Funny Business: 5 Content Strategy Lessons from Two Comedians

How many people will buy a ticket to watch a comedian that they’ve never heard before just because they see the performer’s picture on a billboard? Answer: probably not very many people.

When it comes to comedy — but this also applies to other forms of entertainment, and other things, such as products and services — buy-in is typically based on exposure to the content.

This dynamic has for a long time saddled marketers with the necessity of creating commercials. In the case of comedians, this has meant advertisements that deliver a few of the artist’s punchlines, then throw out a pitch and hope the audience responds.

That old-school, usual game has changed. In the case of comedians, the performers can now reach audiences directly, more easily than ever, and it also means that their brand can exist not only on a stage but in real time and in direct interaction with their fans.

The Twitter pages of two high-profile funny-men who tweet their own words to the world reveal five content-strategy lessons that any marketing team can use to grow a brand, no humor required.

Gilbert Gottfried

Twitter Account: @RealGilbert

Followers: 178,508 (as of July 9, 2012)

A great deal of Gilbert Gottfried’s twitter persona is about conveying the maybe-too-soon and sure-to-push-buttons vigor of his comic mind.

Start with the non-sequitur profile description: “Mr. Gottfried served 8 years in prison for beating up an Eskimo.” This conveys the offbeat substance of his act from the get-go, and it does it by showing instead of telling.

And so:

Lesson 1: Show don’t tell

Brand adoption is fueled by the user-end experience. Give audiences that experience — think of it like the power of telling a funny joke. Hear one and you’re ready for another.

Gottfried also sews events from his career into his Twitter feed, and in particular he acknowledges the controversy that can surround his act.

“Why do you have to speak loudly to fish?” he posted on July 1. Answer: “Because they’re hard of herring. I apologize to all fish.”

In the realm of brand development, when it comes to Gottfried, this tweet encompasses two related things:

  • (a.) It is a joke in the vein of Gottfried’s brand of convention-bending humor. And so, in the way of Lesson 1 above, when they read it, audiences experience something concrete about his act.
  • (b.) It develops his stance on outside events that affect his brand. Here’s how: In March 2011, Gottfried was fired from his gig as the voice of Aflac’s duck mascot in the insurance company’s commercials after he tweeted jokes about the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami shortly after it occurred.

In apparent response to that development, whenever he now tweets the above-quoted sort of  inoffensive setup, the punchline is really that he apologizes to the “fish” — or to the “pencils,” or whatever un-offend-able objects are in the joke.

If one thinks about this as a content-marketing strategy, Gottfried’s creating a brand-related commentary regarding what is topical in his career.

Which brings us to …

Lesson 2: Incorporate the events that happen to your brand

Social media can alter and/or reinforce audience loyalty — incrementally build up content that conveys a stance on what is relevant to your work. 

It’s also a funny bit. The idea of it, especially by repetition, becomes a kind of performance unto itself. We’ll explore this content further with our next comedian.

Ricky Gervais

Twitter Account: @RickyGervais

Followers: 2,639,773 (as of July 9, 2012)

Whether they come to him from The OfficeExtras, or his role as shin-kicking host of the Golden Globes, the way that Ricky Gervais runs his Twitter account is a powerful example of user-generated content and of social-media as a kind of performance space as well.

Many of Gervais’s followers write in daily about his career and other topics that he fosters. It might be reactions to the character Karl on The Ricky Gervais Show and An Idiot Abroad, or it might be Gervais’s ongoing argument with the masses about religion, homosexuality, or the relevance of his work.

Users may try to break him down on a subject, or they may support him on his beliefs. In a sense, watching his Twitter feed is akin to watching Gervais perform a part: comedian/commentator/provocateur. It’s free content for his admirers (and also his detractors) with Gervais conducting the multi-ring circus of his corner of the Web.

Two lessons stem from this:

Lesson 3: Not every piece of content need come from your own hands

Develop your audience by interacting with them based on your interests and theirs. They’ll keep coming back, especially when the idea becomes that your brand is something that they also partly own.

Lesson 4: Brand buy-in is deeply connected to what audiences perceive they’re getting

Create content that’s compelling and then broadcast it. You stand to create a “sticky” audience — they’ll come back to see what happens next.

And finally, Lesson 5 stems from the evidence that suggests Gottfried and Gervais actually write and post their own tweets. The lesson has to do with authenticity.

Lesson 5: Be real in your engagements

When you tweet about your brand do it in your own voice, and make it personal (if not heartfelt). A key attraction in the world of social media is the presence of that S-word in the term. Audiences want to believe in the voice that’s bringing them the images, sounds, and words that they consume.  

The outlay, so far, when it comes to this way of approaching Twitter and your brand? Time.

The payoff? An increasingly vibrant, valuable, dynamic audience keyed in to what you’re selling.

Just look at the examples of Gottfried and Gervais. They’ve developed six- and seven-figure conduits to move their brand forward. And their relationships with their fans? Their fans’ relationship with the brand? The impact of that two-way street is likely bigger than any billboard.

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