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The Role of Humor in 21st Century Sales

Written by:

Tamara is a seasoned copywriter with a unique blend of legal expertise and business acumen, and a passion for writing.

Edited by:

Sallie, holding a Ph.D. from Walden University, is an experienced writing coach and editor with a background in marketing. She has served roles in corporate communications and taught at institutions like the University of Florida.

The Role of Humor in 21st Century Sales

The Role of Humor in 21st Century Sales

“Why did the business website owner get off the trampoline? He was worried about his bounce rate.” Okay. Excuse this attempt at business website humor, and let’s bounce away from this joke to learn about how a touch of humor can make your sales strategy more dynamic and engaging.

Comedy has long been associated with entertainment and connecting with audiences on many levels. But did you know that humor also plays an important role in 21st-century sales? A study by Nielsen found that ads with humor show 47% higher audience engagement than ads without humor.

Just as humor can bring relief, the use of humor in sales can create a meaningful connection between companies and potential customers while providing valuable information about the product or service being sold.

In this article, we are going to discuss the key ways humor can positively influence sales practices and why it’s so important for future success. So, if you would like to learn about how humor can help your business enhance customer engagement, then let’s get started!

The Psychology of Humor in Sales

Humor is not just a way to evoke laughter but also a powerful psychological tool that can significantly enhance the sales process. Here’s a deep dive into why humor is so effective in sales and how you can leverage it to forge stronger customer relationships.

Breaking Down Barriers

One of the primary psychological benefits of humor in sales is its ability to break down barriers. 

In a sales context, customers and potential customers often have their guards up, anticipating a sales pitch or persuasion attempt. A well-timed, appropriate joke or a lighthearted comment can diffuse this defensive stance, creating a more relaxed and open dialogue. Humor can serve as an ice-breaker. It can bring a sense of ease, comfort, and closeness to any conversation.

Building Rapport and Trust

When a salesperson uses humor effectively, it can quickly build rapport with potential clients. Laughing together creates a sense of camaraderie and shared experience. This shared laughter not only makes the salesperson more likable, but it can also help to build trust — and since trust is one cornerstone of any good sales relationship, adding humor can help to accelerate its development. 

Enhancing Recall and Engagement

Humor makes sales interactions more memorable. 

According to a survey by Clutch, 53% of consumers are more likely to remember and enjoy an advertisement if it has humorous elements. In a world saturated with advertising and sales pitches, humor can make a message stand out. 

When customers or potential customers find something genuinely amusing, they’re more likely to remember it — and, by extension, the product or service associated with it. This enhanced recall is invaluable in sales, where differentiation from competitors is key. 

Emotional and Cognitive Impact

Humor also engages both emotional and cognitive aspects of the brain. 

Emotionally, it generates positive feelings, making the sales experience more enjoyable. Cognitively, humor can simplify complex information, making it more digestible and easier to understand. This dual engagement is particularly effective in maintaining the client’s attention and aiding their understanding of their product or service. 

The Role of Humor in Persuasion

Persuasion is a fundamental aspect of sales, and humor can be used as a subtle yet powerful persuasive tool since it can be used to highlight the benefits of a product in a non-threatening way. Moreover, when people are in a good mood, they’re more likely to be open to new ideas, making them more receptive to the sales message.

Cultural Sensitivity and Tailoring Humor

It’s important to note that humor is subjective and can be influenced by cultural and personal factors. What is humorous to one person might not be to another. Therefore, understanding the background, preferences, and context of the interaction with customers and potential customers is crucial. Tailoring humor to suit the audience ensures that it contributes positively to the sales process rather than detracting from it.

Tip: Conduct market research to understand the demographics and preferences of your target audience. Tailor your humor to resonate with their tastes and sensibilities. 

Integrating Humor into Different Sales Channels

Incorporating humor into sales strategies requires a nuanced approach, especially when considering the variety of sales channels available in the 21st century. Each channel has its unique dynamics, and understanding how to effectively integrate humor into each can significantly enhance target audience engagement and sales outcomes. 

