The Comedy Campaign: Marketing Brands With Humor And Hubris

You might know Mark Malkoff as the guy who visited and consumed purchases at all the Starbucks shops in Manhattan in less than 24 hours. Or as the guy who lived in an Ikea store for a week (a stunt that won the 2009 PR Week Campaign of the Year). Or perhaps you’re familiar with “The Carson Podcast,” in which he talks about legendary talk show host Johnny Carson with comics who debuted on the show, frequent Carson guests, and entertainers who were influenced by Carson. Recently he proved that Apple Stores will let their customers do almost anything—by having a pizza delivered to himself and bringing a goat into an Apple Store.

I first met Mark about seven years ago when I needed help wrangling comedians for a celebrity PSA project. Besides being a talented comedian himself, Malkoff is plugged into the world of comedy like no one else. Within a week’s time, he was able to secure John Oliver, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeff Ross, and Conan O’Brien announcer Joel Godard, among others, for our charity cause—a Peanuts-themed, get-out-the-vote campaign.



Since then, I’ve kept in touch with Mark for several reasons. For one thing, I believe that humor is an important tool to have in the PR and marketing toolbox, and a conversation with Mark always keeps me inspired and abreast of comedy trends. But more important, he has a unique skill for creating clever and funny ways to incorporate brands into his routines. I never know when Mark—who makes frequent appearances on Mashable, “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” and Huffington Post for his comedic stunts—might have an idea that’s just perfect for a client of mine. 

So I recently chatted with Mark about how to use humor in publicity campaigns.

AH: My observation is that you are genius at zeroing in on a brand’s particular strength or trait and then finding the humor in it. For example, Starbucks is famous for being everywhere, and you showed the humor in that by visiting every single store in Manhattan in 24 hours. Ikea is about creating a comfortable home with ease, and you proved that to be hilariously true by living in one of their retail locations for a week. How did these two stunts come about? 

MM: Both Ikea and Starbucks were my ideas. I usually get an idea, then follow my curiosity to see if it’s funny and entertaining. If a brand happens to fit the idea, then I pursue it. With Ikea, I did a lot of research about their company to make sure they had a sense of humor before I approached them about the idea. For Starbucks, I did not give them any advance notice about the project. Other brands saw the success of these two stunts, and now brands are approaching me to see how they can create PR campaigns with my kind of humor.

AH: If a brand wants to hire you for a marketing or publicity campaign, do they come to you with an idea in place or do you work from a blank canvas? 

MM:  Every brand is different but the most successful campaigns have been when a brand comes to me with a basic concept and then I provide input. For Skype’s 10th anniversary, for example, the company had me video-chat with people in 162 countries around the globe. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I went for seven days without my cell phone for a U.S. Cellular campaign. Both campaigns garnered national media coverage and tons of social media exposure. I think that’s one of the reasons brands like me—I know how to get press coverage and have good relationships with the working media. 

AH: Not everyone is as naturally funny as you, of course—are there some simple tips you can provide publicists on how they might use humor in their campaigns? And of course, how not to use humor?

MM: When a brand demonstrates in a clever way that they have a sense of humor about themselves, that’s almost always a winner—but it’s tricky to pull off. So I suggest that you consult comedians on your campaigns. There are plenty around who would be happy to brainstorm with you. Don’t do anything too obvious or predictable.

AH: Are there any other current comedy trends that brands could be picking up on?

MM: You can’t go wrong with pranks, parodies, and anything topical or with an element of surprise.

1 comment about "The Comedy Campaign: Marketing Brands With Humor And Hubris".
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  1. Robin Moody from Robin Moody, July 17, 2014 at 12:02 p.m.

    Mark Malkoff in the Apple store was hilarious. Thanks for sharing! And great point about brands consulting comedians, you can certainly tell when they have done their homework and also...when they haven't.

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