Comedy Central Ribs Itself, and Netflix, With Cryptic Billboards in NYC and L.A.

Here's what the ads are all about

Headshot of T.L. Stanley

Middle management is hell, cubicle cities are soul crushing, and even the everyday sounds of office life are like nails on a chalkboard (often it’s dry erase, but you get the idea).

Comedy Central is going for a visceral reaction in a social media campaign for upcoming satire show Corporate, capturing a chorus of ringing phones, industrial size photocopiers and the tap-tap-tap of keyboards to pique viewer interest in the series, coming in January.

And in outdoor ads, the cable channel derides itself—and riffs on a competitor at the same time—in stark black-and-white headlines that read: “Comedy Central is Corporate.”

Execs didn’t set out to explicitly troll the “Netflix is a Joke” campaign that the streaming service recently ran for its A-list comedy standup specials. It “happened fortuitously,” Comedy Central says. But they purposely bought media in some of the exact same locations in New York and Los Angeles, looking for a provocative way to tease Corporate, hat tip a buzzworthy predecessor and acknowledge the fraught relationship that the country has right now with big business.

These boards went up in NYC at 46th Street and 11th Avenue:

And this one went up at Thompson and Canal:

“We wanted to poke fun at ourselves a little bit and do something unexpected,” said Josh Line, Comedy Central’s evp of marketing and creative. “And the unvarnished truth is we’re just like any other corporate entity. Certainly the talent community thinks of us as ‘the suits.'”

“Comedy Central is Corporate” will show up on billboards, subways and bus shelters for the next few weeks with nothing but that phrase in giant block type and the 1/17/2018 premiere date. Line thinks consumers will catch on quickly, as they did with the Netflix work, which he called “smart and creative.”

Twitter, Instagram and other social posts for Corporate will start layering in with what Line described as “sound design,” like binging elevators and humming fluorescent lights, equipment jams, low-level chatter and other less than ambient office noise.

“We’re all aware of the sounds of corporate purgatory and the misery of a corporate environment,” Line said, noting that even the Comedy Central folks are all too familiar with meetings about meetings and endless email chains.

Corporate follows two junior executives-in-training at the fictional Hampton Deville, a multinational conglomerate that makes everything from house paint to hospital supplies. Co-stars Matt Ingebretson and Jake Weisman, who created the 10-episode series with Pat Bishop, try to navigate upper management and its sycophants, along with daily disasters (mostly of their own making). It’s a spiritual follow-up of sorts to Workaholics, another workplace comedy on the cable net.

@TLStanleyLA T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.