How Do Brokers and Realtors Hope to Get Your Attention? By Making You Laugh

You may have been surprised recently to find yourself laughing at real estate listings and mortgage broker commercials. That’s the point.

The real estate industry—not a dependably reliable source for gut-busting jokes and gags—has been increasingly turning to comedy to make itself stand out in the hyper-competitive digital market of the 21st century.

Rocket Mortgage, for instance, this year deployed a series of commercials featuring veteran comedian Tracy Morgan and other celebrities. The company regularly uses humor in its advertising material, such as one advertisement that featured a ghost looking for “a new home to haunt.”

Rocket isn’t the only major real estate company using gags to catch consumers’ attention. Realtor’s “Home for Every Buyer” campaign featured one spot in which a family of cave trolls found a perfect apartment in the city (and subsequently ate one of their human neighbors).

One RE/MAX campaign poked fun at the poor-quality listing photos often taken by home sellers. And Zillow this year deployed a popular spot featuring actress Molly Lloyd consulting with 60 clones of herself on whether or not to buy a house.

Smaller players in the industry have also gotten into the comedy game, sometimes with bitterly hilarious results. A Florida real estate agent who earlier this year went viral for a brutally honest listing of “literally the worst house on the street.” One Ohio realtor regularly gets big laughs for his droll descriptions of listed properties (“this is a house,” “there is a garage”).

Funny advertisements break up the monotony of the P.R. landscape and offer companies a chance to establish themselves as a multifaceted brand. But there’s an immediate dollars-and-cents benefit to making funny commercials: Consumers are more likely to remember them. Data show that viewers “are most likely to remember and enjoy an advertisement if it’s funny.” The vast majority of Super Bowl viewers this year said they preferred funny ads compared to others.

There are caveats, to be sure. “An ad that is humorous can be effective if – and only if – there is a clear and memorable tie-in to your company, product, or service,” the advertising firm Maelstrom Marketing argues. “But if the connection between the joke and your company is forgettable or flimsy, then the ad is a complete waste of money.”

Historically, humor was not a driving force behind advertising. Legendary ad pioneer Claude Hopkins firmly opposed using jokes in ads, declaring: “People do not patronize a clown.”

Yet the sheer number of funny commercials and advertisements proliferating the airwaves today suggests otherwise. Indeed, humor has become so embedded in marketing that—in a sort of meta-mashup of advertising and comedy—Zillow was recently the subject of an extended gag skit on Saturday Night Live, in which young homebuyers swoon over the high-priced offerings on the real estate website.

The popular skit functioned as a sort of collision of comedy, Millennial angst, economic analysis and technological commentary, something Zillow CEO Dan Barton noted during a call to investors following the bit. “Zillow surfing,” he said, “has broken through to a whole new level of pop culture.”