Top 10 Ways to Make Your Content Funny: #8 Malicious Joy

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Are you hesitant to provide entertaining content for fear of falling flat? In our countdown of the top ways to make your videos go viral, we demonstrate a wide range of humorous and other entertainment techniques that have stood the test of time.

malicious joy

In fact, if you follow these 5 tested techniques for applying “malicious joy” to your YouTube videos, you can be assured of boosting audience engagement with your content. The use of malicious joy comes in at number 8 on our top 10 ways to make your content funny.

5 Ways to Boost Viral Video Stats with Malicious Joy

Malicious joy, or schadenfreude, refers to the pleasure we derive from seeing others fail or suffer misfortune. Rooted in the Theory of Superiority, this feeling of sudden glory can occur when we witness:

  1. Bungled Behaviors
  2. Unanticipated Spoilers
  3. Unfortunate Happenstances
  4. Deserved Repercussions
  5. Cretins
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Comic Devices for Malicious Joy

Bungled Behaviors

A common approach for entertaining audiences with malicious joy is to poke fun of someone notorious for clumsy or incompetent behaviors. The 1950’s sitcom, “I Love Lucy,”  reached the highest popularity of any show at its time based on the bungling behaviors of Lucy. The  naive and accident prone housewife had a knack for getting herself and her husband into trouble whenever she tried to make a name for herself.

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Trouble Prone Lucy in “I Love Lucy”

In the following film clips, we see several viral YouTube videos based on characters prone to accidents or saying the wrong thing. This is often displayed through the eyes of someone drunk or oblivious to their surroundings.

Men, in particular, are often portrayed for their bungled behaviors resulting from their one track minds. Consider how we laugh when women make futile attempts to attract their husband’s attention when engrossed in their games or jobs. We are likely laughing at the husband’s obsessions and oblivion as well as the wife’s futile attempts to get their attention.

Unanticipated Spoilers

Another successful way to get laughter from malicious joy is through the portrayal of spoilers. For example, many of us laugh when witnessing the spoiling of romance. Just when the mood is set, attempts at seduction are foiled by some unexpected event.

The videos below show similar results in views and engagement when a storyline ends with unexpected damage, injuries or danger. This cause of laughter taps more into our emotional senses where a feeling of superiority is felt over those whose peace or excitement is snatched away.

Unfortunate Happenstances

Our third technique used in malicious joy relates to bad luck. Shamefully, many of us laugh when others get dealt a bad hand. Most of us enjoy watching someone knocked down a notch when an unwise choice is based on attempts at heroism or chivalry.

The same type of thrill emerges from bad timing such as when someone interrupts our concentration at the worst time or when the next person in line wins the grand prize.

We also delight in the misfortune of those exhibiting naïveté or simply keeping their eye off the ball. Especially when foolish mistakes result in catastrophic consequences, we often laugh hysterically at choices we know we are capable of committing ourselves.

Deserved Repercussions

Perhaps even more than bad luck or unexpected spoilers is the laughter resulting from well-deserved retaliation. This often happens when the actions of a featured villain backfire. In a similar vein, we laugh at paybacks against someone we despise or who is unveiled of their devious intentions.

Doritos did this very well in their commercial of a baby snatching the bag of chips from an annoying older sibling who incessantly teased the toddler. The payback results in our own feeling of sudden glory that we experience when living vicariously through the underdog.  

On the lighter side, some sponsors use innocent repercussions to highlight the misfortunes of someone overzealous or careless. Though not as deserving as the villainous victim of a backfire, we still relish the thought of witnessing the aftermath of someone drinking too much or short cutting their path to success.


Our final category of malicious joy relates to the casting of cretins whose low class demeanor elevates our own status. For centuries, comedies of imbeciles, derelicts, the grotesque and the deformed have aroused fits of laughter from audiences.

A number of sponsors have obtained high scores in views and engagement from the portrayal of people seen as physically deformed (e.g., 700 lb. sumo wrestler). Similar results, however, can be achieved when portraying folks as mentally subnormal (e.g., derelicts).

Both Geico and FedEx capitalized on cretin sneering in their casting of Neanderthals in modern settings.

Vonage chose a similar tactic by casting airheads and derelicts in both their “People do Stupid Things” and “Chief Generosity Officer” campaigns.

Study Background

A total of 3351 high performing videos (> 50K views) were examined in this ranking of top YouTube videos. These viral videos included re-casted television commercials that were posted on YouTube as a social media video back channel. Statistics were then recorded on the number of likes, dislikes, comments and views, where an exploratory study was subsequently published with the Academy of Marketing Science and 2013 Cross-Cultural Conference.

From the final list of most viewed YouTube videos, about 5% involved some type of malicious joy. This form of viral video engagement ranked number eleven, nine and eight in average views, comments as % of views, and net likes as % of views, respectively.

So what do you think? Is this an effective way to go? Have you ever resorted to using malicious joy as an entertaining content marketing theme?

Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.


