Media: Double Standards - Why comedy is 'the new rock 'n' roll' for brands

It's a funny business! Two specialists in the field explain how branded comedy is helping to improve customer engagement and keep them coming back for more.

DAVID ATKINSON, MANAGING PARTNER, SPACE

- Why the commercial interest in comedy?

First, brand understanding of audience needs - we're all looking for antidotes to the depressing economic climate and the best comedy can lift most moods compared with, say, a double bill of EastEnders. Second, that music and sport have long since been oversubscribed by the biggest and dominant brands and, therefore, newcomers would need deeper pockets to make any impression.

- How big is the opportunity and will it compare to, say, music or sport?

When you consider that Peter Kay rather than any boy band, rock act or Gaga will be the top-selling tour of 2010, it's not difficult to see where audiences are swelling. Throw in McIntyre, Manford, Izzard, Gervais, Brand (R) and the legions of super-comics that are selling out arenas, and comedy is the hot ticket for brands right now.

- Which comedians or events have most/least appeal for brands?

The danger for brands is to be too closely associated with the content of views of artists. In some cases, a bit of notoriety isn't to be sniffed at (witness Russell Brand's continued commercial climb) but, for most brands, the danger of being linked to polarising or politically incorrect content might not suit most boardrooms. However, treading the line between popularity and safe is suited to the few, like Michael McIntyre, rather than the Frankie Boyles of this world.

- Are comedic hot topics - culture, race and politics - too high risk for some brands to be associated with?

Yes. But the positives outweigh the risks. Any marketer should make sure that they are adequately aware of the downsides without intruding too much on content of the act itself. But as with music (Doherty, Winehouse, Gallagher) or sport (too many footballers to mention), the pitfalls can be easily avoided.

- Which brands are getting it right?

Foster's has a great pedigree in comedy and the platform to make people laugh. It's found the right way to engage with all its audiences, be it online with Foster's Funny or at the heart of the business with an association with the Edinburgh Fringe. Every base seems to be covered, and it looks like a long-term strategy. It's also easy to assume that a hot ticket will always be thus, but if you compare the stock of James Corden following his Sports Personality of the Year performance last December to the repetition of watching him struggle to lift depressed England fans through the World Cup, then ITV could be forgiven for wondering how they could get it so wrong.

- How can brands and artists find a successful match?

Compatible audiences would be the first step. It's naive to believe that comedy audiences are homogenous groups of individuals. For example, the difference between, say, the crowd watching Russell Howard at the O2 compared with Frankie Boyle at Hammersmith Apollo is huge. The nature of location, event and occasion would deliver an entirely different experience. After that, it's about finding common ground, or certainly an acceptance of what's required from both sides.

- Is branded comedy set to grow outside of the internet to include live events and TV more extensively?

Absolutely. We're currently working on proposals in this area for a couple of clients. It's key for all sides to understand that the commercial appeal of comedy is still untapped and there are fewer case studies to evaluate.

As a result, exorbitant prices and unrealistic expectations have to be tempered to build interest in the market.

MATT JAGGER, MANAGING DIRECTOR, NAKED VENTURES

- Why the commercial interest in comedy?

Comedy is literally the new rock 'n' roll. To put this in context, live comedy ticket sales are up 426 per cent year on year compared with poor old live music ticket sales limping home at just 36 per cent.

- How big is the opportunity and will it compare to, say, music or sport?

Brands have poured into the music space buoyed by the stat that 99 per cent of people LOVE music and don't mind brands bringing their music experiences to them. Could the same happen with comedy? Certainly, comedy is a very powerful engagement platform for brands seeking to grab a big slice of customer attention. Everyone likes laughing and it is up there with music as a passion area.

- Which comedians or events have most/least appeal for brands?

The brand "fit" with comedy is important from the point of view of both the comedian and the audience. Even if, as with Foster's and Alan Partridge, the brand has no influence over actual content, were Foster's not a brand the comedy talent and audience felt a comfortable fit with, it would not have worked. This fit will prove even more difficult where the brand message and/or its products are actually embedded in the comedy content. Hats off to the likes of Toyota and Ikea for making this approach work.

- Are comedic hot topics - culture, race and politics - too high risk for some brands to be associated with?

For a start, a large part of a comedian's day job is to poke fun at the day-to-day absurdities and conventions that surround him/her. This is inevitably going to include those brands that are getting into comedy. If a brand has not got a sense of humour about itself, or is from a particularly serious category, then this is going to prove difficult to tally.

- Which brands are getting it right?

It is early days but Foster's entrance into the comedy landscape, which so far includes the headline sponsorship of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards, the sponsorship of Channel 4's Comedy Season and the move into comedy content creation with the new Alan Partridge series, looks to be reaping tremendous rewards in terms of brand building and increasing consumer engagement. These results are sure to tempt other brands into the comedy waters and, with the comedy industry proliferating across online, broadcast TV and live experience, a brand's communication around its comedy association need not be channel-specific.

- How can brands and artists find a successful match?

If the content is compromised by the brand so that it is no longer funny, the association is not going to work anyway. Conversely, this "fit" is an issue from the brand's point of view too. Not too many goods and services feel like the natural bedfellows of some of the "darker" strands of comedy. It's difficult to see how any party wins by such association, though one could potentially see a fit with an "extreme" lifestyle brand and some of the really edgy comedians uniting over a shared love of "no compromise".

- Is branded comedy set to grow outside of the internet to include live events and TV more extensively?

It's a natural progression for brands to reach mass audiences in the live arena. While digital permits on-demand interaction, live events create an occasion that fits naturally with large numbers of people sharing experiences. Brand investment in comedy should reflect the many ways in which consumers can enjoy their fix.

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