Puns in Marketing: The Good, The Bad and The Pugly

Whether or not to include puns in your marketing content often depends on who you ask. Here are some factors to consider when deciding whether a well-placed pun is right for your product.

marketing puns

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A pun is the lowest form of humor… – Doug Larson

Are puns a good choice for a marketer looking for an edge? It depends on who you ask. Some self-proclaimed experts say never use puns — too risky. Others might tell you that a good pun is the best kind of creative wordplay for marketing. Maybe a case could be made for either point of view.

If you’re the type of person who likes to drop the occasional pun into a conversation, then you know there are two different ways things could play out. If your pun is witty enough and you’re playing to the right crowd, you might get a few appreciative laughs. Otherwise, it’s groans all the way.

The same thing can easily happen if you include puns in your marketing content, so it’s important to make sure you do things right. Here’s a closer look at what you need to know.

What to Consider When Using Marketing Puns

Using a pun in marketing is like deciding to squeeze all of the toothpaste out of the tube. Once you do it, it’s not possible to undo it, so it’s important to be sure. Here are key factors to consider.

Good taste

As anyone who’s ever cracked a joke already knows, there’s often a fine line between funny and insensitive. This is definitely the case in content marketing, as well.

For example, take Airbnb’s 2017 Floating World campaign. The ad featured a house situated over water alongside the tagline: “Stay above water.” It was meant to encourage consumers to check out more water-themed accommodations. But the fact that it launched at the same time Hurricane Harvey was ravaging Texas made it a poor choice.

Google rankings

All digital marketers in 2024 know that readability is a huge contributing factor when it comes to Google SERP rankings. Google’s algorithm generally prefers text that is:

  • Simple
  • Succinct
  • Logical
  • Free-flowing

Most puns don’t fit well into that formula, so make sure any you do include pass the Google test.

Audience tastes

Just as you might have friends who love a good pun and friends who roll their eyes every time you make one, some audiences are more open to a chuckle than others.

Ask yourself what kind of people your customers are, and consider whether punny marketing is really their speed. What’s worked for your company in the past? Do puns fit into that landscape or not? If not, you may want to think twice.

For a pun to work well, it has to be more than just a play on words. It also needs to be classy and next-level clever to make the right impact. So, if you’re determined to work pun-focused humor into your marketing campaign, consider trusting the job to a professional who knows how to do it right.

Puns Gone Wrong

The problem with using a pun online, in print media or as a tagline to develop a brand is that once you do it, you can’t undo it. A bad pun is a potentially pun-ishing experience. For example, the shoe company Foot Petals used this one in an ad campaign:

Shoe-icide is not the answer.

The ad included a picture of shoes with feet and legs attached hanging upside down in a noose. They probably got a few laughs out of that, but they were most likely the uncomfortable kind. It’s not hard to see why many find this reckless and a bit insensitive as opposed to clever wordsmithing.

The ad went on to say:

Reviving a love/hate relationship with your sexy shoes.

That’s a good example of a bad pun, one that in today’s marketing climate is likely to backfire.

Here’s another one once used by the now-defunct Washington Mutual Bank:

Free-range checkin

The background image – baby chicks. You gotta know PETA loved it.

The risk of putting your foot in your marketing mouth is not the only reason puns are sometimes a bad idea, though.

The Time Paradox

Time is also a consideration for most marketing campaigns.

Why did the bakery start a blog? They needed the dough.

State of Marketing Report 2024

It took me about five minutes to come up with that, and it’s not funny.

The amount of time you spend trying to think up a pun could go towards on a more effective form of humor. For puns to really have an impact, they need to be exceptionally clever, and most fail to meet that standard.

Historically Speaking

If in doubt, go back to see what has worked in the past. Look at some of the really historic taglines:

  • Just Do It – Nike
  • We Try Harder – Avis
  • Every kiss begins with Kay – Kay Jewelers
  • For life – Volvo

Classy, simple and not all that punny.

Puns Done Right

There is one puntastic slogan offered by Dollar Shave Club, a company that seems to define humorous campaigns:

“Shave time. Shave Money.”

House of Fraser has a good one, too:

“Temptation on Every Level”

The field of well-played puns is almost nonexistent, though.

The truth is the most pugly puns in marketing are visual:

Thank you, British Airways.

Or how about this one from Coke:

The key to using puns in a campaign is to follow one simple rule:

Don’t make the pun your primary focus. You want to make the brand memorable. If you can do that with a smart, witty pun, great. If not, though, there are more effective forms of word-centric humor worth exploring.

Upgrading Your Sense of Humor

Doug Larson probably got it right, puns really are the lowest form of humor no matter how clever. They work great when you are sitting in a bar telling a joke, but for marketing, not so much. There is a reason it is hard to find examples of ad puns that didn’t fall flat.

The goal of any tagline or slogan is to:

  • Stick in people’s minds
  • Sell at least one benefit of the brand, service or product
  • Make the brand pop
  • Give potential leads that warm fuzzy feeling because happiness sells.

And, cue examples:

  • Apple – Think Different
  • BMW – Designed for Driving Pleasure
  • Lay’s – Bet You Can’t Eat Just One
  • The New York Times – All the News That’s Fit to Print
  • The U.S. Marine Corp – The Few, The Proud, The Marines

What do all these famous taglines have in common? They appeal to their target audience in a way that makes them proud or happy, the phrase is catchy and totally pun-less.

Using Humor Wisely in Marketing

Whether or not you decide to include a marketing pun in your next campaign, keep the fundamentals of impactful taglines in mind. Great taglines:

  • Are easy to remember
  • Highlight a key brand benefit or selling point
  • Help the brand stand out
  • Promote happy, positive feelings

Think different” by Apple, “Bet you can’t eat just one” by Lays, and “Designed for driving pleasure” by BMW are all great pun-free examples of this principle in action. However, Dollar Shave Club’s “Shave time, shave money” also works despite being very punny.

In other words, puns can work in marketing but very rarely, so be sure to use them wisely.

A professional copywriter or content creator like the ones you’ll meet at WriterAccess can help you get your campaign right, puns or no puns. Sign up for your free 14-day WriterAccess trial today, and get started!


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