Project: Comedy Central on-air identity, for MTV Networks

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MTV Networks
Comedy Central on-air identity

Rules for humor: brand development for Comedy Central

Comedy Central’s broadcast ratings had slipped a bit, though clips from Its shows were widely shared across the web. Their prized properties – The Daily Show and The Colbert Report – had such strong individual brands that audiences didn’t automatically connect them with Comedy Central. They asked us to look at ways to frame their programming that would lead these viewers back to broadcast, or at least to comedycentral.com.

Pitch film

When it comes to humor programming, American media organizations always start out by telling you they’re funny or crazy or something: look at all the radio stations offering a drive-time “Morning Zoo”. Comedy Central had a similar approach to brand: a stylized drawing of the globe with a bunch of skyscrapers poking out of one end, intended to establish their wacky bona fides in some way we couldn’t get at. When you wrap deep satire like The Colbert Report in a wacky package, the whole thing seems cheaper.

Because humor is about risk and surprise. Comics know this: you have to let the audience do some work. If you start out telling people you’re funny, by the time you get to the joke, you’ve robbed it of its power: it’s called a punch line because you don’t see it coming. Humor works because the audience expects you to say or do one thing, and you do something entirely different, which reveals a surprising insight on the setup.

This was our governing principle. The package didn’t need to be funny, because the content was. In fact, a deadpan delivery worked two ways: it pushed the content forward, and the the dramatic tension resulting from framing comic material in dry, corporate language (even the name “Comedy Central” brings to mind some bizarre Soviet-style bureaucracy) became a meta-joke. It became, in itself ... funny.

So what began as a simple refresh became a complete transformation across all media, and required a great deal of courage from Comedy Central’s management. The result became an example of brand as content and behavior. We did end up delivering a trademark (based on the “comedyright” symbol we developed for packaging and punctuation), but even if you took that away, the tone, unique framing of content and consistency of execution would tell you what you’re watching.

Three-and-a-half minute overview of the brand language in action. This version was used in presentation to the client; we made a shorter, more refined version to introduce the new brand to the public.

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Credits/colophon
Agency
Johnson+Wolverton
Creative directors
Alicia Johnson
Hal Wolverton
Art directors
Keira Alexandra
Adam McIsaac
Kiffer Keegan
Copywriters
Adam McIsaac
Kyle Barron-Cohen
Kiffer Keegan
Editors
Eron Otcasek
Roberto Serrini
Animation directors
Kiffer Keegan
Catherine Chesters
Animators
Kiffer Keegan
Daniel Pernikoff
Brian McGee
Chris West
Kiffer Keegan
Joe Lawrence
Sound design
Joe Johnson
Eron Otcasek
Producers
Allison Pickard
Susie Shuttleworth
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