Viral Humor: Comedy in Healthcare Marketing


Marketers use humor because it’s powerful. Funny triggers emotion, funny is memorable and, most importantly for our purposes, funny gets shared.

But we’ve all seen ads that try too hard. Sometimes jokes just don’t work; even worse, sometimes they’re flat-out offensive. In healthcare marketing, it’s even easier to accidentally cross a line. Nobody wants to upset or insult a consumer who feels vulnerable or is facing a tough decision, so it’s tempting to avoid humor altogether when it comes to healthcare campaigns.

However, when a few strategic principles are applied, humorous campaigns can yield dramatically positive results. Here are five tips for using humor to connect with healthcare consumers.

  1. Humor can help when consumers are nervous about a decision. Northlich recently created two campaigns that leverage humor: one for Schneck Medical Center that encouraged consumers over age 50 to get a colon cancer screening, and one for The Urology Group encouraging men to get their annual prostate exams. Colonoscopies and prostate exams are up there with root canals on the list of dreaded medical procedures, but combining a dash of humor with a tactful and subtle approach secured consumer attention without offending.


  1. A little goes a long way. It’s like salt: You don’t need much to make things interesting, and too much will ruin the effect.
  2. Keep it light. Dark humor has its place, but healthcare marketing isn’t it. Jokes about death are out.
  3. Be polite. The human body can produce some, shall we say, rude noises and smells, which might seem rife with comedic opportunity. But people have widely varying degrees of tolerance for potty jokes, and this kind of material can be viewed as offensive. Sometimes it’s just a matter of word choice. A recent campaign for The Urology Group about bladder accidents avoided the word “pee” in favor of inoffensive phrases like “little accidents.” Yet, the word pee was deemed appropriate when shown on the inside of a restroom stall. After all, we know what’s going on behind those closed doors.


  1. Test it before you run it. It’s not always obvious how a joke will be received, so plan time for testing into your schedule when using humor in a healthcare campaign. You could save yourself a lot of trouble if one of your test subjects has a unique perspective you didn’t know to consider when creating the campaign.

When humor is subtle, respectful and empathetic, and administered with a light touch, it can bring a lot of power to your healthcare campaigns — and start conversations in the social space that can benefit your brand.