Lessons in Comedy and Advertising

Written by: Rachelle Huh, Sales and Marketing Intern, All Things Media

There’s an iconic marketing phrase, generally credited to circus showman P.T. Barnum, stating “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” In this era of social media influencers and digital marketing, that phrase is put to the test early and often.

One recent example comes from the first episode of Comedy Central’s Control Room with Mekki Leeper. Entitled, “How one guy sold the world on an $80 used tissue,” the episode delves into the question of whether one person (Leeper), locked in a room with nothing but WiFi and $1000 at his disposal, can successfully launch and market an online used tissue business in a week. 

The results highlight some of the interesting and unexpected parallels between comedy and advertising, first and foremost that both require you to know your audience. And, while the episode plays out in front of an audience “in on the gag,” it’s clear that several of the techniques used to market this bogus company are viable and proven methods in the social space.

We recommend that you watch the full episode to capture all the nuances, but at its core, Leeper sets out to answer some key questions about his bogus product: Do people believe it? Will people use it? Do people like it?

Without ruining the program’s comedic value, we can reveal that the “product” was successful. The company’s bogus claims were published in multiple news outlets. Several people “used” it at a stand-up booth and sent emails asking to purchase the product.

As Keeper points out, “if you’re trying to sell ads and get social engagement and run commercials, your story…just has to be exciting.” Getting back to the Barnum quote about bad press, a used tissue company was a concept just gross enough (and yet oddly compelling) to engender a robust reaction in the media and on social media. People either hated it and left mean comments or loved it and wanted to pre-order it!

Knowing that legitimate companies are founded on something much more than a gimmicky comedy experiment, what can we learn from this scenario? First off, excitement about a company can be generated in numerous ways: the visuals of an ad campaign, a timely and relevant mission statement, the social issues that company embraces. Despite the seemingly ridiculous premise of the tissue company, because of its outwardly professional marketing and actions, people were more willing to buy into the FOMO illusion. Additionally, Control Room proves that in the right hands, the power that can be achieved through digital marketing is immense. 

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