Can a traditional family funeral home in a Bible Belt conservative community actually market its services with humor? Not only is it possible, it can be wildly successful.
Brad Speaks, President and CEO of Speaks Family Legacy Chapels in Independence, Missouri, a suburb of Kansas City, presented “Breathing Life into Funeral Home Marketing with Facebook, TV and a Sense of Humor” at the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) 2014 convention in Nashville.
A photo of the funeral home’s staff got the audience of funeral directors laughing from the start. The Speaks Family photo was a take-off image of the Addams Family TV show, with funeral home employees filling the roles of Gomez, Morticia, Lurch, Uncle Fester, Wednesday, Pugsley and others. The picture was in black-and-white, with one young woman in color as the “normal” person.
It was all part of a local Facebook contest that relied on “likes,” comments and shares to vote on the best image. Speaks Family Legacy Chapels won the contest, beating out Corporate Copy Print, the company that won first place last year.
Speaks said that things are changing in the funeral business. When people come to funeral services, they are not dressing up in suits anymore. Consumers are questioning what funeral directors do.
Speaks has a good-sized business, including funeral pre-need, a cemetery, and cremation. And it’s tough to market a funeral home. “We’re selling something nobody wants to buy,” said Speaks. “Marketing is simply connecting with people.”
He’s found the best way to connect is being his authentic self on Facebook. He likes motorcycles, guitars and has an old VW bus. He gets comments like, “You’re just a regular guy.” And this approach has not backfired on him. Au contraire, he has people attracted to him for pre-need, price shoppers and death calls.
The Speaks Family Legacy Chapels Facebook page has an astounding 10,959 likes as of today. They very rarely post anything about funerals. “Nobody wants to see stuff that brings them down on their news feed,” said Speaks. Their strategy is to put up inspiring posts, humor, video and contests.
They hold contests to win tickets to sporting events. To enter, participants have to “like” the page and share their status to their friends to get a chance to go to see the Kansas City Royals, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Missouri Mavericks hockey. Then they figure out how they’ll draw the winner out of all the participants – they even did a few YouTube videos on that topic.
Speaks then turned to the topic of humor and why their nontraditional approach works without offending people. He happened to meet an advertising man and asked him for his insights. The Mad Man said, “What happens at a cocktail party when people find out what you do?” He replied, “Nervous laughter, followed by a dumb joke.”
That’s when he said you need humor that doesn’t “cross the line.” He also gave a shout out to yours truly, The Doyenne of Death, for her work getting conversations started with humor. Speaks Chapels and a number of other Selected Independent Funeral Homes members worked with Steve McKee, President of McKee Wallwork + Company (who yours truly worked with in another lifetime), to visualize television ads with humor.
Speaks took the the idea and ran with it. They did their own scripts, casting with local Renaissance Fair actors, and made the local media buys themselves. When the ads came out, they got a 10% market bounce in 30 days, and their numbers have continued to go up. His competitors noticed, and didn’t know what to make of it or how to counter it. “I love the campaign,” one competitor said. “You’re killing me.”
So, what did they do that was so effective? It started with the Summer Gathering Pool Party commercial, with a goofy cast of characters who are featured individually in other ads. Speaks is wearing a yellow polo shirt that became a signature image in the ads. He was going to wear a sport coat, but that was nixed and another shirt was needed. He actually did the lady who owned the house with the pool where they filmed a favor by getting that shirt out of her husband’s closet.
In the ads Speaks says, “Funeral planning. It’s something most people don’t want to think about. If you don’t plan yours, someone else will…. Plan ahead. Leave well.” The other commercials feature the Groovy Niece, the Gamer, the Skater, and “Leave Well – Three Easy Steps” with a couple. He throws in a comment at the end that really resonates with the the viewers – for the Gamer, it was, “Wow, Level 87.”
Here are the ads from the Speaks Chapel YouTube channel.
The consumer reactions include:
- “Laugh out loud funny”
- Not making fun of death
- They recognize the characters and interactions
- They love Brad Speaks in the yellow shirt instead of a suit
- The humor prompts conversations around the dinner table and discussions of death care in families.
“In our death denying culture, it’s a good thing,” said Speaks. His closing words of advice in his talk:
- Be authentic and real – like your mom said, just be yourself.
- Let your defenses down a little and cry with them.
- Be creative and try new things.
- Laugh with people as well as cry.
- Be with the people – love them and help them as our real selves.
“Plan Ahead. Leave Well.” Words of wisdom to live (and die) by. But don’t try to use their slogan!