I wrote about Zappos using levity as the killer app in its communications a few years ago.
Before going further, it’s worth noting that levity has a lower bar than humor. We’re not trying to channel Jon Stewart or Conan O’Brian. Levity delivers a smile, a grin (bigger smile) or, at its best, a low-decibel chuckle. That image above the headline comes from our SlideShare deck on persuasive language, not exactly a topic that causes the pulse to quicken. Yet, the deck has garnered over 200K views thanks to levity.
In the case of Zappos, a podcast interview with Kanye West triggered a tirade about all that is wrong with the shoe retailer and its CEO Tony Hsieh, triggering a slew of media stories that included West’s cathartic moment:
“I got into this giant argument with the head of Zappos that he’s trying to tell me what I need to focus on. Meanwhile, he sells all this s–t product to everybody, his whole thing is based off of selling s–t product.”
I don’t think you need to be part of the Zappos PR team to figure out that the West commentary did not hit a key message.
Rather than get indignant or angry, Zappos played the levity card. Roughly 24 hours after the West tirade, Zappos invented a new “product” available on its website:
Here’s another example of the power of levity that just appeared a couple months ago.
Everyone would agree that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) performs a serious role. To the TSA’s credit, it recognizes the perception challenges that come with its line of work and strives to humanize the organization. How? Taking a page from the visual storytelling playbook, the TSA’s Instagram account highlights the dangerous and even crazy stuff that people try to get through airport security. There’s a certain reality TV psychology going on here as in “What will the TSA find next?” — an approach that has attracted 985,000 followers.
Check out the image posted on Valentine’s Day:
The frame of hearts around four deadly weapons certainly offers an incongruent touch.
But where the TSA exercises its storytelling chops and the levity comes through is in the caption:
Valentine’s Day is a wonderful time to remind that special someone how you feel. A romantic card is a lovely thought, as are flowers and candy. Or perhaps jewelry is a more appropriate sign of your strong affection.
Alternatively, you could take a lesson from a passenger at Colorado Springs Airport (COS) and give your sweetheart a big ol’ bag of martial arts weapons! This carry-on goody bag, presented to our TSA officers at the security checkpoint, included an ax, throwing star, double-edged dagger, and machete. Safe travels, you romantic fool!
Of course, airport security is no joking matter. While it walks a fine line, the TSA’s Instagram account balances the seriousness of its role with a “life is better than fiction” dimension.
For those who toil in B2B tech communications, there’s a massive upside to using levity. Because 99 percent of B2B tech companies do everything humanly possible to steer clear of this storytelling technique.
It just takes courage.
And if your story involves a double-edged dagger, all the better.