No Joke: Its Time for Tune-In


Branding has been the buzzword in cable-marketing circles
in recent years, but the network that markets cable's biggest hit series said it's time
for networks to zoom in on tune-in advertising.

Bert Gould, senior vice president of marketing for Comedy
Central, said the impressive ratings numbers of the network's hit animated series, South
, proved that cable can deliver big ratings numbers for a series. As a result, he
became convinced that Comedy Central's summer and fall marketing campaign should emphasize
tune-in, and not branding the network.

"We've shown that people will come to a program
irregardless of who the distributor is," Gould said. "Now, I want to target
events with advertising where people make their viewing decisions."

Gould said he plans to allocate a hefty portion of his
multimillion-dollar marketing budget to print ads in TV Guide and Sunday-newspaper
television supplements, as well as radio and cross-channel spots. In addition to reminding
viewers that South Park has begun a second season with new episodes, the network
will focus on Viva Variety's new season, beginning at the end of July, and on the
debut of its new series: the animated Bob & Margaret in June, and two new
sketch shows in August.

Alan Bergstrom, president of The Brand Consultancy, thinks
that the plan makes sense, noting that the fledgling Fox broadcast network employed a
similar strategy when The Simpsons and Married with Children emerged as

And by emphasizing individual shows, Bergstrom said, Comedy
Central has the potential to actually strengthen its overall brand image.

"If they can establish that the new shows are just as
good -- and that's a big if -- then they ultimately create an image that the network is
the place to tune in if you're looking for really funny comedy, and the brand takes on a
life of its own." he added.

Interestingly, one of Gould's biggest challenges has been
how to handle South Park, which has already taken on a life of its own, with
minimal marketing.

Over the last few months, characters from the show have
appeared on the covers of TV Guide, Rolling Stone, Newsweek and Spin.
And after only a few weeks in stores, South Park videos have sold more than 300,000
units. The show has averaged a 6 rating from Nielsen Media Research.

Gould said Comedy Central has been besieged by licensing
and promotion offers from a wide range of companies, but most have been turned down.

"The show needs to be protected," Gould said.
"We have to keep it underground and make sure that it doesn't become a victim of its
own success."

In fact, Comedy Central has not done any cobranded
promotions or deals with toy companies, although there have been licensing deals for
T-shirts, hats and collectibles.

"They're adult tchotchkes," Gould said.
"This is not a show for kids. It's a unique animal because it's about kids, but for
adults. The T-shirts are only sold in large and extra-large, and we don't even promote the
show before 7 p.m."

Nonetheless, Gould acknowledged that the proliferation of South
merchandise -- much of it bootlegged -- has served as an ideal marketing tool for
the network, raising awareness of the show without alienating its core audience.