Cue Moments and Comedy: A Winning Formula for E-Commerce Brands

Cue Moments and Comedy: A Winning Formula for E-Commerce Brands

Kyle Hoffman, Director of Growth Strategy | October 13 2023

Picture this: you’re scrolling through your social media feed, and a well-timed, humorous ad for a sweet and salty candy bar that satisfies your carving pops up just as you’re feeling a bit hungry. It’s the perfect cue moment, and you’re more likely to take action.

The ability to recognize and leverage these everyday cue moments, and life-changing moments, is a game-changer for marketers. It’s all about understanding when your audience is most receptive and tailoring your messaging to sync with those moments. Add in a dash of humor and you have a winning formula for e-commerce brands.

Brands can take advantage of life-changing events or tap into the subtler triggers of our daily routines to align themselves with the pulse of consumer behavior. By doing so, they not only adapt to the changing habits of their audience but also have the potential to influence those habits to drive engagement, loyalty, and sales.

In this article, we take a look at two important tactics in marketing, cue moments and comedy, and uncover the secrets to capture the attention of your audience, leave them with a smile, and create a long-lasting connection.

Understanding Cue or Trigger Moments

Habits are deeply ingrained in our lives, and they drive a significant portion of consumer behavior. In fact, up to 95% of consumer behavior can be attributed to habits. However, an interesting statistic reveals that only 9% of people are aware that their actions are primarily guided by these ingrained habits. So, most people don’t even know they are acting out of habit!

The cue moment is the trigger that starts the habit. According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, more cues fit into one of these five categories:

  •   A location
  •   A time of day
  •   An emotional state
  •   Other people
  • An immediately preceding action

Consumers take action when one of these cues is triggered. For example, a moment of boredom might induce you to scroll Instagram or lead you to the coffee machine at work to refill your cup.

Habits don’t form without a reward. The reward gives us pleasure for completing the routine. It might be the dopamine buzz you get from social media, or the caffeine hit from your morning coffee.

Since so many decisions are out of habit, it can be challenging for marketers to break through people’s routines and get your product into their shopping carts. Think about it this way: how often do you change dish soap or laundry detergent? Once we find a product that works for us, we tend to repurchase without even thinking.

Habits aren’t easily changed, but they can be influenced by triggers.

A trigger is any stimulus in the environment that makes us think about a related concept or idea. Any sight, sound, or smell that makes us think of something. For example, it might be a fragrance that reminds you of your childhood or a song that reminds you of a summer when you were a teenager.

Triggers can influence what’s at the top of your mind. Signficant life events can act as triggers and disrupt established habits. Major life events like completing school, moving, or pregnancy can introduce change in existing habits.

For e-commerce brands, this presents an interesting opportunity. Marketers can recognize and adapt to customers’ changing habits during these life events to influence and potentially change their buying behaviors. A great example is Target’s advertising aimed at pregnant customers.

These triggers don’t necessarily need to be major life events, either. As marketers, we can think about small changes during the day – boredom, hunger, or even the simple act of checking your social media. These everyday cues and triggers are goldmines for e-commerce brands. It provides the ideal scenario to engage, prompt action, and build a lasting connection with consumers.

Brands that Use Cue or Trigger Moments Right

Brands – and industries – have been able to leverage cue moments in marketing and advertising to influence consumer habits, drive loyalty, and boost sales. Let’s take a look at who is doing it right.


Snickers has masterfully employed cue moments in its advertising to prompt action and engage its audience. The brand’s approach revolves around the central theme of “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” The brand claims that their bar cures that hangry feeling where someone gets grumpy or irrational when they are hungry. In their advertisements, they feature everyday situations like an angry football coach or a diva on a movie set.

By creating and reinforcing its cue moment, the brand shifted the consumer to think of Snickers as a meal replacement bar, rather than a candy bar. In fact, Snickers is the most popular candy bar at the airport.

The Champagne Industry:

One industry that was able to leverage cue moments in marketing and advertising is champagne. The bubbly drink is associated with celebrations, monumental milestones, and good times. As a result, you’ll notice champagne brands advertising scenes of people popping champagne and toasting to success, love, or achievements. The industry has leveraged these cue moments to build an important emotional connection with its audience, encouraging consumers to incorporate champagne into their own memorable moments and celebrations.


Starbucks is skilled at leveraging cue moments in their seasonal marketing campaigns. The brand launches limited-time beverages and promotions that are tied to specific seasons. We all know about the Pumpkin Spice Latte that launches at the end of August (!) or holiday-themed drinks in the winter. These cues create a sense of anticipation and excitement, driving customers to visit Starbucks during these periods to get a taste of their favorite limited-time drink.

The Role of Humor in Advertising

Humor is a powerful tool to engage an audience and make them remember you. It’s a secret weapon that can captivate an audience, etch a brand into their memory, and breathe life into mundane products. In fact, “The Happiness Report” found that 90% of people are more likely to remember ads that are funny and 72% of people would choose a humorous brand over the competition.

While humor has been a key tool in a marketer’s toolbox for decades, recently we’ve seen a subtle shift and decline in the use of humor in ads.

Ninety-one percent of people globally prefer brands to be funny, yet 95% of business leaders fear using humor in consumer interactions, according to a report from Oracle and author-podcaster Gretchin Rubin.

This shift raises some questions. Why, in an era where humor is more valued than ever, has it seemingly receded from advertising?

One reason business leaders may fear using humor is that there has been a growing awareness of social issues, and many advertisers are more cautious than ever about humor that may be seen as offensive, insensitive, or reinforcing stereotypes. As a result, they opt for safer, less controversial messaging.

