What’s so funny about sustainability?

By Jennifer Earle

Knock knock. Who’s there? Sustainability. Sustainability who? Well, just sustainability. Don’t get it? Ok. We’re working on it. But the real question remains: Should sustainability be more funny?

This was the topic of our Roundtable discussion during The Crowd‘s much anticipated Celebrating Failure event chaired by our very own (and very funny!) Ed Gillespie. The discussion followed the event’s bold theme by questioning the precise nature of sustainability in business. Pondering the role that failures play in success and the way we approach it in our organisations. Humour then, offers a way to embrace our quirks and imperfections and connect with the core of what it means to be human – having a good old chuckle. The discussion unearthed some interesting views on the role of humour in sustainability, its obstacles and opportunities – summarised for your reading pleasure below.

“Humour offers a way to embrace our quirks and imperfections and connect with the core of what it means to be human – having a good old chuckle”

The obstacles

Some consider sustainability an inherently serious topic and not for puns. This means that getting sign-off for comical sustainability campaigns can seem like a heroic task. Not to mention that its use might not be considered suitable for all industries in the first place.

Striking the right balance between communications that are consistent with the brand and use humour to engage is tricky. What’s more representing a brand rather than being seen as an individual means that communications have more weight and using humour is risky business. Add to the mix targeting different segments of an audience with humour and we’re left needing an intricate understanding of what makes them chuckle.

There’s no denying the relationship between humour and political issues has a jaded past. We also run the risk of going too far, alienating and embarrassing the subject of our puns. For all humour is a murky subject and personal in its interpretation.

The opportunities

But humour is innately human and therefore a powerful tool for engagement. The ‘Pleasure Principle’ tells us that if we make sustainability enjoyable rather than a chore, our message will sink in more easily (a notion that rings true in ourChange-maker Cards). And when competing for attention from multiple messages, humour can offer a way for sustainability to stand out from the crowd.

Using humour to talk about an important subject can make people question themselves and their behaviour leading to real change. And we know from experience that humour’s more serious and worthy counterpart isn’t helpful in efforts to engage.

There exists great examples of how light-hearted wit helps connect us and sustain our affection for the brands we love. So why not embrace this approach for sustainability? A good example comes from Dollar Shave Club who poked fun at the hypocrisy of male grooming advertisements in its recent commercial and differentiated its brand with comedy.

Bupa showed us a playful streak in its ‘Born to Walk’mockumentary which follows the story of ‘Chad Strider’ the self-proclaimed ‘world’s best walker’. The video provides just the right serving of tongue-in-cheek to help promote the launch of its Ground Miles app.

In the world of social media, Jaffa Cake, Tesco Mobile and Yorkshire Tea held a recent virtual Twitter tea party showing faceless corporates out there how humour, a personal touch and a bit of banter can be a recipe for online success.

The conclusion

As communicators we need to help sustainability ditch the serious act and embrace its light-hearted side. By doing so we’ll build more personal connections with our audience, stand out from the crowd, appeal to new audiences and have a good time along the way! So, let’s rub our funny bones together and start working on those puns.

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