Funny: Humor Can Work In PPC Ads


Should you add humor to your pay-per-click (PPC) ads, or are PPC ads best left as they traditionally are: concise, informative, and with a straightforward, non-humorous call to action?

One side says yes, and another says, not really.

Marketing professors at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst Thomas Madden and Marc Weinberger have published numerous studies on the effect of humor on ad copy.


One study found that 94% of respondents agreed humor is the most effective at gaining attention and spreading awareness compared to non-humorous ads. Another study found that humorous ads consistently outperform against traditional magazine ads.

Does this mean advertisers should change their marketing strategies to incorporate more humor?

According to international marketing professor for the Europa-University Viadrina, Martin Eisand’s own study, despite the strong positive pull of humorous ads, their persuasive effect is no different from other normal ads. Marketing professors at the University of Arizona, Caleb Warren, and University of Colorado’s A. Peter McGraw, even published their own joint study stating humorous ads can backfire on brand perception.


Humorous Non-PPC Ads

One thing is for sure; sass is not going to appeal to everyone's target market, but that 94% of respondents still signify that a good portion of the population appreciates a good laugh, and here are examples of humorous ads that eventually won big.

1. The Well-meaning Offender

Has anyone ever told you getting hit by a train is one of the dumbest ways for anyone to die? It’s as embarrassing as getting your privates eaten by a piranha. At least, that’s what the message was in the multi-awarded “Dumb Ways to Die” ad.

Audiences usually do not like being mocked, but for some reason, McCann agency’s viral ad successfully mocks their target audience and in the end convinces them to heed their call to action, all in good nature.

According to AdAge, McCann’s client, Melbourne’s Metro Trains, noticed a 21% reduction in train accidents and deaths as a result of the “Dumb Ways to Die” ad.

2. The Helpful Jokester

How do you make pooping funny without being hopelessly juvenile, and sell your target market toilet spray while you’re at it?

Audiences are also usually not comfortable addressing private issues such as pooping, especially in mediums as public as an online ad. But despite their reportedly modest intentions, Poo Pourri’s YouTube ad became viral, gaining 26 million views in 2014 and consequently increasing their website views by 13,000% at the time.

Poo Pourri was launched in 2006 with $25,000 of the founder’s own money but has now become a multimillion dollar business.

3. The Cheeky Utilitarian

Who would ever think an ad featuring a machete-wielding, f-word spitting CEO talking about $1 razor blades, giving a job to a formerly unemployed, Mexican-looking fellow would become viral and, as a result, so successfully profitable? The CEO was not shy about touting his cheaper, no-nonsense products as an alternative to the luxury razor brands and in this case, it worked phenomenally.

By now, the cast of the viral The Dollar Shave Club (DSC) ad are familiar, well-loved characters. So popular and well-loved was their matter-of-fact but intentionally tongue-in-cheek ad that, according to a case study by econsultancy, DSC gained 12,000 new signups right after the first 48 hours of publishing their ad. By 2013, the number of signups reached 330,000.

As a testament to the power of this ad’s results, DSC has since toppled the centuries-old giant P&G’s market share from 71% to 59%, which is no mean feat. And as of July 2016, DSC has been welcomed to the billion-dollar startups club after P&G rival, Unilever, reportedly paid $1 billion in cash to acquire the company.

This ad is the stuff of recent case studies on what a successful take on a humorous ad can bring to your brand.

Humor In PPC Ads

All this sounds well and good, until you set about the task of translating this sort of “funny success” recipe to your PPC ads.

With a character limit of 25 characters for the headline, and 35 characters each for two description lines, injecting some persuasive witticism into your copy will be pretty challenging.

However, it seems some folks have already jumped on the bandwagon and injected a little bit of cheekiness into their Google Ad copies.

Here are a few examples:


And yes, they are an ad agency -- the “fully integrated” kind.


It seems like ad agencies are the more courageous ones experimenting with humor in Google Ads. This one from Seattle says they’d like to help figure out the “hardstuff” for you.

Insert SEP3clip_image012

If that ad didn’t make you chuckle even just a little, then what is funny?


Here we have two cheeky PPC advertisers battling it out in a single search results page. GrubHub promises to deliver “Whatever you’re thinkin’ Los Angeles,” while EAT24 offers to solve dinner problems twice for people who particularly love the eating part, leftovers and all.


For this area, GrubHub shows up again with its witty pickup lines. This goes to show that some companies have indeed started experimenting with intentionally injecting humor in their Google Ads copy.

PPC Ad Fails

However, I’m not sure the same can be said for these PPC ad fails here, care of Royal Pingdom:


Or these ridiculous ones from ROI Revolution’s funny adwords contest Round 1 and Round 2:



So taking all of these examples into consideration, should you use humor to amplify your PPC ads, or is it a waste of time?

According to CEO Peter Daboll of Ace Metrix, a firm specializing in the consumer impact analysis of video ads, “just being funny doesn’t make an ad better, but being funny, relevant and informative are the things that really make an ad work.”

In other words, don’t simply inject humor into your ads for the sake of being funny. The witticism placed in your copy, despite its instantly attractive entertaining value, should also be informative and relevant to your product and call to action; otherwise, you will only squander the first few seconds of magnetizing power you have with your audience.

While the world of PPC ads are still rife with uninteresting ad copy, try your hand at spicing things up, and tell us how you think this helped -- or sabotaged, your results.

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* Adapted lead image: Public Domain Dedication (CC0) Public Domain, via

Posted in PPC

About the Author: Hazel Mae Pan

Wide reader, online course consumer, computer science and transhumanism enthusiast, among other things.

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