Face-to-Face Interactions

In face-to-face sales, humor can be particularly effective due to the immediate feedback loop. 

A salesperson can gauge the customer’s or the prospect’s reactions in real-time and adjust their approach accordingly. Using humor in these interactions can make meetings more engaging and less formal. It’s essential, however, to read the room correctly, understanding when humor is appropriate and when it’s best to maintain a more serious demeanor.

Tip: Use humorous anecdotes or stories relevant to your product or service. This not only entertains but also helps illustrate the benefits of what you’re selling. 

Digital and Social Media Platforms

Digital platforms, social media included, offer a unique opportunity to use humor in a more creative and visual way.

Memes, witty captions, and humorous video content can attract attention and make your brand more relatable. However, the challenge lies in ensuring that the humor translates well digitally and is appropriate for a diverse audience that spans different cultures and age groups. 

Email Marketing

Humor in email marketing needs to be carefully crafted. The lack of non-verbal cues makes it easy for humor to be misinterpreted. However, a clever subject line or a light-hearted tone in the body of the email can make your message stand out in a crowded inbox. An analysis by HubSpot found that subject lines had the greatest impact on opening rates. 

The key is subtlety — a touch of humor can be refreshing, but it shouldn’t overshadow the main message of the email. 

Telemarketing and Phone Sales

In phone sales, the tone of voice plays a critical role. A light-hearted, friendly tone can set a positive mood for the conversation. Humorous anecdotes related to the product or service can make the call more memorable. However, it’s vital to ensure that the humor is not forced and that it flows naturally within the conversation.

Tip: Begin with subtle humor, like a light-hearted comment or a witty remark, to test the waters before using more pronounced humor in your sales strategy. 

Tailoring Humor to the Audience

Regardless of the channel, you must understand the audience to determine the type and extent of humor to use. Factors like age, cultural background, and personal preferences play a huge role in how humor is received. Customizing humor to align with the audience’s expectations and sensibilities is key to its effectiveness.

For businesses using multiple channels, maintaining a consistent tone and style of humor across all platforms helps in building a coherent brand identity. This consistency helps customers develop a clear understanding of the brand’s personality, which, in turn, enhances brand loyalty. 

The Balance between Humor and Professionalism

Mastering the delicate balance between humor and professionalism in sales shouldn’t be neglected either. 

While humor can be an invaluable tool in making connections and enhancing communication, you should strive to maintain a level of professionalism that upholds the integrity of the salesperson and the brand. 

Here’s how to strike that balance: 

  • Understanding the Audience — The first step in balancing humor and professionalism is understanding your audience. What might be humorous in one context or culture could be inappropriate or misunderstood in another. You must consider factors such as the industry, cultural norms, and the individual personality of the customer or prospect. Tailoring your humor to fit the audience ensures it is well-received and appropriate.
  • Timing and Context — The timing and context in which humor is used are critical. Humor should be employed strategically — not just for the sake of being funny. In a sales context, it’s best used to lighten the mood or simplify complex information but should be avoided in serious or sensitive discussions. The context of the situation dictates when humor is an asset and when it’s a liability.
  • Subtlety and Tact — Subtlety is key in using humor professionally. Overdoing it can detract from the main message and make the salesperson seem less serious about their product or service. Humor should be a part of the conversation, it should not dominate the conversation. Employing tact in humor ensures it enhances the interaction without overshadowing the business objective.

Types of Humor to Avoid

Certain types of humor are almost always off-limits in a professional setting. This includes anything that could be construed as offensive, such as jokes about race, gender, religion, or social and political issues. It’s safer to stick with light, universally relatable humor that is not likely to offend.

Aligning with Brand Image

Humor should align with the overall image and values of the brand. A mismatch between the brand’s identity and the style of humor used can confuse customers and prospects and dilute the brand message. Consistency in how humor is used across various sales channels and interactions reinforces a coherent brand personality.

