intellectual oneupmanship. In this light, a post-pun groan is actually the sound of your “opponent” (or in my case, victim) audibly admitting defeat.

YEP. Sounds like a real fun guy to invite to your birthday, right?

In his excellent textbook The Psychology of Humor, Rod A. Martin explains Gruner’s theory when it comes to a “duel of wits,” like a pun:

Puns in everyday conversation may be a way of “defeating” the listener, but canned jokes in which the punch line is based on a pun are seen as a way of enabling the listener to share feelings of mastery and superiority along with the joke-teller. The ability to “get the joke” gives the listener a feeling of superiority and victory, presumably over hypothetical others who might not be able to understand it, perhaps due to their lower intelligence. Thus, according to Gruner, all jokes, no matter how seemingly innocent, contain a contest, a winner, and a loser.”

Really makes you think about all the dad jokes you grew up with, right?

ice cold, dad

That was cold. Stone cold.

As interesting as it is, Gruner’s theory isn’t the prevailing school of thought among most modern-day psychologists studying humor.

Many theorists now agree that humor plays a huge number of roles in social interaction, cognition and understanding, and emotional experience —to name just a few of its many sparkly facets.

For levity, it sure does have a heavy job to do!

*rimshot*

I heard you groan all the way over here. AND I LOVED IT.

I’ll be writing more about theories of humor and how it affects and influences us in the future. But for now, I just wanna know: What’s your favorite pun?

ANALYSIS: How This Killer Ecommerce Sales Page Uses Humor to Convert

If you’ve read a single sentence on PunchlineCopy.com, you already know I’m deeply (probably overly) invested in how humor, jokes, and personality can shape conversions and influence consumer decision-making.

TERRY CREWS Y'ALL

But recently, I thought to myself,

“Hey, you know what? Maybe other folks don’t intrinsically love this idea as much as you. Maybe you need to SHOW them how and why humor works so well in marketing.”

So now I’m going around the Internet and finding hallmark examples of brands using humor strategically.

I’m screenshotting those emails and landing pages, annotating them, and painstakingly analyzing them right here on this homely little blog — so you can start to get where I’m coming from.

First up, we’ve got Purple.

Y’all probably know Purple. It’s the super cohesively branded mattress company that went viral with ads like this:

And their landing pages don’t disappoint, either. In keeping with the brand’s zany, carefree style, Purple’s landing pages use humor in combination with tried-and-testing copywriting best practices.

Here’s the Seat Cushion page, in all its glory:

Purple Seat Cushion Sales Page

Click to view a full-size, zoomable version of the annotated page in a new tab. Then scroll down for my thoughts on what Purple is doing and why it works.

Purple's humor conversion copywriting
Click to open the image in a new tab and zoom in for the comments.

What Purple is doing right on this page

Conversion-focused writers and UX specialists will notice the page design and layout first:

  • It’s segmented into easy-to-parse sections…
  • and features not one, but TWO videos showing the product in use.
  • Bullet points and illustrations abound, making the page easy to take in. No walls of text here.

Plus, the copy asks and answers questions, showing readers that Purple truly understands its target market’s problems and has an effective solution on hand.

Check, check, check.

(As for why there are potentially distracting nav menu and footer links, the jury’s out. My guess? Purple’s analytics showed that without the opportunity to explore other pages of the site, visitors bounced — so they offered ’em the ability to click around and come back to this page when ready.)

Dig a little deeper into the copy, and you’ll notice three seriously strategic ways Purple is augmenting its already savvy presentation with humor.

How humor gives Purple the edge

1. Funny and varied word choice (plus wordplay!)

Did you even KNOW there were so many words for butts in the English language? I didn’t.

In nearly every headline and sentence of body copy, Purple says “butt” in a new and different way: derriere, tail, duff, wazoo…

They also gleefully take advantage of low-hanging joke opportunities like “pain in the butt,” and give their sentences a playful cadence by using alliteration, like “precious posteriors” and “squeeze and suffocate”.

Why does this work?

Using jokes and different words to describe the same part of the anatomy keeps the reader interested, entertained, and reading further — if for no other reason to see how many unique ways you can say “butt” (19 on this page, for the record).

2. Anthropomorphization

Wow, what a long, boring word for “attributing human form or personality to”.

Purple anthropormorphizes — what else? — the reader’s butt. We see this happen right away in the hero section headline and video, where a butt is endowed with the human emotion of sadness.

It even gets its very own “Sad Butt Diary” to catalog the many injustices that plague it.

Purple's humor conversion copywriting

A bit further down, Purple suggests that our butts have been “neglected” by uncomfortable chairs (effectively anthropomorphizing those chairs in the process, too).

Why does this work?

By mentally endowing a part of our own body with its own, distinct emotions, we can more effectively empathize with that part.

Only the most mindful among us has the elastic mental perspective it takes to examine our own thoughts, feelings, and sensations from afar — but given a little mental distance from our butts, we just might start to see them more objectively.

And thinking of your butt as a separate entity also makes it easier to rationalize giving dat booty a nice present. After all, you can deal with being uncomfortable. It’s just you (and you’ve probably dealt with worse).

But when it’s your butt that’s bummed? And that butt feels like a “precious” friend whom you’ve been overlooking?

Well, you’d be a monster to ignore your friend’s complaints, wouldn’t you?

3. Strategic deployment of humor

I saved the best for last.

One of the most common questions I hear (after “Is that your natural hair color?”) is, “But where and when should I use humor in my marketing?”

My answer is the same as it is to many other copywriting questions: It depends.

It depends on your branding, your prospect’s stage of awareness of your product, your risk tolerance for pushing the humor envelope, and a whole host of other things.

BUT(T).

In general, you want to cut “cleverness” in favor of clarity. That’s a pretty hard-and-fast copywriting rule.

So it follows that you’d want to eschew humor in the parts of your marketing that are closest to the sale.

Look at where Purple is laying off the jokes and just presenting the facts, albeit in the same lively tone:

Purple's humor conversion copywriting

Why does this work?

By avoiding potentially distracting readers with humor — or accidentally over-easing readers’ anxiety, some of which is necessary to motivate a sale — Purple keeps the focus on its… bottom line.

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