Comedy Central CMO: shareable or die

SMW

At Social Media Week Walter Levitt, chief marketing officer for Comedy Central, shared how the TV network managed to engage with 18-to-34-year-old men through shareable content.

With a list of beyond popular franchises like Broad City, Inside Amy Schumer and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, you may think that marketing is a vanity department at Comedy Central.

But you are wrong.

During his Social Media Week keynote on Wednesday, Walter Levitt, chief marketing officer for Comedy Central, unveiled the rationale and media planning behind buzz-worthy campaigns for the network’s franchises.

Word-of-mouth marketing plays a pivotal role in Comedy Central’s overall strategy, helping target the brand’s core audience of 18-to-34-year-old men, according to Levitt.

“Marketing at Comedy Central is all about giving people things that they want to share,” he said during the keynote.

Levitt further gave a few examples to explain how Comedy Central conducts word-of-mouth marketing.

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: Combine social and search

Last year when Trevor Noah replaced the retired Jon Stewart to host The Daily Show, many didn’t know who Noah was.

In order to retain long-time Daily Show viewers with this new host, Comedy Central released a teaser with the tagline “Same chair, different ass,” followed by a series of promotional video clips as part of tracking Google search behavior around Noah.

“We expected the search volume around Trevor would increase because people wanted to know who the new guy was. Then someone on our team came up with a great idea: What if Trevor actually responded to what people were searching for?” explained Levitt.

So his team started working on a video series where Trevor answered Google search queries like “How old is Trevor?” and “Who is Trevor’s girlfriend?”

Comedy Central also created a listicle of Wikipedia facts about Trevor in collaboration with BuzzFeed.

BuzzFeed

Google searches for Trevor Noah spiked during the campaign in addition to tons of social shares.

Google Search

“It was a really cool, fun idea that captured what was going on [in Google search] and drove people to talk about Trevor on social,” said Levitt.

Broad City: Create offline scenes to drive social chatters

Prior to the premiere of Broad City season 3 this year, Levitt’s team encountered one issue: The franchise didn’t have much content for people to share on social.

“The question becomes what can we do that will make Broad City fans go crazy and give them something to share that they may not have otherwise had?” said Levitt.

So his team partnered with artist Mike Perry to design a mural and encouraged fans on Facebook to paint it at Kinfolk Bar in Brooklyn. (The mural responds to the colorful animated introduction to Broad City that changes every episode.)

The broad squad. #bc3

A photo posted by colossalmedia (@colossalmedia) on

“We had very little content for people to share but we created an asset that fans wanted to share on social,” said Levitt.

Roast of Justin Bieber: Use social influencers

Another high-profile campaign from Levitt’s team is #BieberRoast released last March when bad-boy singer Justin Bieber joined Comedy Central’s all-star roster of Roasters.

Prior to the TV premiere, Levitt’s team started the campaign with one video across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media networks.

The 30-second spot features Bieber mugging and flexing in front of the camera before he is pelted with tons of eggs in slow motion.

“We knew that it was not hard to get Bieber fans to talk about the Roast. But we needed to reach out to people who were not his fans and gave them something that they could feel cool,” said Levitt.

Thanks to Bieber’s huge social following, the branded video garnered 69 million cross-platform streams and 9.8 million views a few days after its release. The video was also shared by many viewers who were not Bieber fans, according to Levitt.

“What appeals to people in this video is the feeling that yeah, [Bieber] deserves it; he should take it,” he explains.

Five takeaways

Of course, not every single campaign from Comedy Central is at the above scale. But the processes of executing a massive campaign and a one-time small campaign are the same.

“Some of the best work I was involved with was at a much smaller scale. You don’t need to have big budgets to make stuff work. The only thing you do need to have is a smart strategy and a right idea,” said Levitt.

At the end of his presentation, Levitt gave five tips for driving word-of-mouth marketing:

  • Start with a strategy.
  • Always ask “Is it shareable?”
  • Experiment with channels that are not measurable.
  • Don’t be afraid to try.
  • Do crazy-ass s**t.

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