What Marketers Can Learn About Millennials via The Comedy Brand of choice: Comedy Central

Comedy isn’t for the faint hearted. Neither is marketing a comedy brand to Millennials.

But that’s precisely what Comedy Central CMO Walter Levitt does every day. At Adobe Summit 2016 in Las Vegas, he talked about how Comedy Central not only engages Millennials who have seemingly limitless entertainment options, but how it has positioned itself as their favorite comedy brand.

Millennial Currency

Because funny content is innately shareable, Comedy Central is able to build deep relationships with its core consumers, or 18-to-34-year-old men, who are naturally inclined to pass Comedy Central content around, Levitt said. In fact, comedy is one of the key elements this demographic cites among the influences that shape who they are, he added.

“If you’re 18 to 34 and think something is really funny and cool, then you share with your friends,” Levitt said. “It’s currency for the Millennial generation.”

As a result, Levitt said Comedy Central determined “we can’t just be a TV network, we have to be a comedy brand.”

But not only that, Comedy Central has to be the favorite comedy brand for Millennials anywhere they want to laugh, Levitt added. That means the brand delivers content via a multitude of channels, including its app, as well as Hulu, Amazon Prime, Roku, Xbox and Snapchat.

Anywhere Millennials are looking to consume comedy content

SnapChat Snap Code

In fact, Comedy Central recently renewed four of its series on Snapchat Discover and gave greenlights to “nine new series encompassing a range of formats covering the worlds of animation, sketch, stand-up, reality television and late night,” the brand said in a release.

Further, according to the announcement, the Comedy Central Discover channel was ranked as the second most-popular channel in a poll of U.S.-based Snapchat users.

“We’re on every social platform – anywhere Millennials are looking to consume comedy content,” Levitt said. “Our strategy is we can’t just be a TV network – we have to be the favorite of Millennials.”

Further, this multi-channel strategy appeals to Millennials who want immediate answers and are not wed to one platform in particular, said Scott Samele, chief digital media officer at marketing communications firm Calysto Communications.

“They don’t necessarily have a love affair with Facebook. But they cannot live without the real-time mediums that exist. From Snapchat to Pinterest to…” he added.

In addition, Samele pointed to AMC’s The Walking Dead as another brand with a successful omnichannel approach, which includes the Talking Dead after-show in which the brand fields Twitter questions — and even highlights the @user – and answers Skype video questions.

“This omnichannel philosophy isn’t uniquely targeted to Millennials per se,” Samele said. “But Millennials do consume more content on their handheld devices than their older siblings.”

Be Where Your Fans Are Looking

In addition, Samele quotes Hall of Fame baseball player Willie Keeler, who said, “Keep your eye on the ball and hit ‘em where they ain’t.”

“In today’s publishing world, it’s a similar motto, just the opposite side: Be where your fans are looking,” Samele said. “And don’t just repurpose the same content in the same form. Adjust to the channel. Make it good, high-quality, consumable and sharable content.”

Indeed, in his comments at Summit, Levitt concurred it’s content that matters above all else because the actual creative is a core component in connecting with audiences.

“It still has to be fun, funny and engaging,” Levitt said. “Everything we do at Comedy Central has Millennials top-of-mind. Whether it’s full-length shows we create for linear TV or our app, content for our Snapchat Discover channel, posts for our social feeds, content for our radio channel, live stand-up events we produce, or even our marketing – everything we do is focused on connecting with Millennials.”

A Farm System of Nurturing Talent

Hannibal Buress

Rebecca Brooks, founding partner of marketing research firm Alter Agents, also agrees content is a huge part of Comedy Central’s attraction.

“The only other network out there with similar Millennial credentials is Adult Swim – also known for bold content and trying a wide variety of shows and formats,” she said. “Millennials not only appreciate the constant stream of edgy material, but they also reward Comedy Central for the authentic effort of continual evolution and experimentation.”

And this, she added, is in part thanks to what she calls Comedy Central’s “farm system” of nurturing talent through sketch shows, roasts and talk shows, which creates a pipeline of talent the network can make multiple bets on.

“Take [Hannibal Buress], whose show didn’t make it past its freshman season last year,” Brooks said. “He’s still a mainstay player on the hit Broad City and a go-to comedian for other Comedy Central opportunities. It is rare to maintain an entertainment brand that pushes themselves and their talent to evolve.”

So how do brands that don’t have the likes of Buress and Amy Schumer at their disposal engage Millennials?

