Don’t get me wrong — puns are great! I’m a big fan, as they’re humorous, witty and apt. More importantly, they draw a good number of eyeballs to marketing campaigns.
But the use of puns in content is a shiny double-edged sword; you either take home the win, or you go down in history the wrong way.
This is particularly so in the digital age. As the saying goes,
‘What goes on the Internet stays on the Internet. Forever.’
So, it is safe to say that the wrong pun can result in severe punishment (Woops).
Here’re my two cents on the use and misuse of puns in content strategies:
1. Puns are hilarious — the funnier, the better.
Puns often lighten the mood and sometimes, their cheesy nature makes your product or service just a little bit more interesting than they really are.
What’s a famous word in Italian? Ciao. How do you describe eating something real fast? Chow Down. Combining the both? Ciao Down. #SoEfficient 😂
Giving a pun-ny twist to a fairly known phrase, “I beg to differ”, helps differentiate the Italian bakery from its competitors. I personally find this cute, conversational and personable — also bridges the gap between the bakery and its customers!
2. But puns stand out like a sore thumb in sensitive situations
This may not be the smartest pun around. In fact, it’s a reckless allusion to death and suicide… Or Shoe-icide. Ugh. It’s not even that funny.
I personally also find this highly inappropriate and offensive as it reinforces a myriad of stereotypes. A pair of heels is accompanied with the words, “sexy shoes”, which on many levels undermine the general appeal of flats, sneakers and sandals. That aside, suicide is indirectly presented as the alternative to “reviving a love/hate relationship”, which seems only to associate suicide with relationship problems. I don’t think that is a fair portrayal, and it is a form of communication that does more harm to society than good.
In addition, according to Dictionary.com,
So if pesticide kills pests, insecticide rids insects, homicide involves the murder of humans and bactericide removes bacteria…
Does “Shoe-icide” discourage the use of shoes?
Pretty contradictory to its sales objectives, I’d say. #EnglishFail
BreadTalk launched a new bread product the week of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s death, to honour his life’s work in building Singapore. Unfortunately, the product was attacked by Singaporeans as “insensitive” and “disgraceful” and had to be taken off BreadTalk’s shelves within 24 hours.
I think this could’ve been more appropriate at the right timing — during his first death anniversary, maybe — but definitely not a few days after his passing.
From a copywriting perspective, it would also help if the copywriter used the Chinese character ‘Li’ with the same intonation (There are four tones in Mandarin Chinese). 李不开你 was meant to be a pun for 离不开你, and while the two characters have the same pronunciation, they are spoken with very different tones! That’s an outright ignorance of the fundamentals of the Chinese language. #ChineseFail
Besides, 不开你 refers to “not opening you”, which holds a rather inauspicious connotation. 永远在我们的心李 or 向您致李 may have been a tad more appropriate.
One thing we know for sure from the above two examples: Always think of the context of words around it — it’s not always about the pun!
3. Google does not like puns as much as you do
In the digital world, it’s all about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and ensuring your keywords and content match up with and come up in people’s searches as often as they can.
Using puns in your headlines may hence reduce your searchability on Google. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it altogether. Instead, you can include the puns in:
- Paragraphs of your blog posts
- Headings, while ensuring that you still have searchable information
- Social media platforms
As long as you don’t overdo it (or do it for the sake of doing it, or do it at the wrong times), a random pun here or there would surely do no harm.
I find this particularly relevant on social media, as there is a constant stream of new content every second every day, and there’s always the added struggle to be THE content that stands out from the crowd.
Because ultimately, what really makes a bad marketer? Being anti-social! So use your puns wisely and in socially accepted ways!
4. There are other methods of wordplay
Puns are not the only literary devices in this world. If you’d paid attention in your English classes you’d know of other techniques such as:
Save time, persuade with rhyme! One of my favourite examples of rhyme is from the Apple MacBook Pro, “Beauty Outside, Beast Inside”. I think that’s why I’m such a loyal MacBook fan.
5. The pun is not an aim in itself
One of the most important advice I’d read (from Alastaire Allay), is that the pun is not an aim in itself.
His post is a poignant reminder of what we’ve set out to do in the first place:
We’re not trying to be funny.
We’re not trying to be clever.
We’re not trying to write a pun that everyone remembers.
All we’re trying to do, is to make people remember the product.
So if the pun has garnered more attention than the product itself, then it’s sad to say that the joke is now on us.