When brands have the last laugh: How Jon Stewart and John Oliver barbs became real-time media wins

Brands and celebrities alike have found themselves as the punchline to many late-night TV jokes. What if brands were able to harness the power of these unexpected moments, often negative criticism or conflict, to activate digital advertising in real-time and grow opportunities for positive brand engagement?

Jon Stewart vs Arby's

Over the years, we’ve seen many examples of brands “playing along” with the harsh realities of being the fodder of our favorite comedians. Brands are turning their potential PR nightmares into opportunities to increase their likability, raise awareness and connect with consumers on social media among other digital channels. With modern marketing technology, we now have the ability to take a deeper look at the digital affect these brands have when they get in on the joke, and ultimately have the last laugh.

After 16 years and over 2,600 episodes, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is one of the most recognizable late night television shows drawing audience numbers as high as 2 million viewers in a single evening. A large portion of his show merges trending current events portrayed in a comedic light.

Take, for instance, his segments on Arby’s, a brand Stewart notoriously pokes fun at and criticizes—Arby’s has even been dubbed “Jon Stewart’s favorite punching bag.” According to data from Amobee Brand Intelligence, there were 3,344 tweets around both Arby’s and Jon Stewart between 3 August 2014 and 3 August 2015. Most interestingly, 85 per cent of those tweets were posted during 10-13 February, when Jon Stewart announced his retirement, followed by Arby’s tweet, “Jon, feel free to reach out to us at careers@arbys.com.” The digital consumption patterns of consumers engaged in the conversation show how Arby’s jovial approach—to what could have been a hit to the brand—actually paid off tremendously for it in the long run especially with its intelligent, quick-witted ability to respond in real time.

POM Wonderful is another brand that gave a leading comedian a taste of his own humor. In May of 2014, John Oliver aired a segment on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” that shared sentiment on POM Wonderful in an extremely unflattering light. In an updated segment, Oliver shared a light-hearted letter he received from POM Wonderful in response, in addition to an entire refrigerator full of its product. The tongue-in-cheek reply played along with Oliver’s opinions on the product, and resulted in a long lasting brand lift at a nominal price. Looking back at this moment in time, Amobee Brand Intelligence shows that a full year after the clip aired, 3 per cent of all POM Wonderful digital consumption was still John Oliver related. This is the long term effects of rolling with the punches instead of coming back defensively.

What’s important to understand about the relationship between negative events that happen on TV is that smart marketers, like Arby’s and POM Wonderful, were able to recognize a timely opportunity and turn the moment to their favor by mixing PR with a savvy media approach. Technology now allows marketers to have their brand and agency teams respond to a joke in real-time on social platforms, and amplify that reach using paid media. This enables the brand to then elevate what happened on TV, and cross-promote their response on additional channels like digital video, mobile and display. This strategy gives brands more control over how the extra media attention is perceived and maintains credibility among consumers.

Brands take note from these examples, when it comes to late-night TV, the joke doesn’t have to be on you, but work for you.

Assaf Henkin is SVP brand intelligence at Amobee

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