Travel is cool. Vacation is cool. Insurance … not so much.

Yet the use of humor in advertisements for home, auto and life insurance carriers has helped them connect with consumers, capture their attention, and sell at the same time.

From GEICO’s gecko with its cockney accent, to State Farm’s inane “Hall of Claims,” to Progressive’s one-two punch of Flo and that anthropomorphic box voiced by SNL alumni Chris Parnell, the insurance industry understands that humor means business.

The hospitality industry, it seems, is less certain. The guest experience has long been the heart of hotel and resort marketing campaigns, and justifiably so. Some brands seek to differentiate themselves by focusing on price point, while others feature a unique locale or amenity, but few generally attempt to be funny to fill rooms.

But what if your property isn’t located in a particularly exotic spot? What if you’re just selling a real solid place to stay?

The two primary points that set insurance carriers apart are price and coverage. It’s a tough space to stand out in, hence the geckos and Flos.

For a hotel team trying to find its voice in a crowded space, it might be time to take a page from the insurance industry’s play book. No joke – it might be time to make ‘em laugh.

Who Does Such A Thing?

Humor in advertising is nothing new, though it’s certainly less common in marketing hospitality than, say, light beer. Roughly 20% of TV spots leverage humor in one form or another. (Funny bonus fact; 50% of spots that air during the Super Bowl employ humor.)

Online travel agencies (OTAs) have shown they feel comfortable bringing the funny. Hotel.com’s “Captain Obvious” would likely point out that his humorous TV spots are laughable (in a good way), and if you haven’t viewed Booking.com’s “Jordan & Chelsea’s Booking.com Wedding” video campaign featuring comedians Jordan Peele and Chelsea Peretti, you should. They’re examples that, when done right, humor and hospitality can work hand-in-hand.

One of the reasons few hotels weave humor into their marketing is because being authentically funny is hard. There’s a lot of theory behind humor. A well-executed campaign can achieve viral success, while an ad that misses the mark can cause the brand to become the butt of the joke.

If ever there’s a time to lean on your digital agency and trusted marketing partners, it’s when you decide to joke around. For agency partners, humor is no laughing manner. They’re serious about their role as playful promoters, and consider humor key to their craft.

Yet at the end of the day, humor for the sake of humor isn’t enough. You are, after all, still making a sales pitch. The serious goal of each silly campaign is hitting the trifecta of being relevant, informative and funny all at the same time.

Getting Hotel Humor Right

When exploring whether or not a humorous approach is a fit for selling your hotel, keep these rules of thumb in mind.

  • Use Humor to Unify. Humor is a savvy tool for relating with people. The frustration we all feel with flight delays or quirky fellow travelers opens the door for common ground, and a shared laugh.
  • Be Self-deprecating. It disarms people. Many of today’s travelers are steeled against traditional promotion that only touts superlatives. Poke a little fun at yourself to catch a potential guest off-guard and pique their interest.
  • Stay Harmless. That which tears down others isn’t funny. There is more to appropriate marketing humor than just “keeping it clean.” It’s important to stay harmless.
  • Show Character. Sometimes humor is embodied in a cleverly created character that can be featured time and again. Even though fictitious, a character can build real bonds with consumers as long as they connect with the message and find enjoyment in that character’s persona.

All jokes aside, if it’s time for a fresh marketing approach and you’re unsure how to stand apart with your next campaign, consider a bit of funny business.