Awkwafina can add “voice of the 7 train” to her formidable list of accomplishments, thanks to a campaign from Comedy Central and media agency partner Fallon, for the debut of Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens that pulled out all the stops.
“When there is a show that leans into local pride, we know we need to double down on that,” Comedy Central vp, digital marketing Kayla Moriarty says.
In this case, the network got particularly ambitious, making Awkwafina the voice of the New York subway system’s 7 train that runs through the heart of Queens. The first-of-its-kind stunt, supported by a sizable social campaign, sparked significant national earned media and helped the network score a blockbuster premiere in the age of streaming.
“When we took a look at New York, and specifically Queens, the subway is something that is iconic and kept coming up,” vp, consumer marketing Sara Eaton says. “Something like that couldn’t work for any other city.”
Comedy Central faced a conundrum inherent in many innovative plans: determining whether it was actually possible to pull off. The network wasn’t sure New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority would approve the activation and still had to secure the star of the show’s involvement.
“We loved this idea and wanted to exhaust all potential ways to make it happen,” Eaton says. Fortunately, the MTA was on board with the idea, and Awkwafina was excited about the concept. She ended up voicing a unique line—“This is Times Square-42nd Street, where New Yorkers go to relax,” for example, and “This is 69th Street, which is definitely, definitely not funny in any way”—for each stop on the 7 train.
“If we had just taken lines from the show and tried to run those in the subways, it wouldn’t have worked,” Eaton explains. “Our creative team wrote each of those reads. They were so funny, and we worked really closely with them to script them in a voice that would be appropriate for the MTA and audience and voice of the show.”
Awkwafina’s voice on the 7 train not only generated buzz in New York, but across the country, leading to over $10 million in incremental media value and 36 million media impressions. Comedy Central built on the buzz with targeted ads across all major social media channels as well as streamers including Hulu, Roku and Spotify.
When Awkwafina subsequently won a Golden Globe for her performance in The Farewell, Comedy Central tweeted about the occasion with an ad for the show. The buzz generated by the win, the social push and the 7 train stunt resulted in 3.8 million viewers tuning in for the debut of Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens, making it Comedy Central’s biggest premiere since 2016 and the most social prime-time comedy in Comedy Central’s history, according to Nielsen Social Ranker, which measures total interactions between three hours before and three hours after a show airs.
Comedy Central found ways to be disruptive throughout the campaign, including with a sequential YouTube campaign centered around a full episode running as a skippable preroll ad followed by unskippable ads featuring Awkwafina based on whether viewers chose to skip the preroll ad. Those who skipped it were served an unskippable FOMO-based ad with critical praise for the show, and those who didn’t saw Awkwafina (as Nora) reminding them to tune in.
“No matter how big or small your campaign is, it can work much harder for you and feel much bigger than you’re planning toward if you’re able to catch lightning in a bottle with a disruptive marketing tactic,” Comedy Central svp, consumer marketing Shawn Silverman says. —Erik Oster