Picture this. You’re at a Gourmerican burger joint chomping a cheeseburger, when an outspoken vegan friend starts preaching that you’re killing the planet. Last week, that same vegan downed a pricey glass of pinot before their flight to a far-flung destination, armed with their strongest mossie repellant and first aid kit. Anything amiss?
Comedy Central CMO, Walter Levitt, has transformed the organisation’s brand positioning and marketing approach, even eliminating the use of the word TV, in a bid to stay relevant to the company’s core 18-34-year old male audience.
“To be a TV network in 2016, you are limiting your growth opportunity, and frankly, you are not acknowledging the way content is being consumed,” he told attendees at this year’s ADMA Global Forum. “A ton of consumption still happens on linear TV, but we know everybody, particularly millennials, are consuming content on many other screens.”
Not only is there a massive shift in the way millennial males consume content, Levitt noted the desire to consume comedy has reached historic proportions.
“Humour is now more important to millennial men than to any other generation before them,” he said. “We think that is because social media allows young men to share comedy content, and in sharing the content, they show the world how smart, cool and funny they are.”
In order to stay relevant and connected to these millennial audiences, Levitt said the comedy network has adopted five key principles: To change internal thinking, try new things, shake-up the media mix, put an emphasis on shareable content and assets, and “to do crazy sh*t”.
“As with all brands, it starts in the inside. So armed with all of the data we have on millennials and how they consume content, we relooked at our brand positioning,” he explained. “How do we think about our brand internally? How do we serve this group moving forward?
“Not thinking of ourselves as a TV network was a key step. We needed to think of ourselves as a comedy brand. That led us to rethink our brand positioning. That was a huge leap of faith for people that had worked at a TV network for many years.”
The team went even further, changing the vernacular across the board. “We started saying we no longer have viewers, we have fans, and we no longer launch television shows, we launch franchises that live across multiple platforms,” Levitt said. “That was a simple but revolutionary way for us to think about the way our brand is evolving.”
The next focus has been on experimentation and being open to new platforms.
“We have to move our content anywhere to where young guys are looking to laugh and that included launching multiple apps,” Levitt said. “We have our content on all platforms you can imagine. In the US, in particular places like Amazon Prime or Sling Television elsewhere, and we have continued to evolve.”
In the social media space, Comedy Central’s view is that the brand needs to be there servicing millennials, Levitt said. He pointed out the company has 150 million fans across social media channels.
“We have tried stuff, we have innovated, and we have not been shy about making our content available on multiple platforms,” he said.
One big social success story is Snapchat, the platform of choice for those under 25 years of age. “We knew we needed to be there in a big way, so we were one of the first brands to launch with the Snapchat Discover channels,” Levitt said.
Comedy Central has also changed its media mix, moving away from buying big broad media placements, including billboards and radio, to investing more in digital.
“As marketers, the availability of data to be much more focused and targeted in our media is incredible,” he said. “We use big data to find fans, target them and retarget them, and we use social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr to find comedy fans with an affinity to our content and our talent, and target and retarget them there. It really is about being wherever young comedy fans are living.”
Levitt also pointed to activities undertaken in the lead-up to launching The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. The company took data insights into the vast number of unusual and unanticipated search requests, such as ‘Trevor Noah Girlfriend,’ or ‘Trevor Noah Wiki’, and created video content showing Noah responding to these queries. About 30 custom content pieces were created, triggering widespread media and consumer hype and driving huge engagement with the show upon launch.
The company is also striving to produce campaigns that encourage sharing.
“If you are a media brand in 2016, and your content or marketing is not being shared by fans, you are probably simply not connecting with them,” Levitt claimed. As a case in point, he highlighted entertaining social content created to drum up interest in its show, The Roast of Justin Bieber, which clocked up 30 million views and ultimately contributed to the success of the actual show.
The fifth pillar in Comedy Central’s approach to connecting with millennials is having the courage “to do crazy sh*t”.
“As an entertainment brand, we have a job to entertain not just in our content, but in our marketing as well,” Levitt said. “We need to take changes, we need to take risks, we need to try stuff - and we certainly haven’t been shy in that regard.
“Our marketing needs to push boundaries. I believe the best marketing cuts through the clutter. The crazier that we get, the more engagement and the social sharing we get - and from where I stand that’s a win for us, and a win for our fans.”