Consumer marketers have long used humor to get their messages out. By comparison, most business marketers—with a few notable exceptions—generally tend to play it safe.
Tim Washer, senior marketing manager at Cisco Systems, thinks b-to-b companies should give serious thought to using comedy in their marketing efforts.
"Consumer brands get away with being ridiculous all the time and that's fine," he said. But with the proliferation of social media, "it doesn't matter if [the audience] is b-to-b or consumer. They're people. ... I think there's more room for humor in b-to-b."
Washer, who has written for "The Late Show with David Letterman," spoke earlier this month at the Custom Content Council's Custom Media Day in New York. He focused on how b-to-b marketers and business publishers could integrate more humor into their marketing campaigns.
"Start with a marketing strategy and make sure you know you can show how [comedy] can be a part of it," he said. "Is there some group we're trying to reach that we haven't yet reached with our traditional marketing?"
Washer added that humor can help to humanize a b-to-b brand.
"In a business context, making someone laugh is the most intimate connection you can make," he said. "And you can also do it virtually without having to be there, with just a video."
Take the commercial for a new computer router that Cisco rolled out less than a week before Valentine's Day this year. The router's price starts at $80,000.
The commercial, filmed in black and white and featuring a sexy soundtrack, begins with a narrator asking the question: "How many ways can a man tell his sweetheart, 'I love you?'"
The narrator says there are three ways a man can express that emotion to his beloved: He could buy her expensive diamonds, he could take her on a tropical vacation, or he could carve his and her initials into a tree.
That is followed by a picture of a man holding his hands over a woman's eyes, with the narrator beaming, "But now, he can give her the ultimate expression of his everlasting affection: the Cisco ASR 9000."
As shots of the router from various angles appear, the narrator goes on to say, "Nothing says forever like up to 6.4 terabytes per second ... and nothing says 'I love you' like six times the mobile backhaul capacity."
"Of course, we didn't sell a $250,000 router because someone saw the commercial on YouTube," Washer said.
"But this was a hit. It got attention in The New York Times,
and, more important, it got into the trade magazines' blogs, such as Network World and Light Reading. That was a huge win for us because our customers and prospects are reading the articles. I think it showed, 'Hey, these guys are willing to make fun of themselves,' and people like that."