Top 10 Ways to Make Your Content Funny: #5 Irony

Does the thought of inspiring your YouTube video communities with entertaining content make you nervous? What if your attempts at being funny don’t catch on?  

Follow these 4 tested techniques for applying irony to your YouTube videos, and you will be well on your way towards engaging your audience. In fact, our study of the top viral videos demonstrated that the use of irony is the fifth most effective humor technique used by advertisers to boost their viral video statistics.

irony4 Ways to Boost Viral Video Stats with Irony

Irony, much like that of any perceptual discord, is characterized by a contrast, between expectations and reality. Rooted in the Theory of Incongruity, irony makes us laugh by showing the opposite or undesired intentions of someone’s actions. Mentally, we are saying to ourselves: “…I did not see that coming…”

Irony can be realized in the form of visual anomalies (e.g., unusual pairing, wrong personas and temperaments, hypocritical behaviors) or conceptual incongruities (e.g., wild coincidences, misunderstandings or something scripted out of place). In each case, we detect a mismatch with what we expect to see.

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

  1. Visual Irony
  2. Ironic Temperament
  3. Ironic Persona
  4. Situational Irony
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Comic Devices Used in Humorous Irony

Visual Irony

Visual irony refers to the use of two or more images that don’t belong together. An unusual pairing of well known characters or scenes, for example, make us laugh at the imagined conflict.

These inevitable battles were played out well in the 1970s show “The Odd Couple.” The series featured a neurotic neat freak pitted against an untidy, cigar chomping gambler.  Audiences, in this case, laughed at the how the two mismatched friends could possibly share an apartment following their divorces.

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Mismatched Oscar and Felix Featured in the “Odd Couple”

Other examples of visual irony include the casting of humans as animals or cyborgs as humans. In both cases, the irony is enjoyed as we witness the acting out of a creation mismatch. Similarly, an oxymoron like the living dead, friendly adversaries or a screaming mime create laughter as we envision the inherent conflict.

Ironic Temperament

Another successful way to get laughter from irony is through the display of temperament anomalies. A common way to display this anomaly is with the mellowing of cantankerous personalities like the volatile John McEnroe or Bobby Knight.  

This can also be accomplished through the juxtaposing of characters in contradicting or aberrant ways. The films below show examples of a mother and daughter fiercely arguing over each others kind attributes as well as a beautiful woman admiring a man’s unattractive habits.

Ironic Persona

Our third technique used in irony involves the miscasting of character roles or intentions. This is often accomplished through the display of mistaken identities, adult acting children or childish acting adults.

This mismatch of personas can also create laughter when we see the least likely character to play a certain role. In the films below, we see this enacted in the form of unlikely hero figures.

Situational Irony

Finally, we often laugh over situational irony in which actions have an effect that is contrary to what was expected. This often happens in the case of a coincidental backlash, where the odds of such an unexpected scene spoiler are infinitely low.

Other cases of situational irony include the undesired outcomes resulting from misunderstandings or the scripting of behaviors in a misplaced or rhetorical setting.  We sometimes see this displayed in commercials through unorthodox routines, such as when employees let loose in an office setting.

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 8% involved some type of irony. This form of viral video engagement ranked number ten, eight and five 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 irony as an entertaining content marketing theme?

Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

33 thoughts on “Top 10 Ways to Make Your Content Funny: #5 Irony

  1. I think that Irony is an effective content marketing theme. My two favorite subcategories are “Adult acting child” and “childish adult”. Haribo is famous for portraying “adult acting child” and Subway is famous for portraying “childish adult” in their commercials.

  2. I like the irony in things. Anything that grabs my attention even for just a moment is going to stay on my mind much longer than anything else. Attention grabbers are always a good way to go with marketing any product or service. Consumers will remember the brand from the commercial so also increases brand awareness. The talking gecko not to be confused with Geico will always remembered because of its ironic setting.

  3. Irony is a great way to “throw off” the observer and when done comically will be the most memorable. We have a tendency to expect commercials/ads to initially be portrayed a certain way, but when the mismatch is triggered we either laugh at the complete opposite of what was expected, or are left confused. It’s a great way to engage but I agree it is not the best way to engage an audience because of its ability to potentially confuse.

  4. I think irony is a very effective and engaging way to capture the audiences’ attention. The element of “did that just really happen” that is displayed in advertising including irony captures the viewers’ attention and creates a unique interest. I think visual irony is most effective, especially in commercials, since that is what is most eye-catching to viewers. My favorite comic devices used in visual irony are hypocritical behaviors and oxymoron’s. The examples above of the talking mime (starbust) and the zombie (sprint) were perfect examples of how effective the use of irony can be, while also incorporating humor. I have not yet resorted to using irony as an entertaining content marketing theme but learning about the different comic devices that can be used for the different types of irony is a great foundation to have and will hopefully put to good use one day.

