You would not be far wrong if you believed that marketing is a comedy of errors (with apologies to Shakespeare), but have you ever thought about how marketing and comedy are alike? No, I am not joking. In a serious and logical way, marketing and comedy have a lot in common. Meeting Faris Khalid, one of the most seasoned improv performers in Pakistan (he was part of Black Fish), it dawned on me that, marketing and comedy have more than a few similarities.
Firstly, they both involve audiences. You market your product, as a marketer you communicate with an audience and with comedy you do the same thing; you perform in front of an audience. The audience is the key. You cannot market without an audience and you cannot perform without an audience.
Secondly, with marketing and comedy you need to know your audience and to succeed you need to be relevant to your audience. Trying to sell a premium product to a cost conscious audience is like telling a joke in Urdu to an American audience, comprising mostly of non-Urdu speakers. The chances of success are limited by the material or in the case of marketing, the message not being relevant. Along with relevant, some marketers and comedians try to be radical and push boundaries, forgetting (to their detriment) that the audience dictates what is a success or not. Radical ideas and messages that are not relevant are likely to bomb, both on the stage as well as in the marketplace.
Thirdly, to get your marketing message or joke across, you need context. With comedy, this depends on how you deliver the joke, with marketing the way you communicate your key message is important. We live in an era where content is the new buzz word, but savvy marketers, like gifted comedians, know that context is crucial. How you frame your message plays a huge role in whether your message or joke works or not.
So how do you create context? How do you remain relevant? A trait that a comedian and a marketer need is to be observant. Observation is important for creativity and innovation; the ability to take seemingly unrelated things and join them together is honed by observation and tuning of instincts.
Well known comedians develop a set routine but they are always trying out new material. Comedy is a process of trial and error. Comedians are criticised by their seniors/mentors if they play it safe and don’t try new material. It is the same with marketing. A good marketer knows that playing it safe is not the way to go. As the adage goes, the lower the risk, the lower the return. Comedy and marketing are about experimentation.
What is the similarity between a bad marketer and a bad comedian? The audience laughs at them, not with them. However some marketers (globally as well as in Pakistan) have hit on a simple and flawed formula, they resort to sensationalism to attract, and you can see a similar ploy by comedians when they make up for their lack of a strong act by using swear words and making sexual innuendos. Yes everyone likes to be entertained and we all enjoy a little cheapness sometimes but hopefully not all of the time. I’m confident that in the long run whether you’re a comedian or a marketer, if you lack substance, you’ll be ignored and relegated to the sidelines.
One key area where comedians are active and we require marketers to play their part is in bringing about societal change. Comedians such as Saad Haroon, Maz Jobrani, Omid Djallili, and Faheem Azam help us to challenge biases and stigmas and hopefully shift social paradigms. Marketers too need to step up and help to tackle biases. At the end of the day, when societal change is at stake both marketing and comedy is a serious business.