Mike Cannon

What Brands Can Learn from Louis C.K.’s Marketing Success

Comedians are inherently self-promoters. In fact we often refer to ourselves as whores. I should know, because I am one. Selling yourself is a tricky business, and even with the emerging technologies that the post-advertising age has afforded comedians—Twitter, YouTube, podcasting, and more—nearly all still follow the standard protocols of producing and selling their content and themselves to get ahead…except Louis C.K.

Historically, comedians were mostly direct marketers, traveling across America and taking their product door-to-door into clubs, restaurants, bars, strip clubs or anywhere else with a stage. The emergence of social media allowed comedians to reach larger audiences, and a few could become viral sensations or minor Twitter celebrities. But even in the post-advertising age, the dream of making it big—selling out clubs, hosting your own comedy special, producing a TV show and starring in films—has been controlled by a corporate few who rarely like to gamble on anything but a sure bet.

That is, until Louis C.K., a comedian known for his authenticity and refusal to adhere to the industry norms, decided enough was enough. He was fed up with industry middlemen like ticket brokers and DVD distributors (not to mention ticket scalpers) gauging both the fans craving content and the artists producing them. Following musical predecessors such as Radiohead, Louie became the first comedian to fund the filming of his own special “Live at The Beacon Theater” and release it exclusively on his own website for $5. In an effort to keep his fans involved in the process and curb piracy, he simply asked all potential downloader’s not to steal the video and put it on torrent sites. He had to be joking (pun intended), right?

Monetarily this was a huge gamble, as C.K. effectively cut out the middleman and distributed the special all on his own dime (though he’s spent decades on the road, building an audience of fans). This means he had no network protecting him or making the promotional push. However, C.K.’s transparency with the public, (he also posted a screen shot of his PayPal account when the special made over a million dollars), and willingness to interact with them directly has forged a personal relationship between him and his fans. It is a relationship built on trust, and one rule: please don’t steal from me, and I’ll continue to put out quality content for a very low price. Drafting on the success of his experiment, Louie has since put a formerly unreleased special for sale on his website, and plans to do the same with a feature film he made years ago.

But C.K. didn’t stop there. In an unprecedented move, the comedian recently announced that he will be selling tickets to his upcoming tour exclusively on his website for a flat fee of $45.

Said C.K.:

Making my shows affordable has always been my goal but two things have always worked against that. High ticket charges and ticket re-sellers marking up the prices. Some ticketing services charge more than 40% over the ticket price and, ironically, the lower I’ve made my ticket prices, the more scalpers have bought them up, so the more fans have paid for a lot of my tickets.

By selling the tickets exclusively on my site, I’ve cut the ticket charges way down and absorbed them into the ticket price. To buy a ticket, you join NOTHING. Just use your credit card and buy the damn thing. opt in to the email list if you want, and you’ll only get emails from me.

Again C.K. is eliminating the middleman, in this case Ticketmaster, and offering his audience the opportunity to see him live at half the price they paid last year. He has also hired a staff to police the net and seek out any person or broker that is trying to resell their seat for more than the $45 value, and void the ticket. It was another calculated risk, since many theaters won’t let artists sell their own tickets, and cities like LA and New Orleans are noticeably absent from the list due to that fact.  But the results have been staggering. In just two days he sold more than 4.5 million dollars in tickets, and has been adding shows to fulfill the demand.

Louis C.K.’s model is certainly not the norm, but it has spread to other comedians. Both Jim Gaffigan and Aziz Ansari recently released their specials through their individual websites, and Joe Rogan plans to do the same in the upcoming year.

The Lesson for Brands

Post-advertising is about utilizing the technologies that are given to us to buck the industry norms and connect fans with the content they crave. Actors can tweet directly to their fans. Brands can get feedback in real-time. There are so many possibilities, many of which are very simple. All C.K. did to sell his comedy special was set up a PayPal account.

Brands are no different than comedians. In fact, comedians are brands. So it’s important for brands to spend time and resources both producing content and trying to find new ways to connect their audiences with the content they crave.

In the post-advertising age, there are no rules and innovation happens every day. Identify the middlemen that inflate costs, slow the delivery speed and dilute the quality of your content, and find a way to get rid of them. Do everything in your power to make your audience the big winners, even if it means taking risks and potentially losing money. You owe it to them.

(Image via Louis C.K.’s Twitter)