MKTG Insights: What Sponsors Can Learn from Jimmy Fallon and the Late Night Wars
As long as there has been late night television, the “late night wars” have run rampant. From Carson, to Leno, to Conan, the legends of late night TV have put North America to bed for decades – all while fiercely competing for ratings, advertising dollars, and the affection of audiences. Though, behind the house bands and the monologues is the simple reality that “Late Night” is a case study in true marketing strategy; a platform that major network brands have sought to make a point of differentiation through strategic positioning for almost 50 years. Whether it is Craig Ferguson (the niche) or David Letterman (the heritage brand), the Late Night buffet has an option for every target market. Ultimately, it is an exercise in breaking through the clutter to build a connection with the viewer – for that, it offers learnings that are highly applicable to corporate sponsors seeking avenues of white space.
In 2014, the late night wars have a clear winner: Jimmy Fallon, host of “The Tonight Show” on NBC. After taking over the coveted 11:30 PM timeslot for Jay Leno, Fallon has found a way to carve out a niche in a competitive landscape and rise to the top of the ratings battle. Since taking over for Leno, Fallon has repeatedly delivered elevated results. In the recently released ratings for the week of March 24 – 28, Fallon beat the combined scores of CBS’s “Late Show with David Letterman” and ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live”. Further, Fallon has dominated the 18-49 age bracket that remains a top priority for so many brands. How did he do it? By following his audience, embracing technology, and refusing to be a slave to traditional formats, Fallon has distanced himself from his competitors and brought his personal brand to new heights. MKTG examines specific lessons that Fallon can offer to corporate sponsors.
1. Don’t Just Badge Content: At its core, content marketing is about the curation of trends. Brandslike Red Bull and Dove who have set the gold standard for branded content have done so by keeping their finger on the pulse of the mainstream consciousness. Fallon is timely in his approach to viral videos, quick-to-market through parody-heavy comedy. In a real-time world, brands must be able to quickly push out content. In the context of sponsorship, brands should seek out properties that share the belief that sponsorship marketing is about storytelling. Rather than just seeking attribution, the best branded content often has a minimalist branding presence. Fallon earns credit and gratitude with the late night audience by not making his content about plugging “The Tonight Show”, but rather about building a connection with loyalists and prospective viewers.
2. Power in co-branding: For years, late-night was about the “one man show”. Fallon flips that model on its head by bringing a collaborative approach to ”Tonight”. In his quest to be the voice of a younger generation, Fallon partnered with third-party validators like The Roots as his live band. Further, Fallon consistently “co-brands” with his guests by making them more than visitors on his couch, borrowing their equity to create a differentiated Late Night viewing experience. Sponsors must view themselves as more than just guests on the property’s couch. Those who activate and co-brand on programming will break through. Further, there are great opportunities for sponsors to come together and bring scale and impact to programs (as evidenced by two MKTG clients – Scotiabank and Canadian Tire – collaborating to keep outdoor rinks open in Toronto).
3. Go beyond the monologue (“rinkboard”): Part of Fallon’s success has been his ability to innovate the format of Late Night. When Fallon jumped from “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” to “The Tonight Show”, he could have brought little change to the show which has a strong heritage brand. Instead, Fallon brought his own flavour to the show. He went beyond “monologue” comedy through sketches, viral videos, and a strong presence on social media. Sponsors must go beyond a traditional “monologue” approach to sponsorship, in which the conversation is one-way and static. A cookie-cutter approach to sponsorship, in which brands adopt nothing but off-the-shelf assets will not provide a sustainable point of differentiation.
4. Use tech to change the game: In an internet driven era, Fallon leveraged social media to propel his “Tonight Show” takeover. Fallon is the most digitally savvy of his Late Night counterparts. He understands that his audience gravitated toward a second-screen experience and he followed them there. In particular, Fallon has integrated twitter into the live TV experience, encouraging viewers to join the act. With “twitter chatter” becoming an increasingly important metric in the world of broadcast, sponsors can capitalize on the PVR-proof nature of sport to engage a live audience. Fallon recognized a shift in technology and pivoted successfully. Brands must be able to look into the crystal ball and determine how tech will disrupt their relationships with consumers. From wearable tech to in-arena Wi-Fi, sponsors who can get in front of innovation and leverage it successfully have the opportunity to gain a first-mover advantage.