"Race them and they will come." I imagine that's how it started in the meeting.

The rules are simple at Petco's annual nationwide hamster ball derby, coming to a retail store near you on Saturday, March 31. Using hamster balls as their vehicles, hamsters will race down an eight-foot track in heats of four -- hopefully, but not necessarily, toward the finish line.

Last year's event was an incredible success, drawing more than 14,000 racing hamsters and their cheering human companions into Petco stores nationwide. Chances are pretty good that Petco sold a few bags of hamster food, and maybe even a treadmill or two, during the event.

Reading the press release got me thinking: can offbeat marketing really contribute to business success?

Financial types like me tend to be so focused on numbers (earnings growth, P/E ratios, and the like) that perhaps we're missing a critical component to business success: making it fun. When was the last time that an upbeat earnings forecast actually made you jump up and buy something? Can a chuckle, or even a downright belly laugh, be a driver of long-term multiple expansion? After all, selling stuff is what makes the best companies, well ... the best companies.

If you follow my logic here, which is probably a joke in itself, then which "funny" companies might make the cut in your priority sort? First on my list would have to be Geico with their double play of owning both the Gecko and Caveman commercials. You can't buy stock in Geico directly, but consider snapping up a few shares of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A) (NYSE:BRK-B) and get a piece of Geico, along with a lot of other great companies. I recommend the class B shares (unless you think it's humorous to part with $106,800 for each class A share).

Next, you might give Capital One (NYSE:COF) a try on the strength of its thundering barbarians, always a crowd favorite, and misdirected vacation destinations. I would definitely consider Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) a worthy candidate for their ticker symbol alone, not to mention its consistently entertaining "Want to Get Away?" commercials. Even American Express (NYSE:AXP) is getting in the act with Ellen DeGeneres hosting "childhood ambition to work with animals" spots.

Continuing the theme of animal humor, let's not leave out PetSmart (NASDAQ:PETM), which hosts a yearly Howl-o-ween event where customers send in pictures of their pets in costume. Last year Maggie (a pug) was a finalist for her never-to-be-forgotten impersonation of an alligator (check out the picture on the company's website). Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) used to be a contender with their annual Oreo-Stacking contests, but I think that has gotten a bit passe.

One caution, however. There are some industries where funny promotions are simply not a winning success strategy. Last year, the National Funeral Directors Association (NAFD) hosted a seminar at their annual convention on "The inner secrets of outrageous marketing." I don't know about you, but for me a buy-one-get-one-free promotion on caskets isn't funny, it's simply in bad taste.

Want to learn more about "funny money"? Take a look at:

Berkshire Hathaway and Wal-Mart are both Inside Value recommendations. PetSmart is a Stock Advisor selection. For a free trial, simply click back on those pretty blue links.

Fool contributor Timothy M. Otte surveys the retail scene from Dallas. He dresses up his golden retriever every Christmas, and owns stock in Wal-Mart and Berkshire Hathaway. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.