Do You Get It? The Power of Inside Jokes

The funniest jokes—the ones I laugh at the hardest for the longest—are the inside jokes with my friends. Because we know each other so well, those jokes are special to just us. They come from a shared understanding that only we get.  

If we can harness that power in advertising, we can create an immediate dialogue with our consumers and a deeper, longer lasting bond between audience and brand. Inside jokes can help us focus on a specific audience and speak directly to them in a targeted and meaningful way. It can be the perfect vehicle to connect with a smaller, but more engaged tribe. And that can allow us to be welcomed into our consumer’s world not as an annoyance, but as an equal.

bazinga! vs. wubba lubba dub dub!

In marketing, it can be easy to fall into to the trap that we need to create something that everyone gets. And fast. After all, the more people we reach, the more potential to convert those touches into revenue. But consider this…

Recently, Newsweek announced that the quirky, decidedly non-mainstream “Rick and Morty” beat the conventional laugh track juggernaut, “The Big Bang Theory,” as the number one show for viewers 18-24 and 18-34.

“Rick and Morty” had 2.5 million adult views per episode versus 1.8 million for “Big Bang Theory.” And if you ever talk to a fan of “Rick and Morty” you’ll quickly see how much they see themselves as a tribe united by obscure references and inside jokes that, proudly, only they understand. Case in point? This is the tribe that went to McDonalds in droves for a dipping sauce from 1998, because of an inside joke.

The “Rick and Morty” creators don’t make their show for the masses. In fact, I bet they barely think of their audience at all. They write to make each other laugh, to make the funniest show they can. They make the show they would want to watch. If people get it, great. If they don’t, oh well.

pretty…pretty…pretty good

As creatives and marketers, how do we create the impact of an “inside joke,” with our target audiences? A good inside joke presupposes information. It assumes a point of view and a shared, specific, sphere of knowledge that only a certain number of people will understand. This may scare some companies that hope to target giant swaths of consumers.

Everyone wants to feel unique and smart, like they’re in on something and have a special understanding. The trick is finding that fine line of being advanced enough with the way we speak to consumers that a specific audience feels like it’s just for them, yet wide enough that there are enough of those people that it’s quantifiable.

When Snapchat started putting up billboards that were just stylized location names without a Snapchat logo, there were probably two camps of people: those who got it, and those who didn’t. The ones who got it knew these graphics were physical representations of Snapchat’s Geofilters, which you can put over your photos to let people know where you are. It was a nice shout-out to Snapchat users. The people who didn’t get it either shrugged it off, or took the time to seek out an answer, maybe even wondering if they should “download this Snapchat everyone’s talking about.”

(Source: Adweek)

(Source: Adweek)

Similarly, Comedy Central recently put up billboards for their new show “Corporate” that read “COMEDY CENTRAL IS CORPORATE.” Get the inside joke? Maybe this will help: they were put up near billboards advertising Netflix’s new stand-up specials reading “NETFLIX IS A JOKE.” Comedy Central created an inside joke based on Netflix’s inside joke.

(Source: Adweek)

When it comes to specific targeting, Subaru has done some amazing work over the years. In the 90s, Subaru discovered that the lesbian community was an emerging and powerful demographic for their cars. Subaru engaged Mulryan/Nash, a firm specializing in marketing to the LGBTQ community. The resulting commercials included cars with custom license plates that read “X-E-N-A-L-V-R” (as in, “Xena: Warrior Princess lover”) and “P-Towny,” a reference to Provincetown, Massachusetts (a popular vacation destination for the LGBTQ community). Those inside jokes spoke directly to a very specific audience. If you didn’t catch it, fine. But the people they wanted to catch it, did. The campaign worked so well, in fact, that Subaru ended up hiring tennis star and lesbian icon Martina Navratilova as their pitch woman.

clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

When creating content, it’s worth exploring how you might connect with a specific audience by speaking directly to them, through a common reference level or shared vocabulary. In the short term, you sacrifice doing something that works for everyone. But by keeping it small, specific and inside, you begin to form an honest, meaningful bond with a more committed tribe of consumers.

In marketing, that’s the power of the inside joke…for those who get it.


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