An obvious shift in marketing messages and tone occurred during the pandemic. During a period of uncertainty, advertisers adopted a more serious, empathetic tone. While this approach was fitting for the times, it feels like we never sprang back to humor and light-heatedness. It also brings up a new dilemma – are consumers yearning for a dash of entertainment and hearty chuckle during unprecedented times?

Moreover, the rise of social media has given brands a double-edged sword. While it’s great for getting quick consumer feedback, it can also work in the opposite way. Who can forget the DiGiorno scandal around the #WhyIStayed campaign? The brand unknowingly hijacked a serious domestic violence awareness hashtag, serving as cautionary tale for brands venturing into humor territory. Remember, brands can go viral for all the wrong reasons.

Brands that Use Humor Right

Despite these challenges, humor in advertising is far from extinct, and many successful campaigns still use humor effectively to grow stronger bonds with their audience. The key is to strike a balance between humor and the brand’s message while being mindful of cultural sensitivities, audience demographics, and advertising trends. Here are some brands that are using humor to make advertisements more memorable, relatable, and shareable.


The insurance industry is notorious for being conservative and serious. As a result, many insurance companies have tried to use humor to stand out from the pack.

Progressive is no different. The brand uses humor effectively in its advertising campaigns. Progressive is known for its long-running and highly successful “Flo” advertising campaign, featuring the quirky, fun-loving, and friendly character Flo.

The brand’s most recent ad campaign, “Un-becoming your Parents,” features a parent-life coach Dr. Rick who is on a mission to save millennials and Gen Xers from turning into your parents. The series of commercials are light-hearted, fun, and memorable, which helps boost brand recognition. In the highly competitive world of humorous ads, these specific ad campaigns have carved out a space for themselves.

Old Spice:

Old Spice has taken a bold and humorous approach to redefine its brand image. With the “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign featuring the memorable “I’m on a Horse” line, Old Spice used humor to engage and entertain their audience.

Their ironic and humorous advertising campaign has gained significant attention and managed to appeal to a younger generation. Once considered a classic and outdated brand, Old Space has revitalized its image to a younger and more diverse demographic with its bold and humorous approach. Through a witty and entertaining script, catchy tagline (I’m on a Horse), and quick, rapid transitions, the campaign became a hit and breathed new life into the brand.


Clorox has been trusted for decades to clean homes around the world. In order to shed their classic persona, they opted for a more modern approach. Today, their motto is “For life’s bleachable moments,” which gets the consumer to pause and think. What are some situations at home where I would need bleach?

The brand produced a series of TV commercials that provide outrageous, yet relatable situations where having that Clorox bottle come in handy. Think: potty training your toddler and dogs covered in mud running across your freshly cleaned floors.

While the ad campaign is not a “roll on the floor” laughing type of humor, it elicits a little chuckle from the audience. Furthermore, the campaign gets bonus points for being relatable since we’ve all can think of a time that something like this happened.

Step by Step: How to Successfully Leverage Cue Moments and Comedy in Marketing

Harnessing the power of cues or trigger moments and infusing them with humor can be a game changer for e-commerce brands. Not sure where to start? Here are some practical tips you can take to master this winning combination.

  1. Identifying your Brand’s Cue Moments
    • Analyze your Audience: Begin by understanding your audience’s needs. What are their pain points, needs, and desires? How can you help solve their challenges? When do they experience those moments or desire or urgency that are a prime time for your product or service?
    • Data Analytics: Use data and analytics tools to zero-in on key moments in your customers’ journeys. Identify patterns and trends that reveal the optimal timing for your marketing messages.
    • Analyze your Competitors: Study your competitors’ strategies and learn from their successes and failures. Are there any unexplored cue moments that your   brand can take advantage of?
  1. Craft Humorous Messages

    • Align Humor with Brand Identity: Ensure that the humor you infuse into your ads aligns with your brand’s identity and values. Build out a content playbook that defines your style. Are you witty and smart? Slapstick-y and silly? Define your brand’s personality before you inject humor into your content to ensure it feels natural and relatable.
    •  Tailor Humor to the Moment: In some cases, it may make sense to align the humor to the cue moment. This ensures that your message resonates with consumers at the right time.
    • Storytelling with a Twist: Narratives are memorable, so try crafting stories that employ humor to drive your message home.
  1. Test, Measure, Repeat

    • A/B Testing: Run A/B tests to assess the effectiveness of cue moments and/or humor in ads. Measure which humor style resonates best with your audience. It may not be what you expected!
    • Engagement Metrics: Keep a close eye on metrics outside of conversion rates – social shares, likes, and engagements. These can indicate whether your strategy is driving engagement and helping to build your brand.
    • Keep an Eye on Feedback: Actively seek and listen to your most important audience – your customers! Are they responding positively? Do they find your ads amusing?
    • Rinse and Repeat: The digital landscape is evolving constantly. Collect data and use it to iterate and optimize. What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow, so stay agile and adaptable.

Find the Winning Formula for Your E-Commerce Brand

It’s clear that cue moments and comedy can help e-commerce brands spark genuine connections with their audience and inspire action.

If the power of cue moments, triggers, and humor interests you, check out episode 19 on our podcast on Consumer Behavior Lab, “Candy, Comedy, and the Power of a Cue.”

Ready to take action with your e-commerce brand? The digital landscape is constantly evolving and it’s important to stay ahead of the curve. That’s where Function Growth comes in.

As experts in behavioral science, we are here to guide you in leveraging behavioral science tactics to supercharge your business growth. Whether you’re looking to infuse humor into your marketing or unlock triggers to inspire consumers to take action, we can help. Connect with us today to see how we can transform your business.