  5. Irony can be a lot of fun. Pair irony with Betty White and you’re sure to get laughter. An example of Situational or Visual irony would be Betty White’s Man Cave commercial:
    We first think we are about to see a man inside his “man cave” but the lights come on on Betty White. Furthermore, throughout the commercial she is shown in settings not typical of an “elderly” woman such as skateboarding.

  6. Using irony in commercials is a great way to grab users attention or “state the obvious.” It is a very straightforward method of getting the point across. Visual irony is a sometimes funny way to tell a story and provide an easy way to appeal to viewers. From a production stand point, it is a fairly inexpensive way of creating a commercial. Like the 7UP commercial I posted, it was only 15 seconds long and it clearly got the point across in less than that time.

  7. I think using irony in order to sell a product has it’s good and bad qualities, despite the success in using this quality, it will sometimes confuse people who are not focused on the message being said. In order to use this effectively, you must be able to have the right technique in order to capture the audience’s attention.

  8. I am not a big fan of this method so personally, I would not use this method. However, I think each method is great depending on the intended message and audience. Some of the companies that use this method put out very funny ironic commercials and are successful. Therefore, it is probably the best way a marketer can grab their audience’s attention. It depends on the product and intent to measure if it will be an effective way to go. Besides, I do not think I have ever resorted to this method.

  9. I think targeting the audience by “Irony” is an effective way to go, but not the most effective way to go. I like the trickery that these commercial do. For example, the misunderstood intentions are entertaining and not only tricks a character in the commercial, but also the audience. This is not the most effective tool though because of the fact that viewers need prior knowledge to get many of the “irony” commercials. Take the “oxymoron” commercial for an example. Viewers need to know that the two things they are showing are actually contradictions to understand the commercial. This goes the same for “friendly adversaries” commercials. Viewers need to priorly know that the characters in the commercial were enemies. Once again, I believe irony commercials are clever and effective, but there are many other types of commercials that are easier to understand, and most likely due to that reason, are more effective.

  10. Hello everyone!
    After watching these videos my favorite by far is the star burst commercial. Every time I would see that on TV I would always laugh at how they constructed the video. I do believe that irony theme is an effective way to go because it does catch the attention of the public. I do believe that these theme is catchy marketing technique and I personally have no used it but I would not mind resorting to it if I had to do a project in the future. It is good to get different perspective out in the market because having something different such as irony will never disappoint and always entertain.

    1. For this topic, I chose to discuss this commercial made by the Noggin channel for children’s television. I think this is a great example of attracting your audience through irony. I have children, so naturally I have the TV on kid shows more often than not. I got a huge kick out of this when it aired. Watching business professional’s conduct themselves like preschoolers is hilarious. For that reason, it seems to be a great example of ironic persona. Not only does this video get the brand name Noggin out there, but it makes people of all ages smile.

  11. Irony can appeal to alot of people, since alot of it falls under humor. Humor tends to be universal, so in a marketing sense you are expanding on your audience and consumer base when you are using irony.

  12. If I think about my friends and what kind of commercials we talk and laugh about then it is mainly commercials that include a lot of humor just like childish acting adults and kids acting like adults. Those type of commercials are funny, easy to grasp, and memorable. Therefore, I would say ironic persona is the most effective type of getting the audience’s attention.

    1. I agree with you, Florian. but I am no so sure it is the most effective comic device. I personally believe exaggeration is more effective than irony as it does not take as that long to detect “something out of sorts.” Irony is a little trickier to apply since its interpretation lies in the complex interplay of miscast characters and unconventional routines.

  13. Irony is also a great joke across cultures, as this type of humor can surpass language. I have many relatives that I am not too familiar with their language, but jokes of irony are always something we share in laughter. That is why I can watch so many european commercials that are especially ironic and still laugh even if I don’t understand the language.

  14. I think irony is a unique marketing technique. I found it a hard category at first, because it required more analyzing of the messages behind the commercials. These types most certainly catch the viewer’s attention as the opposite of what is expected occurs. They typically evoke laughter as the situations are not predictable and out of the norm. I have never used this technique, but can see how it is effective in the marketing world.

  15. I truly enjoyed watching these commercials and the different representations of irony in each example. These commercials display a lot of humor; therefore, using this technique as a marketing strategy is a great way to keep the viewers tuned in while at the same time having a moment of laughter. Over all, this marketing technique is highly effective and commonly used because it is inexpensive, creative, memorable, and humorous. I personally have never resorted to using irony as an entertaining content marketing theme but I would consider resorting to it in the future.

