Comedy Central Banks on Funny Money

Comedy Central and its comedians, are going mainstream. Anyone with a soul is happy to see good comedians succeed. But Comedy Central could be courting a PR morass by extending its brand beyond its television identity and promoting the network’s touring comedians and shows via a host of PR efforts from in-store celebrity appearances to merchandising T-shirts at Urban Outfitters.

Comedy Central’s brand extension is complicated because comedy fans perceive it as edgy and underground. Jon Stewart often quips about working for a lowly cable network. Comedy Central’s underdog brand identity is part of its appeal, particularly at a time when many feel mainstream culture is dominated by powerful corporations that selfishly wield unfettered influence in business and politics. In many respects, Comedy Central was the anti-corporation, the anti-mainstream, the anti-everything.

Comedy Central’s PR strategy should study the success of Louis CK, who has managed to capitalize on a widening fan base while also not selling out his fans or creating the impression that prosperity—both in fame and fortune—has changed his core values. Comedy Central, of course, owes the comedians and talent that have helped it to flourish, but it also owes the fans. A savvy PR strategy will encourage the fans, the talent, and the brand to grow together. There can be success with soul. So, just how can Comedy Central create and implement such a PR strategy? By not overdoing it.

Comedy Central, which started relatively small, has been patient with its brand development and public relations. This should continue. Success always brings temptation, but before Comedy Central and its talent make a grab for the cash—a position they deserve and have worked diligently to achieve—they should know there is no going back. Fans remember.