The upfront is rarely a laughing matter—unless you're IFC, a
network that prides itself as having a sensibility that's "slightly off."
At its upfront event Thursday, the network will resist
touting that its distribution has topped 70 million, or that it plans to air
original programming 52 weeks a year. Instead, its sales people will take turns
manning a dunk tank hoping their clients can't hit a target smaller than 18 to
In addition to comedic shows, IFC's got some amusing ideas
for advertisers who prefer a little more than 30-second spots as part of their
media mix. How about dropping a comedian into an unsuspecting audience to deliver
a brand's message? Or backing a witty list of solutions to life's problems?
One marketer that's already doing funny business with IFC is
Volkswagen, which is returning as a sponsor of the show Comedy Bang! Bang! This season, the star of the show, Reggie Watts,
literally will be singing Volkswagen's praises in a feature the network sold as
IFC also sold the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors
Authority what it calls a custom comedic vignette that features rising stand-up
star Michael Che making the rounds as a tourist in Sin City.
Last year, two of the Bang!
Bang!'s characters rode around in a Volkswagen while debating whether they'd
sold out by allowing too much product placement. Usually VW doesn't like its
integrations to be overt, but this over-the-top approach was "pretty freaking
funny," says Justin Osborne, the automaker's GM for advertising and marketing
communications. Given the network's indie attitude and the brand's history of
witty advertising, "when they pitched it to us, right away we saw it was
perfect for the channel, perfect for the audience and
allowed us to push the boundaries with certain audiences, and we've been very
happy with them."
Vanessa Benfield, executive VP for sales at IFC, says there
was a lot of interest in the Reggie Riffs. In fact, the network had to undo
deals. VW will be the first and the only automaker to be part of the feature.
Benfield says that IFC's special brand of integrations and
branded content helps the network stand out in a crowded field. This is only
the third upfront since IFC embraced commercials and subscribed to Nielsen. "We
actually had to work harder back then. When you're not rated, the branded
entertainment was really the only reason you could get people to come on
board," she says. "We actually haven't lost sight of that and didn't just shed
that. That's why we keep coming up with new and more and better offerings."
The new ideas are part of the pitch the network has been
making in a series of smaller meetings the network has been holding with
individual agencies and clients.
One of the new
offerings is called Comedy Bomb. IFC comedians drop in on unsuspecting
audiences with a stand-up routine incorporating a sponsor's product and brand
Another is called "No Brainers," which offers off-beat
instructions to solve both important and frequently over looked life problems.
A third offering is called IFC Fix, a cross-platform
opportunity the network describes as part product review and part
recommendation from the editorial voice of IFC.
Benfield says the ideas are conversation starters designed
to show advertisers "we are constantly evolving our brand and we're continuing
to think of new ways that we think will really help their brands connect with
Many integrations into original programming require long
lead times. Some of these ideas are quicker and easier to execute, she says.
Benfield says that IFC's programming team is on board to
merge advertisers into the network's shows. "We're pitching partners on shows
that are going to premiere next year already with long-lead integrations and
we've got the writing teams and the talent on board and they like it," she says.
"That is something that programming is just as committed to and you think about
a show like Portlandia and all the
great integrations we've done with Subaru and Geico, and they've been onboard
with all of that. We do think it's a major point of differentiation that IFC
works really hard to find the fun in our partners' brands."
Advertisers mainly get these opportunities for making
substantial advertising investments on the channel.
"Every deal is different. Sometimes honestly it's just the
cost of doing business," Benfield says.
Volkswagen's Osborne says its integrations are generally
value added deals. "They'll start to throw in some things and some good
integrations depending on our commitment, but we typically don't pay for
integrations per se. We try to weave it into our packages," he says.
IFC fits into VW's larger media strategy because its quirky
sense of humor is a good fit with the automaker's character, according to
Osborne. It also is a good place to reach what he called an "indie" audience.
"They're younger, median age about 42, with a higher percentage of a male
VW is trying to reach men for the newest version of its
Beetle after the previous version skewed overly female in appeal.
"The way we market it now is more male focused, both in the
environment and the creative, but still being for anyone and everyone," he
says. "That's partly where this IFC makes a big play. They're heavily male,
younger, they can see a Beetle in there and go 'Hey that things pretty cool
is giving IFC's talent a lot of room creatively. "Here's the car, here's some
guardrails. Go at it. We know it's going to be great," Osborne says. [Watts]
has a quick wit, fast mind and he's obviously a creative guy. We're excited to
see what he comes up with."