While Comedy Central declined to provide additional information about how it appeals to Millennials, there’s certainly no shortage of insight for marketers targeting this demographic, which, per the United States Census Bureau, includes consumers born between 1982 and 2000 and, as of June 2015, included over 83 million people. That means Millennials constitute more than one-quarter of the U.S. population.

Beyond simply creating solid content and maintaining a multi-channel approach as Comedy Central does, here’s a primer for any brand looking to connect with this generation.

Marketers targeting Millennials must consider:

1 – Life Stage

A study from marketing company Epsilon found life stages – not age – matter most when marketing to Millennials, which makes sense when you consider the 20-year age difference between the oldest and youngest members of this generation.

Per Epsilon, these life stages include: Millennials just beginning to take on adult responsibilities, Millennials still living with parents as a result of financial constraints, Millennials getting married, Millennials having children, Millennials buying homes and Millennials remaining single.

“It is important to connect with Millennials via life stage versus demographics,” said Tom Edwards, chief digital officer of agency at Epsilon. “There are multiple levels of life stage within Millennials and if you understand the behaviors and attitudes at each stage, connecting via content and channels becomes incredibly more effective.”

2 – Personalization

Further, the study advised one-to-one strategies when targeting Millennials as they want more personalized interactions.

“The evolution of digital marketing strategies, techniques and tools now allow for 1:1 marketing. Embrace it,” Epsilon said. “Successful brands are not just segmenting; they are creating ‘segments of one’ to send targeted, hyper-personalized, relevant offers and messaging.”

3 – Higher Purpose

Brands looking to establish longer-term relationships with Millennials should consider incorporating a higher purpose as extensions of their brands, Edwards added.

That includes companies like Toms Shoes and Warby Parker, which have integrated good deeds into their DNA, as well as examples like Stella Artois’ Buy a Lady a Drink campaign, which helps the nonprofit Water.org provide people in the developing world with clean water, and even Apple’s recent focus on sustainability.

4 – The Sharing Economy

Coming of age during the 2008 financial crisis, many Millennials continue to struggle with student loans and an unforgiving labor market. For this reason, they seem to have developed an aversion to ownership and a discomfort towards large corporations, said Bryan Melmed, vice president of insight services at advertising intelligence firm Exponential Interactive.

This, in turn, has given rise to platforms like Uber, Spotify, Rent the Runway and Airbnb, which give Millennials convenience and choice with limited financial responsibility.

As a result, brands must be willing to adapt to Millennials’ preferences, even if this means – like, say, for auto manufacturers, drastically rethinking their business models.

5 – Diversity and Authenticity

Millennials are a diverse population. And, Melmed said, having grown up in a globalized economy, they expect their experiences, food, music and news to be influenced by other countries and cultures as well.

In turn, this means marketers seeking to connect with Millennials must deliver authentic portrayals of the world around them or there’s risk their efforts will ring hollow.

6 – Experience

And let’s not forget this is also the connected generation.

“Millennials have grown up as citizens of an interconnected society largely irrespective of geography. This has come with an unspoken demand that Millennials continually define and curate their online identities,” Melmed said. “Millennials not only battle to keep up with the expectations of their friends and families, but also acquaintances, strangers and even celebrities from around the globe. This type of exposure has led to an emphasis on experiences over belongings.”

As such, marketers need to once again reconsider how they approach Millennials to ensure they appropriately prioritize what matters to their target audience.

7 – Values

A rep for Red Peak Youth, the strategy unit of brand and design agency Red Peak Branding, said it put out a study in 2015 on brands’ appeal to 18-to-34-year-olds based on categories like altruism, user centrism, ingenuity, participation, personality and design, to see what statements tied to said categories correlated most highly with purchase drivers.

And while noting all of the values are important across all brands in all categories, Red Peak Youth said its research showed certain categories were driven by some values more than others.

For media companies, for example, personality matters most with statements like “has a personality I like” driving purchase consideration. In spirits, too, personality has the biggest influence on Millennials, with statements like “is cool” and “represents my lifestyle” driving intent.

For autos, values and community matter most with “shares my values” as the #1 factor determining preference, Red Peak Youth said. In hospitality, it’s friendliness. And in tech, fashion, finance and CPG, Millennials value user centrism, or personalized services and good user experiences, Red Peak Youth added.

About Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a freelance writer covering digital and search marketing. She's also a contributor to Search Engine Journal and Smart Brief and previously covered the industry for ClickZ, SEW and Momentology. She is a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism.