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More to Be Thankful For

11/18/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

This week, promotion executives at Comedy Central will be giving thanks for the development of the Xbox.

The video-game console is at the heart of the network’s annual “Thanxxgiving” weekend promotion, now in its fifth year, this time running from Nov. 24 to 27.

No one knew the game console would be so hot when Microsoft Corp. — then a nascent game-technology developer — reached out to networks in 2000 through its ad agency, McCann Worldwide. The agency challenged the cable programmers to create a concept to promote the new hardware, according to Comedy senior vice president of promotion Mitchel Fried.

The basic network has traditionally been a top draw for young, affluent adults who profile as early adopters, so Comedy Central executives knew the service would be ideal for an Xbox campaign, Fried said.

In 2000, Comedy assembled a marathon of its best fare, laced with an original interstitial “series” about a media major who comes home for the holidays. Cameras, supposedly hidden around his house, recorded the wacky doings of his dysfunctional family, documenting the fact that the only area in which the family co-existed peacefully was in the living room, in front of the Xbox-equipped TV set. Viewers were urged to log on the network’s Web site for a chance to win a console.

“It did so well, our computer crashed,” Fried said, noting the spots generated 300,000 responses and no one was around to tend to the traffic on the machines.

Since then, the promotional messages have escalated in sophistication — in 2001, Comedy Central created interstitials emphasizing the multi-home, game-playing interaction that the device enables — and the desirability of the consumer prizes.

Last year, Toyota Motor Corp. USA’s Scion Group drove into the mix. The automotive division presented one of its boxy-looking vehicles — which Comedy Central painted to look like a console — and outfitted it with Xbox-color black and green seats. It was also equipped with four DVD players and a global positioning system. All told, Comedy Central attracted 600,000 entries.

This year, the four-day campaign is themed toward this week’s debut of the latest iteration, Xbox 360.

Comedy Central’s concept was inspired by the fact there is a real place called Hell. The campaign doesn’t purport to emanate from the Michigan town, but a generic Hell which stages a Thanksgiving parade that goes wild, quite reminiscent of the closing scene in theatrical National Lampoon’s Animal House. Viewers must stay tuned to Comedy Central to catch interstitials revealing clue words, then go to the network’s Web site to register for the sweepstakes. Comedy will give away 48 Xbox 360 consoles, as well as a tricked-out white Scion to the grand prizewinner.

The campaign has been supported by new print and online elements. For instance, last month’s Xbox Magazine featured an article, as well as a full-page ad for the sweepstakes. Comedy’s prize packages also include subscriptions to the title. Moreover, Comedy Central recently launched Motherload portal will also present the interstitial films, Fried said.

September