Publicis Gets Serious About TBS Comedies

NEW YORK What’s so funny? TBS is hoping its new TV campaign breaking today is.

Tagged “Very funny,” the Publicis effort shows people dialing a 1-800 number to find out if they’re in the middle of a funny situation. The spots position the cable channel as a network for premium comedies.

It’s the first work from Publicis since the New York shop won the $15-20 million account in December following a review. (Cliff Freeman and Partners in New York won creative duties for the station’s “Non-Stop Comedy Block” during that review.)

Six spots, one 30- and five 60-second versions, present a gleaming white NASA-like command center where operators take calls from people who are wondering if they’re in a funny situation. People with bit parts in sitcoms, such as Gunther from Friends and the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld, wander around in the background.

The ads, directed by Jim Jenkins of Hungry Man, depict a security guard calling to ask if a pompous art buyer with an “arm candy” girlfriend choking on grapes is funny; someone watching her boss calling the office suck-up by the wrong name; a jailbird being questioned by a cop with ink on his face; a chef in a restaurant who wants to laugh at a customer with buffalo wing-stained pants; and a woman in a factory whose boss has misbuttoned his clothes, revealing his stomach. In all spots, operators determine the degree of funny inherent in the situations.

Situations were chosen based on how realistic they were, according to executive creative director Duncan Marshall. “We didn’t want to set an ad on the top of Mount Everest or something like that,” he said. “TBS tries to have relatable comedy. So we chose scenarios that most people could relate to.”

The actors played it straight to enhance the “absurdity of creating a science out of funniness,” Marshall added. “Operators act as if you were phoning to get a new credit card.”

The campaign is designed to spotlight TBS’ comedy series, including its syndicated shows such as Sex and the City, Friends and Seinfeld.

“TBS wanted to establish themselves as the definitive authority on funny programs,” said Publicis global creative director David Droga. “They don’t really dip into the niche, they really have only blockbuster comedies. They want to say we only have premium comedy.”

In addition to Droga and Marshall, Publicis staffers that worked on the account include executive creative director Howard Willmott, copywriter Eric Quennoy and art director Jason Levine.