How to Use Humor to Promote
Tradeshow Display Exhibits

One of the major objectives of tradeshow display exhibits is to create a lasting impression in the minds of attendees who represent potential buyers. After all, if a booth visitor can’t remember you, then you won't get the business. In your promotional efforts, you also want to create a positive impression, which can sometimes be harder to do than the negative equivalent.

Which brings us to humor. People love to laugh – and they like other people to laugh with them. Witness the almost constant flood of jokes and cartoons that flit across the internet: Proof that humor cannot be stopped.

You’ll often find that people go out of their way to remember great jokes, where they’ll never, ever stop to jot down the details of an eye-catching graphic. This makes humor an invaluable marketing tool for tradeshow display exhibits -–if you can make it serve your objectives.

Some of you are dismissing this idea out of hand. “There’s nothing funny about my product!” I can hear you saying. Well, what’s funny about rental cars? Beer? Car insurance? None of these items are inherently funny, yet companies in all three sectors have effectively used humor to fix their products in the public eye.

It is important to remember that your campaign for your tradeshow display exhibits should be fully integrated into your marketing plan as a whole. If you are using humor in your television and print media, bring it to the show floor with your tradeshow display exhibits.

However, if you are known as a stoic and conservative company, playing for laughs at the convention center with your tradeshow display exhibits will fall flat. Consistency in corporate image is key.

What can we learn from companies that have successfully used humor? There are four key lessons.

Key #1: Exaggerate the norm. 

Contrast exaggerated examples of industry ‘norms’ with how your company excels. A restaurant chain that serves large portions could highlight the much smaller servings to be had at the competitor’s. Wendy’s did this very effectively with the “Where’s The Beef?” campaign in the Eighties. Be careful not to explicitly or implicitly identify your competitors, or you’ll be hearing from some very angry lawyers.

Remember the Budweiser frogs? How about the lizards? Or the donkey that wanted to be a Clydesdale? Each of these campaigns was phenomenally successful, yet only tangentially related to the product at hand.

Key #2: Know your target audience. 

Jokes that appeal to one demographic may not work with another. Gen Y shoppers have especially sharp funny bones, and may appreciate dry wit. Tie in your classic marketing efforts whenever possible.

Geico and AFLAC have recently done very well with their talking animal ads. By using the same animals over and over to reinforce the marketing message – after all, that poor duck could surely use some disability insurance of his own by now! – both companies have created brand awareness second to none.

Key #3: Create a character. 
Create a ‘character’ as part of your brand image. This character should show up EVERYWHERE – including television commercials, on the literature you distribute at the show, in your signage and graphics, and potentially as stuffed animals.

The Serta Sheep toys have taken on a life of their own, and each and every one of them goes out with the company name blazoned on the side. That’s humorous marketing at work.

Geico has done this very well with the “I saved money on my car insurance by switching to Geico!” series of commercials. Exercise equipment salesmen, politicians, animated characters – all have been pressed into service to recite those ten words. Using different settings keeps the audience engaged, while constant repetition drives the message home.

Key #4: Repetition counts. 

Remember, consumers need to hear a message at least six times before they’ll recall it easily. The trick is to keep the presentation fresh while the message remains constant. Comedians world-wide will tell you that humor is a tough business.

It is hard to tell what will make one person laugh and another roll their eyes in disgust. However, if a joke falls flat for a comedian, they simply move on to the next joke and keep moving.

If you’ve invested tons of time and money in your humor campaign and plan to extend your efforts with marketing your tradeshow display exhibits, you need to know these three things:

  1. It must be funny. Test the campaign on objective people -- lots of objective people. If the majority laugh, you’re golden. However, if less than half the people get the joke, drop it.

  2. It must be quick. There are great funny jokes that take half an hour to tell. Inflict them on your relatives or when you've got a whole room full of trapped subordinates. Customers aren't going to give you that much of their time. You've got half a minute tops to get them laughing.

  3. It must reflect well on your company. Ethnic, racial, sexual, and gender based humor has absolutely no place in the corporate world.

Laughing is a lot of hard work, isn't it? But once you’ve found the right balance, you’ll have an campaign for your company and tradeshow display exhibits that will draw the crowds into your booth area – and more importantly, toward buying your products and services. 

Source: Excerpts from article written by Susan A. Friedmann, CSP, The Tradeshow Coach,

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