Friday, June 03, 2011 is Actually Quite Smart

DumbDumb is really anything but dumb.

Readers of this blog know my feelings on the traditional TV ad (read my thoughts on a "Post Commercial TV Advertising Age"). It is going the way of the dodo (well, maybe not the traditional political ad; or maybe yes?). There is too much competition from social media, from gadgets, from the internet, from video games, from their remote control  -- and so much, much more -- for things to continue as they are. Why would anyone in their right mind sit still and watch a traditional TV ad when there's so much more going on elsewhere?

Well, if it's funny one might. Jason Bateman --a showbiz survivor, to be sure -- and Will Arnett, the rubbery-faced husband of Amy Poehler, might just be tapping into the zeitgeist with their marriage of branded content and funny videos. Their experiment in "branded content makes commercials fun; it makes commercials into actual, watchable content -- something somewhat vital. From Papermag:

"If a bizarre alternate universe existed where Mad Men's Don Draper mated with Don Rickles, the resulting love child would look something like DumbDumb, the new marketing venture by Arrested Development alums Jason Bateman and Will Arnett. 'We're the CEOs of DumbDumb, but that's a hilarious moniker to give us,' Arnett says. 'We're actually co-chief executive dummies. That's our official title.' Since launching in 2010, DumbDumb has released a handful of videos online, similar to comedy content on sites like CollegeHumor and Funny or Die, but with one key difference: the videos are sponsored by brands whose products inspire and are featured in the sketches.

" ... Since the advent of DVRs, corporations have been relying on branded entertainment to pitch their products to viewers -- whether it's Randy Jackson sipping on a Coke during American Idol or the Situation dousing himself with Axe Body Spray on Jersey Shore. With branded content already ingrained in mainstream entertainment, why would corporations choose to work with DumbDumb over a traditional ad agency?"

"'Well, first of all, you don't have to hang out with those ad guys,' Arnett deadpans. 'That's actually not true. I need to make the distinction that we're not an ad agency, we work in concert with the ad agencies. So we're not out there thinking that we're Mad Men. We're just a couple of jackasses.'

"'Ad agencies do an amazing job creating commercials that drive sales, and then we come along and write some sort of dumb booger-eating content,' Bateman elaborates. 'We're sort of a compliment to the more traditional marketing efforts.'"

Bateman is being self-deprecating -- an integral virtue in any comic actor. I get that. But the efforts of DumbDumb are not just about "booger eating content," rather they are about making commercials vital. Comedy -- whatever one thinks of it philosophically -- is considered in these United States of America, as vital content. It is one of the most valuable genres in the entertainment industry. Which reminds me of TJ Walker's post about what makes Jason Calacanis' "This Week in Start-Ups" show work. Each episode of "This Week in Startups" has 100,000 viewers -- a comparable audience to many cable business news television shows -- and is growing. Jason reads his own ads. Says Walker:

Why is this a plus? Isn’t this what old time journalists consider un-dignified and unethical? With Calacanis, he claims to only promote advertisers he personally uses and that he thinks would be helpful to his clients. His not afraid to personalize the ads by even doing chimp noises to promote his advertiser Mail Chimp. Furthermore, his ads aren’t disrupting the viewer or the show because they are relevant to the show and his viewers. I would argue that Calacanis is MORE ethical than a CNBC host who is content to take a pay check while cutting to a commercial from BP or the Doritos Company, ostensibly with his hands clean.

I also believe this approach is of the future. In the last days of Howard Stern’s show on terrestrial radio -- stop me if you've heard me gripe on this before -- there were regularly scheduled over 20 minute blocks of commercials. Can you imagine that? Granted, Stern had a large salary back in the days of CBS radio – reportedly $22 million a year – and he has a larger one now, but come on: 20 minutes of commercials? That is just an insult to the listener and an act of unpardonable greed. Viacom was making tens of millions of dollars a year on ads on the four plus hour show and if they didn't think so much like a greedy corporation -- and defend Stern against the Bush administration's FCC -- Howard might still be making millions for the company. Even Stern bitterly complained at the time about the amount of commercial blocks and how it was literally transforming the content of his show.

Then Stern went to Sirius satellite radio, a zone in which he could not be crucified by the FCC. The paucity of commercials -- a 7-10 minute block --  was one of the major reasons he went to satellite (that, and an $80 million a year paycheck).

Another  option to live-reads is what that grisly showiz veteran Jason Bateman and Will Arnett are attempting with branded content and comedy. Let's face it -- traditional commericals are on their way out. Livereads are in and, I believe, so is the DumbDumb approach which, ironically, is very, very smart.

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