Top 10 Ways to Make Your Content Funny: #4 Surprise Twist

Marketers realize that content requires some form of entertainment to go viral. But are you reluctant to go this route for fear of losing your audience? In our countdown of the top 10 ways to make your content funny, we demonstrate several humorous techniques that help engage your audience.

In fact, if you follow these 4 tested techniques for applying “Surprise Twists” to your videos, you can be assured of boosting engagement with your content. The use of Surprise Twists comes in at number 4 on our list.

surprise twist4 Ways to Boost Viral Video Stats with Surprise Twists

Surprise twists cause us to laugh as we witness or experience a change in course. Stemming from the Theory of Incongruity, this concept entertains us through a distracting segue. Mentally, we are asking ourselves: “…Where did this come from?..”

This surprise twist can be realized in the form of visual anomalies (e.g., sudden appearances, changes or revelations) or conceptual incongruities (e.g., storyline twists or unexpected responses). In each case, we detect a mismatch with what we expect to occur next.

In general, most viral videos featuring surprise twists fall under the following four categories:

  1. Plot Trickery
  2. Conceptual Surprise
  3. Transformation
  4. Visual Surprise
social video

Comic Devices for Surprise Twist

Conceptual Surprise

Think of this as stopping in our tracks when a scene or statement suggests that something is off track. Research suggests that we laugh when our minds anticipate a certain outcome, only to be tricked at the end with a wrong or uneventful answer.

This concept is not new. Years ago, Wendy’s conducted a comical test taste of their hamburgers. In their famous 1989 commercial featuring a trucker (, the participant was asked to choose from a delicious looking hamburger A or a nasty looking hamburger B. The trucker unexpectedly picked hamburger B. This unexpected twist would be followed with comments like: “…I’m a trucker, I could be eating this baby in Shaky Town and still tasting it in Salt Lake…”

Plot Trickery

A very successful method of stealing your attention is for the producer to take you down a subliminal storyline that ends in an unexpected twist . i.e., Just when you are drifting off to a predictable plot, the story takes an interesting turn. In his suspense grabbing films, Alfred Hitchcock was notorious for plot trickery. Many of his endings were totally unsuspected.


This concept worked well for Geico where serious storylines ended in a farce. Just when we were about to hear a senate interrogation verdict, the committee chair interrupts with good news: he just saved money by switching to Geico.   

This unanticipated change in events works well in stories of twisted fate as well as in fantasies where the dreamer wakes up to a lackluster reality.


Our third technique used in Surprise Twists is visual in nature. We often laugh at age transformations, bodies switching to others and overall magic. Like the conceptual forms of surprise, transformations can catch us off guard.

Snickers does this very effectively in their transforming of cranky actors (e.g., Betty White, Roseanne Barr, Aretha Franklyn, Don Rickles and Joe Pesci) into younger folks ready to return to action after eating a Snickers bar. In these cases, the transformation itself serves as an unexpected twist that suggests we have been duped.

Visual Surprise

A related concept to transformation is visual surprise. In this case, we are introduced to the sudden arrival of a new character (e.g., alien creature) or an unexpected object. Advertisers like Dodge and Volvic use these techniques in their displays of wishful thinking. Others like Nationwide shock their audiences with a surprise ugly substitute as when the fantasized Fabio turns into a wrinkled old man.

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 Research Conference.

From the final list of most viewed YouTube videos, about 2% involved some type of Surprise Twist. This form of viral video engagement ranked number four, fourteen and three 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 Surprise Twist as an entertaining content marketing theme?

Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

39 thoughts on “Top 10 Ways to Make Your Content Funny: #4 Surprise Twist

  1. I believe that “Surprise Twist” is an effective content marketing theme. I say this because it keeps everyone on the edge of their seats or beds not knowing what is coming next.

  2. I think using the surprise twist is a great method to market, because not only does it markets the product or service, but it entertains the consumer. The different methods that are used grabs the consumers attention in a way to get them to remember the commercial, leaving a lasting impression. Many companies are resorting to using this methods in their advertising. Many of the examples used on this blog are commericials that I remember because of what happened in them. Aside from the story in the commercial, the product or service is what I remember when I think of the company who is advertising. I have never used such a technique because it does seem to require technology, however if given a chance to market, I would recommend it.

