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Funny business: How humour can help (or hurt) your marketing strategy

There’s nothing like humour to punch up your marketing. Not only is it linked to higher recall and persuasiveness in advertising, but it can also help clients perceive you as more credible and approachable.

But there’s also the flip side. If used inappropriately, humour can be viewed as unprofessional, offensive and even exploitive. 

Think back to the tone-deaf Groupon Super Bowl commercial where actor Timothy Hutton sits in a restaurant describing human rights abuses in Tibet, adding, “But they still whip up an amazing fish curry.”

Or the quickly-pulled Hyundai ad that depicted a failed suicide attempt in a garage thanks to the vehicle’s reduced harmful emissions.

Ouch. These seem blatantly obvious blunders. But clearly, the marketing executives who unleashed them didn’t initially realize that. It can be a fine line – a concern which is undoubtedly among the reasons you don’t see many realtors relying on humour in their marketing.

Those who do exploit it, though, say that it’s worth the risk. 


Using humour in your marketing strategy


Right up there is Matt Lionetti, who’s managed to meaningfully monetize and leverage his clever social media content and brand as a popular keynote speaker, podcast host, and innovation award winner with Toronto brokerage, The Agency. (Next up for Lionetti – extolling the power of personality to industry influencers and disruptors at the Buzz Conference this coming March 30 in Toronto.)

“I was always the class clown,” confesses Lionetti, who has turned that trait into millions of social media views. “My greatest fear is being too safe, too much like everyone else.”

He recalls that when he decided to “niche down” a few years ago to focus on making his Instagram marketing videos edgy and comedic rather than cookie-cutter, he found himself alone at an untapped marketing frontier getting the most “engagement” he’d ever had. 

Previously he’d been miserable, thinking he’d be able to hang his realtor hat on his personality, only to be told repeatedly that using humour in his ads would never work. 

He’s thankful he didn’t listen. 

“The industry is robotic. There are too many people in it to be like everyone else…. Don’t showboat,” says Lionetti.


A video he almost didn’t post of himself impersonating rocker Freddie Mercury as a realtor showing a house transformed his career.

“It’s about being authentic and relatable. The industry is robotic. There are too many people in it to be like everyone else…. Don’t showboat. Always share your wins and losses. The wins give you credibility and the losses make you human.”

Nowadays, funny content is becoming more mainstream, with sprinklings of humour evident on many agents’ platforms. “But still, very few go all in (as) I do,” notes Lionetti. 

On occasion, he hires a production team. But that’s by no means necessary – you’re not Leonardo DiCaprio, he observes. Some of his highest views have been just him on his iPhone, in what he refers to as “selfie-style car rants.”

Other Lionetti tips and quips: 

  •   Stay away from polarizing topics like religion and politics. Most experts also suggest avoiding profanity – but not Lionetti. “That’s just who I am. I use swearing like a comma.” 
  • Know your audience. Stories on various social media platforms disappear in 24 hours, making them a good place to test new content and get immediate feedback. 
  • Have a strong, relatable message right out of the gate. “People have short attention spans.” 
  • Don’t overthink or do numerous takes. “You’ll lose enthusiasm, and enthusiasm is everything.” Have fun with it.
  • Tap into your personality and passions. If humour isn’t your thing, focus on what is. Are you analytical? Sarcastic? Bubbly? Run with it. “You don’t need everyone to like you. You will find your people.”

“Humour creates a sense of likeability, which I think our industry lacks,” – Kash Alavi  


Other agents not afraid to push the comedic envelope include ReMax Hallmark’s Kash Alavi and Century 21’s Arty Basinski, both Toronto based. The former once posted a video of himself on the toilet. He knew it was risky, but he got away with it. (“You could see the side of my butt cheek. But that made it more shareable.”) 

Finding the right balance can be tricky, cautions Alavi. But he’s sold on the power of humour. 

“The public mainly sees the polished side of the real estate profession – our cars, our sales figures. They’re tired of that. These days, when people approach me at a party or somewhere having seen my videos, they relate to me with a big smile, (whereas) before, an invisible wall came up. It’s a whole different world. Humour creates a sense of likeability, which I think our industry lacks.” 

Also relieved to ditch the stereotype of the realtor as a snake-oil salesman is Basinski, who often creates playful, tongue-in-cheek music videos for his listings. 


“There’s almost no talk about creativity in real estate. It’s high time that changed,” -Arty Basinski


A few years ago, his Lil Yellow House rap video went viral. (Sample lyric: ‘Lil Yellow House is nice and cozy. Come inside if you’re feeling a bit nosy.’)

“Why not have comedy in real estate?” Basinski asserts. “This industry is so homogenized. I’m trying to shake things up.” To this end, he recently launched Big Kid Real Estate, his personal consulting brand, to help realtors tap into creative, outside-the-box marketing.

“There’s so much opportunity there,” he says. “There’s almost no talk about creativity in real estate. It’s high time that changed.”