Professionalism First

Ultimately, the primary goal in any sales interaction is to communicate value and build trust. Humor is a tool to facilitate this goal— not replace it. Sales professionals should always prioritize their professional responsibilities, using humor as a complement to their expertise and reliability. 

Case Studies and Real-World Examples

Examining real-world examples provides valuable insights into how humor can be an effective tool in sales strategies. 

Here are some noteworthy case studies:

1. Old Spice: Rebranding with Humor

Old Spice’s rebranding campaign stands out as a classic example of humor in advertising. Before 2010, Old Spice was seen as an outdated brand. Their “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign, featuring humorous and absurd commercials, not only went viral but also rejuvenated the brand’s image.

Sales figures skyrocketed, with reports showing a significant increase in product sales following the campaign. This success was attributed to the campaign’s ability to engage with a younger audience through humor, making the brand relevant and appealing. 

2. Dollar Shave Club: Disrupting the Market

When Dollar Shave Club launched, it faced the daunting task of breaking into a market dominated by well-established brands. Their solution? A launch video that was irreverent, funny, and completely unconventional. This video not only went viral but also put the brand on the map almost overnight. 

The humor used in the video helped convey their value proposition in a memorable way, leading to massive initial sales and eventual acquisition by Unilever for $1 billion. 

3. Zappos: Humor in Customer Service

Zappos, an online shoe and clothing retailer, is renowned for its exceptional customer service, which often includes elements of humor. They empower their customer service representatives to use humor to create memorable, positive experiences for customers. 

This approach has helped Zappos build a loyal customer base and stand out in a competitive market. Their strategy shows that humor can be an effective tool not just in advertising but in customer service as well.

4. Blendtec: Humorous Product Demonstrations

Blendtec’s “Will It Blend?” series is a perfect example of using humor in product demonstrations. 

In these videos, the company’s founder blends various items, from smartphones to golf balls, to showcase the power of their blenders. This humorous approach to demonstrating product capability caught the attention of millions, significantly boosting sales and brand recognition. It demonstrated the product’s quality in an entertaining and unconventional manner.

5. Ikea: Playful Catalogs and Advertisements

Ikea has consistently used humor in its catalogs and advertisements. Their approach often involves playful product names, humorous descriptions, and whimsical scenarios in their ads. This use of humor aligns with their brand image of being approachable and fun, helping them connect with a broad customer base and making shopping for home furnishings more enjoyable. 


In the fast-paced and often impersonal world of 21st-century sales, humor emerged, once again, as a powerful tool that can create memorable experiences and help to forge stronger connections with sales reps and their customers and prospects.

By understanding the psychology behind humor, tailoring it to various sales channels, and maintaining a balance with professionalism, sales professionals can enhance their effectiveness and stand out in a crowded market. 

However, it’s crucial to remember that humor is a spice, not the main ingredient — it should complement, not overpower, your sales strategy. With the right approach, integrating humor into your sales tactics can lead to more engaging interactions, stronger customer relationships, and, ultimately, improved sales outcomes. 


How can I tell if my humor is appropriate for a sales situation?

Gauge the appropriateness of your humor based on your audience’s reaction and feedback. If in doubt, opt for light, universally relatable humor and avoid jokes that could be misinterpreted or deemed offensive.

Can humor be effective in more formal industries?

Yes, even in formal industries, a touch of humor can be effective. The key is subtlety and ensuring the humor is aligned with the industry’s tone and customer expectations.

How can I improve my ability to use humor in sales?

Practice makes perfect. You can also learn from professionals known for their humorous approach, attend workshops, and continuously seek feedback to refine your use of humor.

Is it possible to measure the impact of humor on sales?

While it’s challenging to quantify the direct impact of humor on sales, you can measure related metrics such as customer engagement, recall rate, and feedback on humorous content.