  3. I think that Surprise twist is an excellent way to engage the audience. I feel that they are one of the most effective techniques used that will not only capture their attention but allow them remember what product/service is being advertised. Using a technique is useless if it only captures their attention but doesnt’t allow them to remeber the brand. Surprise twist I feel is effective because it can do both while adding some humor, but not basing their strategy on humor alone. I have never used suprise twist as a marketing theme due to limited resources but enjoy learning about the top viral video engagers so that in the future I know what and how to engaged the audience best.

  4. I think that the idea of using a Surprise Twist method is a a good method of engaging an audience. What seems like a normal commercial ends up being something unexpected because there is a surprise like a plot twist, transformation, or some type of magic. Even though only 2% of the most viewed viral videos contain Surprise Twist, these types of videos definitely stand out amongst the many out there. The Snickers’ commercials are my favorite, especially the Betty White playing football commercial because she is a comical old lady and the concept of all of those transformative Snickers commercials are funny and unexpected.

  5. I feel that Plot Trickery, Conceptual Surprise, Transformation, and Visual Surprise all help in engaging the audience when marketing. It helps consumers remember the advertising It captures the attention of people watching, making them want to figure out what exactly is being advertised and marketed, then forcing them to remember the company and product being advertised. This is a unique and captivating way to advertise and market different products out on the market.

  6. Commercials that end with a twist usually are capable of leaving a good impression on the audience if it is “surprising” or shocking enough. The point of marketing products is to get people to want them and talk about them and if you can shock the audience or make them laugh then you have accomplished it. Surprise twists are the best way to make people think about the product and maybe look at it from another point of view if it is a deep and profound surprise twist or entertain them if it is meant to be funny.

  7. Personally, I did not enjoy the commercial with the uneventful ending or answer I felt frustrated at the end of them because I was not left with a big “bang” or anything that really put a stamp on it, the advertisers left me wanting more and not in a good way. Although some surprise twists are very effective if they are executed properly and provide a bit of humor or even scary twist. Brand recognition plays a big role in plot twists as well because if the commercial leaves a long lasting memory in your head you will be able to remember which brand it was that was advertising and it may create some success for the company. It also allows the viewer to keep wondering and think how awesome it was that they changed it up in the middle of the commercial with a plot twist.

  8. I love the use of surprise twists when advertising a product. In the new generation, many people want to see a product which causes a euphoric feeling or even making a person which will cause a great transformation. This is why transformations in many product commercials which involve cars, sports drinks, etc. This is a great marketing tool and helps to really sell a product to an individual.

  9. I always love commercials with a plot twist. I feel as though it is a great way to keep the target market on their toes and intrigued. I think it is a great way to keep the viewers guessing, as well as to add a bit of humor or surprise to the advertisement!

  10. Plot Trickery is a very interesting way of advertising. The simple fact that throughout the whole commercial you believe one thing is gonna happen or have a preconceived idea of what should happen and then it continuously shifts making it unpredictable. While it may not be the best method to go by, due to the fact that it often is confusing as to what is being sold or the purpose but it does hold attention very well and that attention can be used to sell the product.

  11. Any type of plot trickery is a great way to advertise a product. It keeps the viewer interested and sometimes people even start guessing during the commercial what will happen next and usually people are surprised and caught off guard how it actually ends.

  12. I feel that this is a less common technique. I found it very hard to think of examples in which this type of marking was used. That being said, I am not sure if it should be considered one of the more effective methods. It is unique in the sense that the audience does not expect the surprises. But at the same time, I believe that the impression does not last as long compared to other forms of marketing, and is therefore not as efficient. The only examples I have used as an entertaining theme is transformation – including age, magic, and body switch. This was due to a special effects program my father had used when I was younger. From that standpoint, these types of commercials can be quite impressive if done correctly.

