Humor: It’s Not for Everyone

Last week, the Nebraska Tourism Commission unveiled the state’s new slogan: “Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” It’s the cornerstone of a campaign that works to combat the stereotype that there’s “nothing to do” in the state by highlighting its variety of natural and cultural attractions, set alongside snarky headlines.

The rebrand has inspired a lot of chatter in the branding world and in national news outlets, which shows the power of humor and an unexpected approach to put a brand top-of-mind. Opinions have been split, though, with some praising the self-deprecating approach while others have said it sells the state short. This sort of attention was almost definitely one of the campaign’s goals, but the discussion reveals the fine line that agencies must walk if they decide to use humor.

Humor cuts through the noise and inspires affection. For a state that research showed lacked a distinct appeal, the jokey slogans give the state a bit of personality and an edge. The campaign also isn’t exclusively playing for laughs: the gorgeous photographs are the real focus, and the copy almost plays second fiddle to the image. The text might catch your attention, but the photo is what keeps it. This is also an adaptable formula that lends itself equally well to showcasing natural beauty, cultural districts or nightlife.

But just like your uncle who tells the same joke every time you see him (Every. Single. Time.), any campaign with an element of humor eventually gets stale. Once the initial laugh wears off, the ad loses its distinctiveness. The formula can be repeated a few times with success, but it’s hard to imagine Nebraska sticking with “Honestly, it’s not for Everyone” in the way “I Love New York” or “Virginia is for Lovers” have stood the test of time.

Setting the state up as exclusionary or exclusive, as this campaign does, also carries some risks—“it’s not for everyone” doesn’t sound particularly welcoming, and contradicts the state’s previous slogan, “Visit Nebraska. Visit Nice.” (This might have been intentional, as Nebraskans reacted poorly to the old slogan, according to the Washington Post.) And since branding never happens in a vacuum, it’s also interesting to consider what political undertones “it’s not for everyone” might stir up for certain audiences.

Humor, self-deprecating or otherwise, can be a real balancing act. It’s usually not the best as a core element of a brand, but can certainly be useful when used strategically and in a campaign-type setting. “It’s not for everyone” is a great example of this duality: it may not be sustainable, but in the short term, it’s catapulted Nebraska to the top of people’s minds. Honestly.


Image of Chimney Rock, Nebraska via Unsplash user Balazs Busznyak