I actually own The Copywriter's Handbook, in that disasterous age when I thought I should be a copywriter for a living. (I'll tell you that story another time, once I've figured out how to add more explosions.) The author, Bob Bly, had this to say about creating entertaining advertising:
"...the goal of advertising is not to be liked, to entertain, or to win advertising awards; it is to sell products."
I agree with him halfway. On the one hand, Bly is an advertising professional, so when he advises that you write your words to sell as opposed to make a fancy ad just for the sake of it, then you'd best sit up and listen. On the other, word of mouth is one of the most powerful marketing strategies out there, and memorable, funny advertising does tend to blaze trails around YouTube and Facebook. I need not mention the Old Spice commercials.
Of course, by that same token, commercials that try to be funny but fall flat on their face are mocked. While writing primarily to sell is important, an ad's reception does play a major part in the results, and a good use of humor can help that out.
So, how can we appease both sides of the cassettes? There's a few simple rules to follow:
1. Don't attempt humorous copy unless you KNOW you're good enough to write it. Bly mentions this in The Copywriter's Handbook, and you should heed his words. You're here to help your client sell something above all. A poorly-made joke will not improve matters.
2. Don't forget your purpose. Your ad still has to sell something. Don't let a great and funny idea overshadow it. Try using humor to punctuate a selling point while backing it up with normal copy.
3. Keep other humor writing rules in mind. Be subtle, be clever, and make sure your gag fits the tone and logical progression of the ad. And don't force anything in. Now more than ever, you don't want your attempt at humor to stick out and distract the viewer.
Humor is a powerful and memorable tool, as I've mentioned before. Use it right and it's the best skeleton key you've got to make your ad pop.
This article is now diamonds.
YOUR ASSIGNMENT: This one only applies to freelancers who write to sell through ad copy, web copy, sales pages, and so on. See if you can work a bit of wit into a passage or two. You don't have to keep it in the final product, of course, but challenge yourself to sell your product with a little cleverness.