  13. So what do you think? Is this an effective way to go? Have you ever resorted to using Surprise Twist as an entertaining content marketing theme?
    Hello everyone,
    This week we have had the pleasure of viewing videos containing surprise twist and it was pretty entertaining. I think this is an effective way to go as this catches the publics attention in various ways. I think these are creative ways to capture the attention of others as you are watching to see what the commercial is for. For example, uneventful events has all these crazy situations and end up being a commercial for Geico. This is why Geico has such a good fame because of these types of commercials. I have not resorted to using these as a marketing theme but I would use it. I think having these types of commercials shows variety and definitely make a company outgoing and creative. These videos show marketing strategies to sell and entertain people at the same time.

  14. I find using Surprise Twist extremely effective as it really grabs the watchers attention because they do not know what to expect next. I personally have never used this marketing method but still find it a great way to get attention through a twist of whatever you are advertising.

  15. So what do you think? Is this an effective way to go? Have you ever resorted to using Surprise Twist as an entertaining content marketing theme?

    Surprise twists are a great way to achieve high viewership. Some of the commercials that you posted as well as others posted this week were the funniest I have ever seen. You do not know what is coming next. Some of these commercials actually made me wonder, “what is this company going to come out with next?” I want to see their next commercial. That to me means that they are definitely effective because I want more, and these advertisements leave viewers wanting more. Ultimately remembering the product and wanting to use it, or buy it.

  16. These types of commercials are always effective, as they captivate viewers right from the beginning, and then completely shock them by the end. These types of commercials always have people talking the next day, and encourage creativity from a marketing perspective.

  17. I believe surprise twists to be one of the best ways to increase views on a video, commercial, or advertisement. I think it is a great way to also get people talking. And the more than likely if you can get people to talk about your advertisement than more people will view it, ultimately ending in a plethora of benefits to your company. Because what you are advertising or selling will stick in the minds of the people who see your commercial. I also believe that commercials with uneventful answers can sometimes be comical, and comedy plays a large role in getting something to sell. Surprise and an uneventful answer leave viewers wanting more and that is the greatest achievement by advertisers.

  18. Surprise twists are always an interesting way of boosting viral video views. I think they are particularly interesting because they leave you thinking at the end. The twist at the end gets you thinking about the video even after it is over. It leaves an impression in your mind about whatever product the commercial was for.

  19. The marketing technique of surprise twist is a creative and unique way of advertising. It is creative because there are various routes that a marketer can choose to go about in creating a plot that utilizes any of the categories that fall under this technique. In addition, there are viewers who truly enjoy the sense of mystery when watching these commercials, “what we happen at the end.” However, I will state that these type of commercials are more difficult to represent a direct message of the product/service being advertised because at times there could be a loss of connection between the story-telling and the direct message of the commercial. Personally, I have not resorted to the “surprise twist” technique as an entertainment marketing theme, I would agree that this technique would be better utilized by brands/companies that have already established their recognition among viewers and consumers in order to have a beneficial impact.

  20. I believe that surprise twists are a decent way to market, but not the best way. The only reason I say that is because the audience needs to watch the commercial the whole way through to witness the surprise twist and get the comedy or point of the advertisement. If people actually watch the whole way through, then it is a great way of marketing because they remember these clever commercials (for example – Allstate mayhem commercials, how can you forget them!). However, I would not use this approach for my first time marketing. Maybe after I get some sort of an audience and can build on my marketing with this approach later on.

  21. The plot twists are definitely effective. In my opinion these types of commercials keep the audiences focused or wanting to know more until it ends. With their attention in focus, the audience watches the entire commercial which is the main purpose so that they can remember the product being advertised

    1. Great point, Justine. This is one of the few humorous techniques that piques your interest throughout the entire video. I think the biggest challenge is getting their attention with an interesting story-line. Thank you for sharing this.

  22. I like the plot twist commercial because they keep the audiences engaged with the commercial throughout the whole thing. This takes a clever ending for you to remember it.

    1. Alex, I think the combination of an intriguing plot and the perfect twist or interrupting segue is an excellent way to create a full comedy that engages your audience to the end. Thank you for your comment.

