Using humour in online surveys: Are we having a laugh?

I like to think of myself as someone who likes to laugh and likes to make others chuckle. My default is to seek the lighter side of life. It helps keep me sane.

As a market researcher who likes a joke I was drawn to a link on my Twitter Feed entitled “How To Use Humor To Increase Survey Response Rates”. In short the author, the luxuriously named Matthew Champagne, encourages us to use humour in surveys, explains the benefits and gives practical advice on how to do it.

The piece includes a link to a further article on the “Humor That Works” website called “Using Humor To Create Fun Surveys”. This gives tips on how to make surveys “fun”. One recommendation is the inclusion of 1 humourous question to every 4 serious ones. That’s a lot of fun to pack into your next U&A questionnaire.

To their credit they have put their money where their mouth is and created their own “Humor that works survey”. Unfortunately it reads like something David Brent (from the UK version of The Office, the equivalent of Michael Scott in the US version) would write if he decided to pursue a career in survey design.

I’m all for humanising surveys, adopting a friendly, warm tone to make the experience as agreeable as possible for respondents. However, for a number of reasons, I think using the power of jest to improve response to online surveys is going too far. Here are my reasons:


1. Humour is difficult – I think the “Humor that works survey” proves that. We all have different senses of humour. What I find funny may not be what you makes you titter. Finding jokes to include within the survey context that will appeal to all your respondents is quite a task. Get it wrong and you’re worsening the respondent experience not improving it.

2. Not all subject matters lend themselves to humour. For example, I don’t think the inclusion of the odd gag would be appropriate for surveys on serious issues like crime and health.

3. A humourous questionnaire may not fit a brand's tone of voice. It might work for a brand like Innocent but would be incongruous for more straight-laced brands.

4. Different cultures react to humour in different ways. The “Humor That Works” website probably tickles Americans' funny bones more than it does Brits’. Some cultures wouldn’t welcome any sort of levity in business communications. Care is needed to get the tone right for your target audiences, especially if you’re running a multi-country study.

5. Do respondents answer questions differently if you create an atmosphere of light-heartedness? Do they take the survey less seriously and give less considered answers? Would open-ended questions be answered flippantly? I don’t know the answers but I wouldn’t want to take the risk.


So, in my eyes the path to fun filled surveys ("jestionnaires"?) is fraught with potential danger. Humanise? Yes. Humourise? No.

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