» Humor is Not Always Funny

Katrina Killed the Klown

Photo: "Katrina Killed the Klown" by Keoni Cabral .

Communication between two people always results in some amount of information loss. It can't be helped! Maybe the radio is too loud. Or maybe your conversation partner is distracted by an impending meeting. It could even be that you sent an email when a phone call would have worked better, but the result is the same.

It happens somewhere within this cycle:

  1. I think of a message I want to communicate.
  2. I do my best to put it into words.
  3. My words are transmitted to you through some medium.
  4. You decode my words.
  5. You do your best to interpret my message.

At least one of us is going to misinterpret some part of the intended message. We don't have identical backgrounds. We don't think completely alike. And we aren't perfect! I hope that doesn't come as a surprise.

If we have this much trouble communicating when our message is simple, just imagine the additional complexity when we layer in humor! Everyone has a different sense of what is and is not funny. That's one reason why so many examples of corporate communication are straight-laced serious affairs.

You will find organizations that know their audience very well can get away with some humor. For example, malware monitoring and cleanup service Sucuri uses a touch of humor with their tagline PROTECT YOUR INTERWEBS.

However, even then, if your product is intended for business use, too much humor can leave an impression that your brand is a joke. And no company that wants to be taken seriously can afford to be the punchline!

I would also add that no matter the industry and no matter the type of business in question, Bill Murray will always get a pass.

But I'm guessing this exception applies in very limited cases.