Case Study: Comedy Central Rebrand and Reengagement
Ed. note: This case study is a selection from the 2012 “Justified” competition, in which an esteemed jury identified submissions that demonstrate the value of design in a clear, compelling and accessible way. It serves as an example of how to explain design thinking to clients, students, peers and the public in general, based on specific metrics.
In concert with the network’s ongoing research on the comedy viewer and the ever-changing ways they access their comedy, the assignment was to reengage and reaffirm the already-strong Comedy Central brand for a new generation of viewers: Gen Y/Millennials. The objective was to critique every aspect of our brand—in terms of editorial, design, voice and even our workflow—and to use that information to connect on a more personal level with our audience.
We invited six companies and three internal teams to pitch their concepts for this challenge. Although there was a lot of great work presented, we were incredibly inspired by the pitches from The Lab and our internal teams: The Lab for their fresh and challenging perspective on our brand, their design and their strategies, and the internal teams for capturing the heart and soul of our brand, our comedic sensibility and our editorial voice.
Undisclosed, but less than you’d imagine
Research was key to this reengagement. It was at the core of this project. Our core audience, persons aged 18 to 34, has changed dramatically over the years in terms of how they view content, but also in terms of their sense of humor. The reality check that research offered our brand was a critical influence in where we took our brand, and it continues to influence our path forward.
Most importantly, this is not about pandering to our audience; it is about celebrating our content the way that our audience would. It is about establishing a rapport with our audience that is less about selling the next big thing and more about celebrating why we find it funny and worth their time.
All said, our new direction has been well-received, by our audience and across the company. It has been a challenge that all parties are able to understand and get behind, and its success is dependent upon our staying committed to talking to our audience, not at them.
This project was much more than a redesign. It was a reimagining of every way we connect with our audience. Although spearheaded by the Comedy Central brand creative team, the project involved almost every department within CC, including on-air and off-air promotions, digital, marketing, talent, programming, program scheduling, ad sales and, of course, research—lots of time with research. From this introspection, we developed four key challenges for this project to address:
The Competition. Our viewers get their entertainment and content from an ever-growing array of sources. The TV landscape is growing more and more competitive. The reality is that our viewers can get their comedy and entertainment fix from digital content across the internet, from sites like YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, the Huffington Post, iTunes, etc., along with game systems and social platforms.
Programming. We no longer live in a world of appointment viewing—with a few exceptions. For the most part, DVRs and the proliferation of “content everywhere” have redefined our audiences’ viewing patterns and challenged our ratings and ad models. Two examples include our ability to skip all commercials and network promos, and waiting for clips to be available online.
Consumer Perception. One of our biggest challenges, as a brand, is getting credit for all of the great content we have. Clips from our shows are available everywhere, from last night’s best “Daily Show” clip on the Huffington Post, to the latest web redemption from Tosh.0 shared across Twitter and Facebook. Our content is everywhere our audience is—but how do we more effectively brand it as Comedy Central original content, especially when it is being viewed on other well-branded sites?
New Technologies. Although this challenge is seen in the last three examples, it is the biggest acknowledgement that the evolution of television and the internet is not slowing down. As a brand, we have to shift from a reactive stance to a forward-thinking strategy.
These four challenges are not unique to Comedy Central, but they represent a more rounded description of what we have explored in our reengagement project.
The core strategy of our reengagement was to stop thinking of Comedy Central as a TV channel. Comedy Central is a comedy brand that is platform-agnostic. Whether you get our content on TV, on the web, on your phone, on iTunes and Netflix or on the next great device, we are dedicated to bringing our content to you wherever you need a laugh. Our redesign was grounded in this principle. The design is clean and simple, and it scales well to any device.
It should also be noted that going into this project, there was no direction to change our logo. But as we began to commit to this new direction, it became clear that the old logo was holding us back. The old globe logo served us well, but it was too complicated—and too loaded with old references—for such a forward-looking effort. We decided to develop a new logo and logo system that would give us a range of branding tools to be used as needed across any application. The new logo was rooted in what we’ve come to call the Comedy Mark: two interconnected C’s that play off of the simple authority of the copyright symbol (©). While this mark works in a variety of combinations with Comedy Central spelled out, it works best on its own, when it is used to stamp a funny moment in a clip or image. It has become our stamp of approval.
Another strategy of our redesign and reengagement was to rethink how our network design and our content interacted. In our old style, the network look would be tailored to each promotion’s creative direction. This made for some fun challenges along the way, but it didn’t serve our brand in establishing a clear, consistent presence. Our new direction established some clear boundaries and a focus on owning our content—on stamping our content with our mark of approval. Our aim was to develop a look and feel that would translate across any and every platform. Although this look can seem simple and dry, it does so intentionally, so as to not step on the comedy content. The look and the logo don’t need to be funny. Fun, yes—but not goofy or funny in their own right.
Lastly, but most importantly, our new direction was based on the notion of talking to our audience, not at them. In our critique, it became clear that we were yelling at our audience—just another commercial spewing its sales pitch. But we knew we could be better than that. As true fans of what we were sharing with our audience, we knew that it wasn’t about a hard sell. It was about sharing with them what we felt was worth their time—what we found funny, or ridiculous, or at least worth checking out. It was the realization that, as Comedy Central, we had the unique opportunity to have a lot of fun with our content and with our audience.
Here is a presentation reel, to show some of this in context.
After our first full year of embracing our reengagement and redesign, we continue to be excited about and confident in our new direction. Our promotions continue to strive to talk to our audience, not at them, and our promotions staff is charged with creating fun and exciting content that truly celebrates the unique fun of our content and our brand. More than lip service, this new philosophy challenges each of us, every day, to ensure that we, as fans of Comedy Central, are working to celebrate what we have to offer our audience.
The results include a staff that is more empowered to challenge the status quo, and an on-air voice that is dedicated to talking to our audience, not at them. This is an ongoing and never-ending challenge, and we have set a rather high bar, but we continue to implement our new branding strategies, logo and branding system. We continue to challenge ourselves to reach our audience as we would want to be reached—as fans. In its simplicity, our new look and feel has proven to be versatile and effective across every platform, while still allowing us enough flexibility to tailor our design and animation to each and every campaign.
We couldn’t be happier with our new direction, but we have a lot to live up to. In challenging ourselves to rethink everything, we also challenged ourselves to continue to critique all that we do. Our success depends on it. In terms of the categories of effectiveness:
Economy: The new design direction is incredibly efficient compared to our old approach of developing unique design solutions for each project.
People: As described, we have a renewed focus on how our brand relates to our audience. It is about connecting with our fans, as fans. It is dedicated to talking to our audience, not at them. This design direction has given us the perfect toolset for this challenge.
Environment: As most of our promotions are on-air and digital, we have a more healthy environmental footprint, although this has been driven more by budgets than by a direct benefit from our new design. However, if the concept was funny enough and connected with our audience in the right way, we wouldn’t hesitate to embrace whatever method would best suit our message.
Culture: Time will tell, but so far, our audience has noticed the difference. Our tone has shifted, our message is clearer and we continue to ensure that our content is everywhere our audience would like it to be. Our ultimate measure of promotional success is that we create promos that are worth sharing in their own right. Since our reengagement, we have had a number of promos that have done just that—crazy-fun promos that got the word out, but, at the same time, became sharable content.
All said, we have only just begun, but we are off to a good start. This project has been a great challenge across our company and we hope to continue to live up to our potential as the favorite comedy brand for our audience.