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5 Content Marketing Lessons From Key & Peele

If there’s one thing humans are good at inventing, it’s ways to avoid advertising. Most marketing, historically, has been interruptive, and rather disappointing. We hope the commercial breaks between scenes of our favorite television shows will end as quickly as possible. We hate that hand-addressed letter that we excitedly rip open just to discover that it’s a credit card offer. Pop-ups, banner ads, page takeovers—they largely ruin the Internet. And while sometimes an ad for something we’d be interested in finds us, interruptive advertising certainly doesn’t make media more enjoyable than it would be without it.

The holy grail of marketing is, of course, to make advertising that people enjoy so much that they’d seek it out on their own. Instead of being the interruption, the ideal marketing is to be the reason people turn on the television or log onto the Internet in the first place. Three examples of this kind of marketing come readily to mind:

1) Super Bowl commercials, which are usually so good (and story-driven) that football agnostics like me will actually watch the game—and pay more attention during the breaks than during play.

2) Search advertising, in which the ad is the thing you were asking for. You search for “pizza,” and the ads are search results. This is an example of what people call “native” advertising.

And 3) Branded content like The LEGO Movie, which, despite being a big fat advertisement for a children’s toy, enticed millions of us to spend $14 to see it. Whether fictional entertainment like The LEGO Movie, or nonfiction education like American Express’s OPEN Forum site for small business owners, content experiences that delight or help people to the point that people seek it out work extremely well at building relationships—which is exactly what businesses have always wanted to do.

Then there’s this clip by comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele:

This sketch is essentially an advertisement for the Liam Neeson movie Non-Stop. In itself it’s pretty funny content. However, if you regularly watch Key & Peele, it will have you rolling on the floor. Because, as you’d know, Key & Peele have had a running joke about how much they love Liam Neeson (or “Neesons”) for years.

Before anyone thought about turning the valet skit into a marketing opportunity, the comics were producing original content like this…(You’ll have to click through to see this one—the original Neesons valet skit—on Comedy Central) … and subsequent sketches like this:

At some point, Neeson’s publicist certainly caught wind.

So, it appears that Comedy Central and the movie studios struck a deal to incorporate a promo for Neeson’s next movie into a Key & Peele skit, a common product placement type of situation. However, by the time we fans got to that promo skit, our relationship with Key & Peele—and Neesons—was strong enough that we didn’t even feel marketed to when he showed up and started talking about the movie.

Even better, K&P acknowledge the fact that Neeson is doing product placement in their skit, and that becomes part of the joke. In the end, it’s incredibly effective. Nearly 2 million people online have watched the clip so far.

I’d wager that if Key & Peele were inclined to declare a few rules for good marketing, these would be among them:

1) If you want people to love your marketing—not just tolerate it—spend time building a relationship with them by giving amazing content on a regular basis.

2) When you’ve earned trust, you may incorporate marketing or advertising messages into your content, but only in ways that don’t give anyone a feeling of betrayal. Many people talk about this, but few pull it off because they focus more on the corporate message than the people who will consume the content.

3) Acknowledge what you’re doing. Don’t try to “hide” the commerciality of what you’re doing. People will respect the message even more if you’re forthcoming about your intentions. (Another great example of this: What makes the movie 22 Jump Street one of the most hilarious movies I’ve seen lately is that the characters mock the fact that it’s a sequel throughout the film.)

4) Use your own voice. K&P don’t switch into awkward commercial mode when it comes time to deliver the marketing message in the “Non-Stop” sketch. They remain true to their style, and that makes it work without feeling like they’ve “sold out.

5) Tell great stories. Stories make people care more than persuasive logic or checklists of features. Stories are what make K&P’s comedy funny, and incorporating Neeson’s movie into one of their stories makes the promo memorable and appealing rather than eye-rolling.

I’ve been obsessed with Key & Peele since I discovered t last winter. If they continue the valet series and make a skit for every subsequent Liam Neeson movie that ever comes out, I will keep watching—so long as they don’t abandon the writing and acting that make their show great in the first place.

And maybe if we all take a page from their book, we won’t have to keep inventing ways to avoid ads anymore.

What’s the deal with The Content Strategist? At Contently, storytelling is the only marketing we do, and it works wonders. It could for you, too. Learn more.

Image by Comedy Hype
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