I don’t think they’ll ever kill the commercial, but they’re disguising 'em better. That may be OK with consumers, for now.
In December, Comedy Central gingerly put its toe into new waters. Its substituted a two-and-a-half-minute ad pod--per month--with an episode from a branded content featurette called “Handy.”
It’s a short, comic series about a barely adequate hand model who believes he is actually a high-powered, in-demand hand model. The branded content features star Erich Lane (as Eric Thomas Layne). He’s one of the executive producers, along with Josh Miller, who created, wrote and directed.
They’re pretty clever episodes, for what they are.
What are they, exactly? They’re commercials for a variety of sponsors: Zales, Black & Decker, Joe’s Crab Shack and Casio so far. Each one has a different corporate tie-in.
If you ask me, Comedy Central’s “Handy” episodes are spaced out so far apart I can’t believe it will get a true reading about its effectiveness.
Maybe, from the standpoint of Comedy Central, that’s a problem. While the features are funny and even nearly endearing, they don’t make one worthwhile claim about the product. In short, I don’t think many more watches, power drills, diamond rings or crab legs have been sold because of “Handy.”
Yet, Comedy Central is onto something.
The branded content model was born online and it fits neatly there. The concept is so much a part of the scene it’s hard to get offended that it's deceiving. Everybody who’s anybody on YouTube is linked up somehow with sponsors, and sometimes they are loved even more for it.
Way back in 2014, Chipotle’s got a lot of flattering earned media for its “Farmed and Dangerous” series in which the chain mocked agribusiness food stuff. Looking back at the series now, as Chipotle tried to build from its own problems, “Farmed and Dangerous” seems sadly ironic.
Comedy Central has often zigged and zagged before the better-rated networks around them. You could see how these things could catch fire on TV, and if and when they do, how branded content can hop over to YouTube or some other place online and get major views. “Handy” episodes already live on online on Facebook and Instagram and more.
But they only work for advertisers if they actually sell something.
So far, that would seem to be the problem for lots of enjoyable branded content products. Or they try too hard. As Contently points out, the sponsored content on “Saturday Night Live” this season “has looked more like traditional product placement.”