32 thoughts on “Top 10 Ways to Make Your Content Funny: #8 Malicious Joy

  1. Unfortunately people love to laugh at other people, especially when they are clumsy, accident prone or incur an unexpected consequence. Bungling behaviors are humorous just as unanticipated spoilers are also funny. For some reason we all love to watch spoilers, whether its romantic or some type of prank being played on someone else. As much as we hate having bad luck, it always manages to make us laugh when other people have bad luck. This marketing strategy is good for catching the consumers attention. However, nothing tops the above strategies more than the deserved repercussions. People like to see other people get what they deserve, or like to see them get what is coming to them. It is almost evil, but it is an excellent way to catch the attention of viewer. But I believe the cretins are ugly yet funny. Malicious joy may seem mean to laugh at, but that’s what makes it humor!

  2. Using malicious joy as a way to market an idea or brand is an excellent way to capture an audience. When the audience thinks they know what the result will be only to find an unexpected ending, this makes the targeted audience think, wow, I didn’t see that coming. To witness unfortunate events happening to someone else sometimes makes you feel empathy for the person and joy, because you are happy that the unfortunate events are not happening to you. Most of us can understand an unexpected situation or know an accident prone person because we have been there and done that and sometimes we don’t mind seeing misfortune befall someone else as long as no one witnesses it happening to us.

  3. I think using malicious joy is a very effective way to deliver marketing content and engage the audience. As cruel as it may sound, I think people enjoy these situations that of unfortunate happenstance consisting of bad timing, bad luck, and unforseen circumstances, as well as deserved repercussions, consisting of payback and backfires, all at someone else’s expense. The fact that these technoques used to illistrate malicious joy that consist of the humor factor, make it that much more engaging and memorable for the audience.

  4. I agree that malicious joy is a good strategy to use. My two favorite categories of malicious joy unexpected spoilers and unfortunate happenstance.

  5. Using different techniques to grab an audience’s attention is always a great idea. Malicious joy isn’t the nicest topic but it definitely works. People like to see other people hurt or have small difficulties happen in their lives. It can help people to relax and get away from the problems in their own lives. It is a very relatable topic and people can likely identify times in their lives when something went wrong that was beyond their control.

  6. I most definetly agree that accident prone, under bungled behavior is an excellent way to acquire viewers attention. Indeed, whenever something shocking happens, people watch it. Plus these ads usually incorporate a lot of humor and fun, making it even more pleasant and easy for the viewers to watch and remember.

    Martin Tavernier,

  7. Schadenfreude is hilarious (anyone know the song from the Broadway show “Avenue Q”?) and widely used in media. Another example of Unfortunate Happenstance with Bad Timing is this ad for Ameriquest: in which a mother and daughter walk into their husband/dad’s hospital room at the same time a doctor has just killed a fly and announced that it’s dead.

  8. I believe this a good and effective way to market a product or service. It provides a type of humor that is unique and it almost makes you feel bad for laughing. However, we find some kind of delight watching these types of commercials. It is a good way to show worst possible situations that any person hope to never encounter. I have never used this type of humor but I would definitely try to one day because I do believe that it has the potential to stay top of mind for audiences.

  9. I chose the DirecTV commercial don’t become a local fisherman as my example of malicious joy for this discussion. This video combines unanticipated spoilers, bungling behaviors, and unfortunate happenstance all together in a hilarious ad. A man gets bit by an exotic bug while stopping to smell a flower. The bug bite grows into a huge swollen mess, and the man gets detained and has to get a job as a local fisherman. His whole life and appearance is ruined because he didn’t have DTV.

  10. As horrible as it sounds, malicious joy is a great way to market a product. This marketing strategy provides humor and also unexpected things to happen. Sometimes audiences are able to relate to what is happening in the commercial, making the advertisement successful.

  11. I think that unfortunate happenstances is a good marketing tool because people like to see people fall into a situation in which they cannot get themselves out of which in turn gives the people watching a thrill. As with malicious joy people all have problems and while many have more problems than others, when you use this technique to market a product, it actually relates to many people and helps to get peoples attention.

  12. I think that unfortunate happenstances is a good marketing tool because people like to see people fall into a situation in which they cannot get themselves out of which in turn gives the people watching a thrill. As with malicious joy people all have problems and while many have more problems than others, when you use this technique to market a product, it actually relates to many people and helps to get peoples attention.

  13. I believe malicious joy is a great marketing tool because people like seeing situations that can relate to them. Many people think only bad things happen to them, so when they see these commercials they can gain a sense of relief that they are not the only ones going through something bad. Malicious joy is also a great tactic in marketing because majority of the commercials are humor. Viewers love a great laugh, no matter what mood they are in. I believe more commercials would be made with this element of attracting audiences.

  14. Unfortunate happenstance appeals to our most primitive desires of pain to be inflicted on others. People get a cheap thrill of unfortunately seeing someone else run into some back luck or fall on their behind so tackling the exposure of brand with this technique will almost certainly appeal to the potential consumer. Malicious joy in general works this way because it works in a way that people can relate to.

  15. Hello everyone,
    after watching these videos I felt kind of bored. I am not too sure if this is an effective way to market products because they are not really that catchy. For example, there was an ikea commercial that was of a woman who was stabbed by a fork and I was like with my eyes wide open. The caveman commercial was okay and I was looking at the ones for geico they were eh. I have never used this as a marketing strategy but I probably would not use it since it didn’t catch my attention.

