Comedy Central is laughing at itself in a bid to launch a new series.
The Viacom-owned cable network recently set up outdoor billboards in Los Angeles and New York that offer only a few lines of copy: “Comedy Central Is Corporate.” The advertising signs are adorned only with one other fact, a date: “1/17/18.”
That happens to be the premiere date set for “Corporate,” a series that is billed by the network as a “dark, edgy look at life as a Junior-Executive-in-Training at your average, soulless multi-national corporation.” Two workaday grunts must navigate around a harsh CEO and his sycophantic aides while relying on a harried human-resources executive for support.
The campaign echoes a recent effort by streaming-video hub Netflix. In September, that company set up plain white billboards with black letters reading “Netflix is a joke” in New York and Los Angeles, capturing attention on social media. When CBS broadcast the Emmy that month, a 60-second ad appeared from Netflix touting its stand-up comedy features. The connection between the line on the billboards and the gags from such comedians as Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock became abundantly clear.
While the networks’ gimmicks tend to raise eyebrows and spark pass-along verbiage on Twitter, the simple fact is these techniques are well worn. A TV network lets loose with a cryptic billboard or Twitter feed; curious onlookers start to remark on the concept; and, if things go well, media outlets like this one take note (and help amplify the effect at no cost to the network, potentially missing out on advertising dollars).
In February of last year, Vice Media placed a neon-green print ad in The New York Times to call attention to the launch of Viceland, a new cable network aimed at younger viewers. The ad listed only the name of the network and a phone number. People who chose to call heard a message changed regularly. Some callers were asked to discuss what kept them up at night. Others were told to relate what they might do if they were President. Answers were recorded and played back on Viceland and in other media.
In the summer of 2014, a billboard touting the services of attorney James M. McGill went up in Albuquerque, NM, complete with a phone number featuring the region’s 505 area code. McGill is the birth name of Saul Goodman, the lead character in the AMC series “Better Call Saul.” Callers heard a message from the voice of actor Bob Odenkirk, the series’ lead, telling them McGill was “a lawyer you can trust.”
Comedy Central has some expertise in this area. In March, the network’s marketing team let loose with a funny tweet from the newly-established feed of “The President Show,” an offering in which comedian Anthony Atamanuik plays President Donald Trump as a late-night host. One tweet barked: “Late night TV is broken. A TOTAL DISASTER. I alone can fix it!” Like the other marketing ploys, the gambit drew commentary.