Archive Gambles on Comedy

By Jonathan Lemonnier

May. 29, 2008

Branded entertainment has been a handy tool for online job-listing sites such as CareerBuilder, which generated a lot of buzz a couple of years ago with its Monk-e-mail offering.

    Hoping to replicate some of that online success is tech and engineering job board, which starting next week will be the title sponsor of online television station ManiaTV’s newest offering: National Lampoon’s The Lemmings, a re-imagining of the iconic 1970s Off-Broadway show that featured Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase and John Belushi early in their careers.

    Dice will be rewarded for helping to resurrect the classic sketch-comedy show with the creation of Dice Man, a superhero character who saves people from taking jobs for which they are overqualified as he battles his nemesis Dr. Drudgery and his henchmen Dead End and Pink Slip. While the series had its debut May 19, Dice Man, played by Andy Goldenberg, was slated to make his first appearance May 26.

    “Dice Man will be a recurring character like [Saturday Night Live’s] cheerleaders or the nightclubbers from Night at the Roxbury,” said Amber J. Lawson, who is the show’s head of comedy and executive producer and is responsible for the integration of plots and storylines for The Lemmings. “We’re hoping people will be anticipating his arrival on-screen the same way they do with those icons. It’s keeping the integrity of our comedy, of National Lampoon, while seamlessly integrating the sponsor.”

ManiaTV had been in discussions with National Lampoon about the show for some time, and once those talks turned official, it quickly brought Dice into the fold.

    The Dice Man concept came from the show’s writers.

“We certainly gave creative direction, guidelines, but we didn’t want to micromanage the creative process,” said Tom Silver, Dice’s senior vice president of marketing, adding that executives from Dice’s agency of record, Publicis Modem, were present to guide the process. “We laid out what we were trying to accomplish, what our objectives were, and let them do their magic. Their original pitch ideas sold us right away, and we’d had absolutely no input on those. Some of the original ideas they had were great.”

It was a balancing act between two brands, said Zach Posner, vice president of corporate development for National Lampoon. “[Dice and ManiaTV] loved the concept of the show. Both have been very flexible in giving our writing staff the creative freedom they want in pursuing this,” he said.

    This is Dice’s first foray into branded entertainment. Its marketing efforts had so far focused almost exclusively on the Web, with the exception of a presence at trade shows, and it had been looking for a new way to engage its target consumer, IT and engineering professionals.

    “[Online] has worked very well for us,” Silver said. “Tech pros are different, and talking to them takes a different approach. ManiaTV is part of a new trend of online viewing, and our customers are those trendsetters. Our audiences are always finding new things to do online, and we want to be there with them when they discover The Lemmings on ManiaTV.”

   Dice Man should get plenty of exposure right off the bat: ManiaTV gets nearly 4.1 million unique visitors a month, according to ComScore, while the National Lampoon network—which is made up of more than 40 comedy sites and is ranked as the No. 1 vertical comedy network on the web by ComScore—pulls in around 5 million unique viewers. ManiaTV’s commitment to platform neutrality means an untold number of mobile users will be added to the mix, along with any other compatible platforms.

    Individual sketches from the hourlong webisode will be sown throughout the Web, and drive the curious to the ManiaTV Web page devoted to The Lemmings. Bite-size pieces of the show have already been leaked to drive traffic.

    Plenty of Dice advertisements on the Web page and during transitions between sketches will allow viewers to click through to the Dice home page. Although details are still unfinished, viewers will also have the opportunity to submit their own versions of Dice Man’s enemy henchmen, and a lucky few will see their ideas come to life during the sketch.

    “Sixty-four percent of our viewers immediately research products on our network,” said Peter Clemente, chief marketing officer at ManiaTV. “Eighty percent talk about brand. We’re delivering TV quality at Internet costs, TV emotionality with Web interactivity and measurability.”

Indeed, a dedication to higher production values raised expenses above your average Web video, but the distribution cost, the near-indefinite shelf life of the product and lack of a media buy is still a fraction of a TV equivalent.

    “Content will always be king,” Clemente said. “The big opportunity is in integrating brands in a way consumers would enjoy, and would protect brand integrity. The key is inviting the client brand into the creative process.”

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