  16. Not sure why, but the innocently offensive commercials always fly over my head. People generally enjoy malicious joy marketing though, as many people in todays world have very sarcastic humor.

  17. Malicious joy is something that many people find funny and attention grabbing. Consumers feed off humor at the expense of others. Because of this, many commercials tend to be unrelated to the product or service itself. For this reason, the product sells because it gives the people what they want. If you act as that is what you are interested in then marketers will give it to you.

  18. I enjoy watching commercials that make use of malicious joy. In the world of excellence and perfection it is nice to see that there are also other ways of marketing a product. Also, the “normal” person can identify themselves better with a person that messes up, rather than with somebody that has the perfect look, body, and moves. Therefore, this form of advertisement has the most supporters/followers in my eyes.

  19. I feel malicious joy is a content marketing technique that is easily relatable to all viewers.
    For instance, take the commercial I chose this week, it was a Sony Vaio commercial that shows a man on his laptop on a webcam with someone else, while his girlfriend was undressing and then came to kiss him. She did not know he was on his webcam with others. This situation was a very accurate, real world, and relatable situation that people in the modern world could find themselves in. Especially because of modern technology. I found it a great selling point and advertising technique by Sony. Although some of malicious joy is accurate and mocking of real life on the contrary, I see some of the malicious joy as totally unrealistic. These are the types of commercials that go viral and that people discuss for a long time and make references towards.

  20. I truly enjoyed watching the examples of the commercials that utilize this technique because it does involve humor in the form of flashback. I do agree that this is an effective way to go because this technique displays various types of scenarios in which a person can be involved in certain situations that make them feel a certain way, for instance, bad timing and missed opportunities are circumstances that many audiences can relate to. Therefore, when someone watches a commercial that displays this type of scenario it makes the person laugh and remember a time when they felt the same way. Hence, due to the commonality of the scenarios that this technique uses it causes the viewer to reflect on a time when that certain situation happened to them which in turn draws a connection with the viewer. I have yet to utilize this technique as an entertaining content marketing theme but I would resort to it because of the connection as well as humor that it presents to the viewer.

  21. Malicious Joy is an oxymoron. It is also a very effective means of boosting viral video views. People find commercials that use aspects of malicious joy hilarious. It is weird but people do get enjoyment out of seeing others suffer. This technique is especially useful in commercials and viral videos because we know they people that are suffering in them are not actually being harmed so we can just laugh. I think that once you make someone laugh you have their attention.

  22. The use of malicious joy is a great way of marketing through commercials.. as bad as that sounds. We find pleasure in watching others get punished or unexpected bad things happening to them. It grabs our attention in these commercials. I especially like commercials that represent malicious joy through payback. I find these ones the most amusing and they make me remember the product later on.

  23. I think that malicious joy is a really great method of viral marketing also because it makes fun of people behaviors in a way people can relate to. It is a great way to connect to their audiences because people can relate to the situations people are in.

    1. I makes me wonder about our society, Alex, that we take such great pleasure in watching others mess up. Admittedly, this type of humor works the best on me. Maybe it has much to do with seeing myself in these situations and delighting in displacing the bad consequences on others. I believe there does exist a big challenge in drawing attention to the brand message. Some other types of humor (less complex) work better in making a clear cut association with the brand. Thank you for your comment.

  24. Malicious joy is definitely a good form of marketing. It allows the viewer to see things that usually wouldn’t actually happen in real life due to social standards, norms, and laws. Also, they intrigue the viewer into the advertisement because most people want to see the end and what happens at the end. I would definitely use this technique in the future.

    1. It is amazing how popular this form of humor has become, Paul. I think many of us are fed up with society pretentiousness or merely want affirmation that we are living up to society expectations. I often find myself laughing at moments where I shared the experience of the maladroit. I guess we are all saying “I am not so bad after all.” Thank you for sharing.

  25. I think that malicious joy is a really good marketing technique because it mocks real life behaviors that are relatable to viewers. People will buy into the commercials because they are curious of the outcomes, and may have found themselves in a similar situation at some time in their life. That is what makes this technique so effective. I have not used this technique in my own presentations.

    1. I so agree, Maegan. Many of the sitcoms I watched as a kid involved maladroits and the accident prone. My sisters would claim I fit both characters. But it is interesting to find that many cultures (Latin American, Asian and Southern European) do not enjoy schadenfreude. Many actually frown upon diminishing others or enjoying their misfortune. It runs counter to their relational culture. Thank you for your comment.

  26. I think that malicious joy is a really effective method of viral marketing because it often depicts actions that the viewer would like to take against aggressors, but are afraid to take due to the societal repurcussions. Therefore, when we see these played out in commercials we cannot help but get a kick out of seeing people pay for their transgressions.

    1. I believe you are right, Nicola. We are likely delighting at the aggressor getting their just due when we can relate to these folks in real life. I often laugh at humbled haughtiness when the haughty involves some real snob or a profession known for the smugness. Thank you for sharing.

  27. Of all of these different types of commercials which seems to be the best influence for consumers to go out and by that company’s product?

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