I don’t have much to say about this.

There are a lot of things I could say that won’t be very helpful for you, like:

  • I HATE when people do this
  • Am I right ladies? Who’s with me?!
  • It’s so annoying
  • Even Cracked.com thinks so
  • People should stop doing it.

But that’s not really an article, that’s more of a rant. Other than ranting about how lazy I think it is—and how insulting I think it is that marketing people think they can appeal to watchers and readers so easily, just by throwing in some lazy attempts at humor with aimless silliness—I don’t have anything very concrete to say about the topic.

And when I realized I didn’t have much to say on the topic, I discovered the reason I still needed to write on it: Knowing when you don’t have anything to say is important.

At Least I Know When to Shut Up

Or when what I’m saying serves no purpose. Or when to delete the draft I’m working on because it isn’t going anywhere. There’s no substance.

At least I realize, when I’m having trouble making a joke work, that my problem is usually that I’m not clear on what needs to be said, and often I’m trying to force a joke into something that’s not worth saying at all. I don’t know what I’m saying—and so the whole thing just crumbles without the foundation of a true purpose.

Being Random Isn’t Funny, Being Random is Having Nothing to Say

I don’t love it, Andy. I really don’t. From districtlines.com.

And for some reason trying to make words come out of your mouth anyway.

Being random is me trying to make this piece a 2000-word post by throwing in a bunch of bullshit because I have an arbitrary goal: hit a certain number of words. Because someone somewhere has probably once said lots of words make a good blog post. Writing jokes or anything else like this is soul-sucking and honestly, if Ernest Hemingway were here, he’d fight your ass in a heartbeat.

And he was a boxer, so. From newrepublic.com.

Being random is Mountain Dew creating the puppymonkeybaby for Super Bowl 50, which didn’t mean much because they had an arbitrary goal: connect with the audience. But it’s just an arbitrary goal and doesn’t get to the meaty stuff like: Why do we want to connect with the audience? How do we want to make them feel? What are we trying to say about Mountain Dew?

Instead they went for cheap idiot laughs. They threw money at a Super Bowl ad spot before they were ready to say anything at all.

Randomness is a Tool, Not a Goal

Old Spice demonstrates this distinction beautifully in their 2010 campaign The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.

This screen cap of Old Spice’s commercial came from YouTube. Suddenly I am a very sweaty woman.

What’s the difference?

Old Spice combined lots of at-first-glance unrelated and quick-moving scenes to capture interest: gallivanting on a yacht, catching an oyster, sprinkling diamonds all over the place like it ain’t no thang, and finally riding a horse. But it all comes together in the end: these are all things that are romantic and manly as frick, all things that rightfully personify The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.

Meanwhile, back at Mountain Dew’s shitstorm of a marketing department, I can only imagine this is how things went down:

Poor, Lost Soul 1: We need to catch people’s attention! We have plenty of money, now we just need ideas.
Poor, Lost Soul 2: But we don’t have any of those.
PLS* 1: No bother—let’s just Google a list of generic nouns, close our eyes, pick 3 of them at random, and smash them all together.
PLS 2: But what’s that got to do with Mountain Dew?
PLS 1: Nothing.
PLS 2: You’ve done it again, Sir. A stellar idea.
PLS 2: What?
PLS 1: Haha, sorry, I’m just so random xD**

(*Not to be confused with PSL, which is a pumpkin spice latte and not a sad idiot person.)

(**I hope you learned a lot from this hypothetical conversation because it is nearly killing me to publish the “xD” symbol anywhere on the internet, much less with my name behind it.)

This Isn’t A Case Study Because We’re All Too Smart for That

I’m not going into detail on why Old Spice nailed it and Mountain Dew didn’t. I won’t back this up with numbers, though I will say I’m not the only one that was majorly turned off by the puppymonkeybaby campaign. (Here’s a free marketing tip: confusion and terror are probably not the emotions you want to associate with your brand.)

I don’t think we need a case study. I don’t think we need a survey or an experiment. I think deep down we all know romping around pointlessly with nothing real to say is no substitute for focused, well-thought out humor and marketing (even if it may seem random on the surface).

Let’s give more credit to our fellow humans than that. Most of us are more intelligent than that. And if you are trying to appeal to the less intelligent among us with randomness because you think that’s a wholesome marketing strategy, I can’t help you. I urge you to check in with your moral compass.

Here’s What to Do Instead

Know what you want to say. Start there. Say it, then slide in randomness if it fits. But don’t force it.

Taking the time to work through this process—figuring out what needs to be said and how you can make it funny—is work, no doubt. But it’s noble, respectful work. It’s respectful to try your best to connect with your reader or watcher on a witty level; it’s disrespectful to take the randomness shortcut and assume they’re dumb enough to fall for it.

Try harder. Learn how to write with humor. Take out your randomness tool when you can. But when you find you don’t really need it, put it back in the toolbox and use your brain instead.

Or what’s left of it after puppymonkeybaby sucks all the joy and creativity from it.