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A Sponsor and a Property Walk Into a Bar: The Sponsorship of Comedy

A Sponsor and a Property Walk Into a Bar: The Sponsorship of Comedy

This week marked the beginning of the Toronto Just for Laughs festival as 42 comics from around the world are set to perform stand-up at various venues throughout the city. As Toronto sees an influx of comedians and comedy fans, MKTG evaluates the role of comedy within a brand’s sponsorship portfolio and how leveraging laughter to connect with your consumer base can be a powerful tool.

We have all heard the term “laughter is the best medicine.” It can also be the best marketing. On a study done on humour in advertising, 47% of people responded that funny ads resonated the most with them, the highest among all factors. Studies have also shown that a key factor in building positive relationships is with laughter. For a brand looking to build a relationship with their consumers, laughter provides a way to make a positive impression. Brands can also tap into the communal nature of comedy as people who consume comedy also want to share that experience. According to a Louisiana State University study on the factors that make a video go viral, “humor was a universal appeal for making content go viral.” The use of humour in marketing and advertising is not new. According to a 2007 study, humour is used in about 24 percent of prime time television advertisements and 35 percent of radio ads. This use of comedy can also effectively extend across the sponsorship marketing and celebrity endorsement activities of various brands.

Ways to Associate with Comedy as a Corporate Sponsor

Sponsors a comedy Festival/Program - While comedy festivals may not be as abundant as music festivals, they still provide a strong property for brands to sponsor. Like music festivals, a comedy festival is a multi-act live event which allow sponsors to connect with a fans in a live setting over a passion point. One notable festival is Just for Laughs Montreal which began in 1983 and has since grown to be the largest comedy festival in the world. In 2007 the festival expanded to include a Toronto edition and which has quickly grown attracting a variety of notable comics. With top sponsors like Air Canada and SiriusXM, Just for Laughs Toronto has been able to attract top brands. In addition to comedy festivals, comedy television shows or web series provide brands with another viable property. With multiple shows and episodes, a brands have the opportunity to be in market more consistently.

Case study- When Jerry Seinfeld created his web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”, he approached Starbucks to sponsor the show. Starbucks passed as many thought the program was too long to be successful online. Acura was then found as a sponsor giving Seinfeld creative control and even allowing him to write some of their television ads. Comedians in Cars has become a hit online show even being nominated for an Emmy. Acura has capitalized off the show’s success by integrating some of their products into the show instead of using a typical pre-roll advertisement which aggravate some viewers.

Leveraging a Comedian as a Spokesperson- When recruiting a celebrity endorser, whether that is an athlete or actor, you are capitalizing of their credibility in the product category or their link to the brand’s values. When leveraging a comedian as a spokesperson, you are also benefitting from their comedic talent. Comics will also have a strong ability in front of a camera and in personal appearances as they are used to performing live and have an ability to speak to an audience. Comics have been used in a variety of commercials to help provide comedy in the brands message to help promote a light hearted tone that brands may be looking to achieve. This strategy is popular among brands as H&M has recently used Kevin Hart and Bill Hader has appeared in multiple Sprint commercials.

Case Study- In an effort to push their marketing to a more online focus, Old Navy recruited former Saturday Night Live star Amy Poehler as their spokesperson. Old Navy also posted the outtakes of the commercials to YouTube each gaining over 500,000 views. With Amy Poehler assisting in the creative side of the commercials, Old Navy ensured their ads would be funny while maintaining their brand message. 

Activating Traditional Properties with Humour- For brands seeking to connect with their consumers through a comedic experience, an alternative approach to directly investing in a comedy-themed property or endorser can be to bring a more traditional sponsored property to life (sports, entertainment, etc.) through a humours narrative. For brands seeking to achieve the inherent benefits of leveraging comedy in marketing, without the direct support of a comedy property, this approach can help them breakthrough alongside their fellow co-sponsors.

Case Study- Male hygiene brand Old Spice is known for their outlandish commercials that they have been releasing since 2010. Leveraging their sponsorship with the NFL and wide receiver Wes Welker, Old Spice released ads with Welker in the same outlandish style. Instead of finding a comedy property to sponsor which could have a more niche audience, Old Spice opted to leverage a property with a large reach in a comedic way. This method aligned well with their existing brand image and Old Spice still received the benefits of using comedy in their sponsorship.

Benefits of Comedy Sponsorship

In addition to the sharable nature of comedy, brands can also see the following benefits from sponsoring comedy properties;

Access to Exclusive Content- Though sponsorship of a comedy festival a brand can secure access to various stand up clips and interviews with festival comedians. Through their sponsorship of Just for Laughs Montreal, Air Canada produced the #ACBackstage series featuring a variety of interviews with the festivals comedians.

Provides differentiated hosting opportunities- While sporting events provide a popular form of hosting, a comedy show or festival can provide a highly differentiated venue. Sporting events can last for over three hours while a typical comedy show is an hour and a half which can appeal to time sensitive individuals. Comedy festivals are also not as frequent as sporting events which can occur multiple times a week during the season. This can provide a comedy show as a unique hosting venue for sponsors.

Reaching a Younger Demographic- Much like music festivals, comedy festivals are increasingly an event for younger people. A report released by the Melbourne International Comedy Festival found that their average audience member was 18-49 years old. This demographic has be consistently referred to as the experience generation and are more likely to spend their money on events rather than products.

Key Considerations

Before a brand leverages comedy as a form of sponsorship, a few aspects must be taken into consideration to ensure the partnership is successful.

Find the Right Comedian- For some comedians, no subject is off limits in their act. However this type of humour, could cause trouble for a brand that is using the comedian as a spokesperson. Brands may not share the views as a comedian who may make jokes about sensitive subjects. In 2011 Japan suffered an earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastating the area. Comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who at the time was the voice of the Aflac insurance duck, tweeted several jokes about the disaster shortly after it occurred. Aflac quickly dropped the comedian and stated that his tweets did not represent the thoughts or feelings at Aflac. When entering into a partnership with a comedian it is important to understand how the comedian works and to ensure that your brand is aligned with his material.

Leave the Comedy to the Comedians- Some brands may have more natural fit to use comedy in their sponsorships. Brands that tend to find the most success allow the comedians to work on the creative process, Old Navy took this approach with Amy Poehler and Acura did the same with Jerry Seinfeld. Allowing the comedian in on the process can give create a more authentic sponsorship instead of bringing a comedian in to read off a prepared script. However some brands may not be comfortable handing over creative reigns to a comedian and may input their own creative team. This could result in an overly commercial message and could not achieve the humour the brands was looking for in the first place.

From comedy festivals to using a comedian as a spokesperson, there is no shortage of ways for a brand to enter into comedy sponsorship. With its unique benefits, a brand has an opportunity to create an impactful sponsorship that can keep consumers laughing.

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