‘I can resist everything except temptation…’

Oscar Wilde knew a thing or two about quips; plenty of his appear in the Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations.

It’s no wonder he’s the most cited wit – he was a true genius of language who knew exactly how to subvert it for his own ends.

His sense of humour still stands the test of time, even though he died in 1900. And there are plenty of others whose words remain memorable – Bob Hope’s (‘You know you’re getting old when the candles cost more than the cake’) and Dorothy Parker’s (‘Tell him I was too fucking busy- or vice versa’) among others.

So it got me wondering what makes a writer funny? A tricky question. And, if you can be funny, is there still room for sophisticated humour in today’s corporate brand landscape?

Here’s the science bit: a few years ago, American academic John McIlheran properly studied the effectiveness of humour in corporate communication. This was no laughing matter – the paper he produced was ‘to investigate how humor can be used to help improve understanding of a message, as well as to validate the findings of the Booth-Butterfield humor orientation scale.’ Blimey.

The study used this scientific scale to measure the effectiveness of using humour to maintain focus on written or verbal messages. It found that ‘Humor has been proven to contribute to increases in compliance, learning, attitude shifts and enjoyment. It also contributes to improved organizational cohesiveness. By knowing whether an audience perceives humor differently, based on age or location, the sender can target the message more effectively.’

A real laugh a minute that John McIlheran! Of course, the lesson is, as always, to only use funny stuff if the people you want connect with will find that stuff funny (and appropriate), too.