  23. I myself haven’t used a Suprise Twist as a Marketing technique, but do fancy them when I see them on television. These types of commercials are good because they suck the viewer into the advertisement and I know that I usually remember them and associate them with the overall brand as a whole. I definitely would like to try and create one of these types of commercials in the near future.

    1. Paul, I think this is probably easier said than done. One of the challenges in using this technique is creating a fascinating plot that serves up a twist at the end. It likely requires a build-up plot, chain of events or some gamesmanship to get you engaged enough to see the end. If done effectively, however, it probably has a lasting effect on our brand recall.

  24. The wrong answer is a effective way for portential customers to remember your service/product. The “wrong answer” commercials has two items that has nothing to do with each. Regardless of whether a customer likes it or not they will remember it because of the random content.

    1. This “wrong answer” format, Gavindra, is probably one of the easiest types of humor to create. It rarely gets lost in context, and it immediately triggers something “out of sorts” in our minds. IT can also serve as a putdown form of humor if the wrong answer makes the actor seem like an imbecile. Thank you for the comment.

  25. I believe using surprise twists to market either a product or service to customers is an awesome strategy. The commercials are very effective because as the potential consumer is viewing the commercial he/she has already decided what the commercial is about; therefore, when plot twist is thrown in it automatically grabs his/her attention. Also these commercials make a lasting impression. I think this is definitely an effective form of marketing.

    1. Kelsey, I find it fascinating how even the dullest of plots can trigger our minds to see something out of sorts. It’s as though our minds subconsciously absorb the noise around us only to be disturbed by a distracting anomaly or interrupting twist. Thank you for sharing.

  26. I have to agree with Lysani and Nicola. Surprise Twists is a great and effective way of marketing especially when trying to keep the viewers from switching the channel. I am one of those that changes the channel to see what’s on at other channels. If they want my attention, I think I would need something with a twist. I seem to like method better than the others we have seen and probably would use this type of method if I needed to. Commercials like Snickers where the person changes into someone else because of the hunger will catch your eye because of its surprise transformation in changing an average joe into a famous actor andt hen back once it satisfied his/her hunger.

  27. I think that surprise twist is a great way to keep the consumer to stay watching the commercial. when commercials come on the TV the first thing we tend to do is change the channel but with surprise twist the commercial can grab our attention all the way to the end of the commercial. If I had to use surprise twist as an entertaining content marketing theme I would definitely use it. I think the the surprise twist is a way to catch and contain the consumers attention.

    1. I think the use of surprise twist is a very effective marketing technique used in commercial videos because it has that element of surprise that makes you want to see the commercial again just in case you missed something. Also it helps with brand recognition as in the case of the GEICO commercials with the caveman. The snappy retorts and surprise twists will always be synonymous with the company.

      1. I think a surprise twist in a commercial is good marketing. Although I don’t believe is as catchy as the more humor stricken commercials, because they are a little slow and not as boastful. It is still a great marketing method, even though I have never used it.

        1. I agree with your comment, Maegen, about not being as catchy. Putdowns, exaggerations and other techniques can more readily tap into our laughter mechanisms. I believe the real advantage of plot twists is its ancillary benefit of pulling us through the entire story-lines. Thank you for sharing.

      2. That’s a good point, Nicola. The twist at the end often enhances our brand recall. i.e., The ending twist is what highlights our association with the brand. Thank you for sharing this.

    2. I agree, Lisanyi, that a surprise twist can “contain” our consumers interest throughout the entertaining story-line. This is perhaps one of the biggest drawbacks in using perceptual discords up front. i.e., We can easily capture our audience with a grotesque appearance or character anomaly at the onset. But unless it forces us to the end, we limit the opportunities to showcase our brand. Thank you for the comment.

    3. I think it is fascinating, Lisanyl, how our minds gravitate towards anomalies. I could watch a very mundane episode of Geico with a guy discussing his hair transplant. I am not paying the least bit of attention until the doctor tells the patient he just saved money on car insurance. Surprise twists really work. Thank you for your comment.

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