  16. Irony is highly affective. In commercials that display ironic situations, it captures the consumers attention. In their heads, customers realize that the situation playing aren’t natural. As of late, there seems to be a lot of companies using this technique like Snickers and AT&T.

  17. I truly believe irony is a huge attention grabber to someone of any age (child, teenager, or adult). I believe that adults acting like children, children posing as adults, unusually considerate, and odd couples to be the most powerful. Irony adds a lighthearted feel to commercials and great humor as well. I also believe that ironic commercials are some of the most well remembered. Just when I had to find a video for myself that correlated with this subject, I felt it was pretty easy because I remembered a lot of ironic commercials. This speaks for itself and shows that irony really does work and is an effective marketing technique.

  18. I think that using Irony for a marketing attraction is a great attention grabber and is being used more and more often. I think childish adult and misunderstood intentions are two big ways people are marketing it. They are using very humorous commercials that are different and keep the audience entertained. I have never used it personally but am defiantly going to start.

  19. Irony is probably one of the few marketing approaches that will work with any type of audience. It is hard not to laugh at a lot of these commercials because of their comedic use of irony. I would use this type of marketing for videos because it immediately grabs the audience’s attention and continues to keep their attention throughout the commercial. The great thing about these commercials is that people will remember them later on (therefore, remembering the product or subject the commercial was for).

  20. I think irony is a very good way of engaging your audience and attracting attention to a product or service. In fact I found myself laughing at many of the situations showed in these commercials. I also agree that companies should make more advertisements using this strategy because it is inexpensive and very effective. In my case I have never used irony for marketing purposes, but I would certainly consider implementing this advertising technique if I had to create commercial.

    1. I think you are right, Ivonne, in assuming this approach is inexpensive. Much of the production revolves around a clever dialog or storyline. This eliminates the high costs of illustrating visual exaggeration or getting large groups of people to act out their unruly desires. It’s also a safe route to take in that irony need not offend anyone. Thank you for the comment.

  21. Which way of commercials do you believe is the best on grabbing there audiences, Visual Irony, Ironic Temperaments, Ironic Personas or Situational Irony ?

    1. That’s tough to answer, Alex. I think visual and persona-based irony are the easiest to grasp; but once shown, it loses its ability to draw you into a storyline. Situational irony, requires a more advanced storyline; but in the end, it is likely the most successful way of drawing you into the storyline. Hence, it has a greater opportunity to highlight its entire brand message.

  22. I also believe this is a safer way for brands to advertise their products. The ad will catch the viewers attention whether it is visual, situational or dramatic. Many people/viewers like to see ironic commercials or ads which is great for the brand. More brands need to use this type of commerial or ad. This will ensure the brand will be known by many and will create referrals to their friends and family.

    1. It’s also based on a simple metaphor, Ines. Therefore, recall does not require a complex storyline for brand recall. A challenge in using irony is relating the contrasting to the brand message. Consider Betty White being tackled in football. How many really know the commercial is about Snickers? i.e., The irony itself could easily distract us away from the intended brand message. Thank you for the comment.

  23. I agree with you Mr. Barry about the safe and non-offesnsive use of irony. That is a very important aspect for Companies to consider because the last think one would want to do is offend any individual or group of customers by commercializing an offensive situation.

    1. This happens often, Nicola, in humor that disparages others (e.g., putdowns and making fun of others’ misfortunes) or pushing the limits on sexual overtures. In viewing the top viral YouTube videos, we often found a proportional increase in dislikes as views increased. It is amazing how far major brands are willing to go in risking the chance their content could insult or otherwise offend individuals. Thank you for your comment.

  24. I really enjoy watching the ironic commercials, while watching the example videos I actually recalled a lot of those scenes from personally watching the TV. Just that itself shows me that it is an effective marketing technique because it really does its job of capturing the attention of those watching. I have never resorted to using irony as an entertainment theme.

    1. Maegan, I am surprised this technique is not used more often in low budget content. It’s quite easy to execute (i.e., limited performances, props and high paid actors). I find its effectiveness has much to do with the brand’s connection to the irony. Thank you for sharing.

  25. I think irony is always a positive way to go in marketing. Showing ironic scenes of things that people would never say or do is hilarious and creates a great scene. The new modern advertisements with babies talking as adults, adults talking like babies, and the normality of non human things living in our normal world and carrying out human routines makes people enjoy the advertisements and lighten up immediately.

    1. I believe it is also a safe way to go, Paul. Irony rarely offends anyone, and it is easy to display given the many options (e.g., visual, situational, dramatic, etc.). Thank you for the comment.

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