Humorous marketing gives small shops a boost

Small Business Saturday

New research has found that adding humour to the marketing mix can help small businesses attract and retain customers in this busy Christmas shopping period.

The research, which seeks to uncover the role of humour in small business marketing, found that eight in ten consumers have spotted funny chalkboards appearing outside the likes of pubs, restaurants and shops on their highstreets. Furthermore, it seems to be working as 64 per cent of people think using humour as a marketing tactic is a clever way of attracting new customers, while two in three would be more likely to return to a small business that puts a smile on their face.

The use of humorous chalkboard puns is popular among small businesses, often using them as a low cost, high impact way to generate both passer-by and social media interest. Nearly half of shoppers have noticed the trend of chalkboards adorned with funny puns appearing outside of small businesses.

The research indicates a demonstrable business boost from the use of humour, particularly among younger shoppers. Over half of millennials aged 18 – 34 said they are more inclined to go into a shop with a funny chalkboard outside with nearly one in four saying they would be more likely to buy something.

35 per cent said they would post a picture of a chalkboard online that made them laugh, and would mention or tag the business – making it a cost-effective way for small shops to potentially reach thousands of people through the power of social media. One in five of 18 to 24 year olds go out of their way to visit a shop, just because they saw a picture of its chalkboard on social media.

As part of the American Express Shop Small campaign, which seeks to support small businesses this December, American Express is teaming up with Darren Walsh (former winner of “The Funniest Joke at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival”) to create a series of original chalkboard puns. The puns will appear on chalkboards outside shops around the country and can be used free of charge by businesses.

American Express is also bringing back the Shop Small offer to help encourage consumers to Shop Small.  Cardmembers will be awarded a £5 statement credit each time they spend £10 or more at participating small businesses between 2nd and 17th December.

Two successful small businesses participating in this year’s Shop Small campaign which embrace this form of retro marketing are Vagabond Wines and Bone Daddies.

Ross Shonhan, founder of Bone Daddies said: “Humour has played a huge part in building the irreverent Bone Daddies brand – it helps to distinguish us from our competitors and creates a dialogue with our customers. Whether it’s through social media or naming a new menu item, puns and jokes are a huge part of who we are. We have been using chalkboards for the past five years – we find it’s a great way of attracting new customers into our restaurants.”

Dotty Gore-Brown, team member at Vagabond Wines Victoria, said: “Chalkboard advertising is free, instagrammable, and it’s a great Riesling to road-test our wine gags. Humour is so important to the Vagabond brand – and while the jokes are sometimes a bit dubious, the wine wisdom is always spot on.”

Commenting on the research, Dan Edelman, VP Marketing at American Express said: “Small shops and businesses often have limited marketing budget, especially when they’re just starting out. They need to find a way to really stand out, and our research shows humour is a great tool.  Not only does it increase customer loyalty and word of mouth recommendations, it also has a real business value by encouraging people to spend in-store and post about it on social media channels. We’re working with Darren to give businesses an additional source of marketing inspiration to help them attract customers this December, complementing the Shop Small Offer.”

Darren Walsh’s chalkboard jokes for small businesses across the UK are:



Type of small business


“If you haven’t tried ale before, you’ve missed stout.”


“We have a great selection of barcodes, so come and check yourself out”


Clothes shop
“Christmas shopping? Don’t forget to wrap up.”


Gift shops
“Like surprises? You might find something novel.”


Book shop
” The café au lait bird catches the worm”


“Like meat? Come and have a butchers.”


“Come inside, you’ll never leaf.”


“Marrows selling fast! Shop like there’s no two marrow.”


Green grocers