You think you know Wheat Thins?" Stephen Colbert asked his audience last night on The Colbert Report. "[Bleep] you. [Bleep] you and the cracker you rode in on." The joke, though, is that Wheat Thins (and Kraft's new breakfast food Belvita) is actually sponsoring Colbert's program, along with Jersey Shore, The Daily Show, and several other MTV Networks properties.
It's a deep campaign: The clip-making tool on the shows' online versions is now branded to Belvita or Wheat Thins, and brand info pops up when you share a clip on Facebook or Twitter. The sponsorship is the brainchild of MediaVest, which focused on the all-important millenial demographic in picking the shows and sponsorship opportunities. MTV even produced a spot for the clip-sharing tool and sponsoring snack with two of the Jersey Shore cast members posting embarrassing videos of each other (are there any other kind?).
Basil Maglaris, a spokesman for Kraft, said that the company wanted to portray Wheat Thins as "a brand that embraces being part of the conversation. The brands on MTV and Comedy Central are about edgier types of content."
Edgy indeed. Colbert devoted the entire middle third of The Colbert Report to making fun of the brand-related memo he'd received from Nabisco about the various ways in which Wheat Thins should be portrayed. "Wheat Thins are the perfect snacking sidekick whenever, wherever and for whatever," Colbert read. "Cheese? Yes! Hummus? Sure! A discarded strip of truck tire? It can handle it!" The segment, which you can watch below, culimates with Colbert stuffing a seventeenth cracker into his distended mouth against brand orders and immediately reading a written statement of apology.
It's not the first time Colbert has gotten terrific comic mileage out of a sponsor. He reminds viewers at the beginning of the segment of "The Hail to the Cheese Stephen Colbert Nacho Cheese Doritos 2008 Presidential Campaign Coverage," and "Last week's Syrian Atrocity Update, brought to you by Fruit Roll-Ups. Fruit Roll-Ups: Overthrow Your Taste Buds!" The former is a real sponsorship (excuse me, "sponsortunity"). The latter is not real.
So has Colbert screwed up an expensive ad campaign? Was the campaign already a little on the dodgy side, given the political nature of The Colbert Report and The Daily Show? "Content appropriateness is always at the top of mind for anybody in this field," admits MediaVest's SVP and group client director Kathleen Dundas. But in this case, she said, the material is so solidly a part of the demographic Kraft wants to reach, it's worth the risk.
The real question, of course, is what does Kraft think of all this? On the one hand, they got razzed pretty publicly by someone who'd been paid a lot of money to promote their product. On the other, Colbert devoted nearly seven minutes entirely to their brand and his audience loved it.
"Wheat Thins is the brand that’s all about doing," said Margalis. "And last night, we saw Stephen Colbert doing what he does best: finding the hilariousness in our culture. That’s why we chose to sponsor the segment in the first place. And let’s face it, our brand memo is a lot funnier when it’s read by Stephen Colbert."
Your move, Mr. Colbert.