Winston Churchill once said: “Humour is a very serious thing.”
The Orange Order has found itself in some festive hot water this week with the release of their humour-infused Christmas Card collection.
Yet this isn’t the first time the organisation has employed the humour-factor during the season of goodwill. Last year, 3 little bowler hat-clad snowmen emblazoned with the pun “sNOw surrender” was also a featured card in their offering. Twelve months ago Dr David Hume, director of services at the Grand Orange Lodge, had a similar message – “you have to be able to laugh at yourself”. He even highlighted how much the Roman Catholic community were warming to the idea. So what’s changed?
Well I don’t profess to be a political pundit, but a Christmas of city centre trading-stroke-war-zone followed by a Summer of riots is probably a good place to start. What worked one year will not always work the next and the reason is simple.
But then again, is it fair to say it hasn’t worked? Well to answer that we’d need to know what the overall aim of the exercise is. Is it to raise funds? Is it to warm the cockles of the Roman Catholic hearts (or anyone else whose view of the order might need changing, in their opinion)? Or is it to show a different side to the organisation as they tried to do in 2007, with the introduction of the cartoon character “Diamond Dan”, created to make the order more relevant to young people and “appear less stuffy”.
Whatever the strategic aim, the launch has garnered some serious publicity and social media discussion.
As a comms professional, it’s easy to see why people who work on the inside would get excited by an idea like this. If you work for an organisation like the Orange Order, you no doubt get little chance to show some personality. You don’t get to put jokes on Facebook or create witty one-liners and you probably don’t often get to work with a graphic designer on such a fun brief.
We also know that in this modern age of viral sharing of content, humour is the master. For private companies and voluntary organisations alike, there’s a lot of mileage to be had from a well-placed, timely joke. Good humour can bring us together, it can make us feel good and we want to share that feeling, but poor humour can turn the townsfolk and their pitchforks against you like nothing else can.
As with social media, where humour is concerned, the advice from PROs to decision makers should always be “Proceed With Caution.”
The main problem, in my opinion, is twofold. Anyone who feels excluded by the order tends to do so for reasons other than it’s “lack of humour”. It’ll be the principles, policies and practices that offend someone, rather than the lack of witty quips and fluffy penguins.
Add to that the absolute landslide change in context. The Orange Order are now positioning themselves as leading the fight for modern human rights in Northern Ireland. The issues, and the way in which they play out in our streets, are very serious. Their consequences also have the potential to lead parts of our society more deeply into sectarian bigotry than ever before.
When you put it like that, “sNOw surrender” isn’t very festive.