VOL. MMXIII..No. 205

Bold Moves | Strategy in Perspective

How Comedy Central is Giving Advertisers a Handjob with Branded Content

 

 

For some time now, media executives of all stripes have been searching for new ways to get consumers to pay more attention to the expensive advertising they’re slotting between TV shows, in Google Adwords, and on Facebook.

 

Branded content – when done right – is turning out to work pretty well, even if the sponsors are often a bit too obvious.

 

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Erich Lane, a real-life hand model, plays the role of Erich Thomas Layne. In a scene for Sabra hummus, he practices the “swish and scoop” gesture for a closeup.

That’s not the case at Comedy Central where a sliver of a show called Handy (each episode is only 2 ½ minutes long) is delivering the type of on-brand humor that is perfect for the network’s audience – and it’s making advertisers happy too.

 

I mean, the premise of a hand model is already a pretty great place to start for a show,” says show creator and director, Josh Miller. “So I thought: what if I wrote episodes that specifically tell a story about the model and the brand?”

 

 

But this is not just a behind-the-scenes of the advertising industry.

 

Each episode pokes fun at the sometimes-ridiculous lengths a production will go to in order to get the perfect shot of a chip dipping into some hummus. In this case, the hand is Erich Thomas Layne’s (played by real-life hand model Erich Lane), a man who believes his balletic hand moves are underappreciated. The pretentious name is fitting for a man who takes his hands very seriously.

 


{ “In real life there are really hand models who wear gloves all the time and hold their hands upright above their heart so the blood so the blood doesn’t rush to their hands and make them veiny.” }


 

“His hands are very boyish and small, and I just can’t stop laughing when he is in his role of ‘hand model,’” says Josh, who starts to laugh again. “We are used to seeing the hand model in a close-up – just his hands — but here we are using a wider lens and we see his life both on and off the set.”

 

“Handy” director, writer and producer, Josh Miller. His previous career in advertising helped bring more than a dose of authenticity to the strange world of hand models.

Two early pilots of Handy got the attention of Zales Jewelers, one of the first of several brands that agreed to get on board.

 

“I think Zales was interested because they saw the potential with Millennials and quite honestly, they knew their mainstream commercials didn’t really appeal to them.”

 

Others who have joined in include Joe’s Crab Shack and Sabra Hummus. In August, look for a classic candy bar and bottled beer to get in on the fun.

 

 

At top, a storyboard for the Joe’s Crab Shack episode; below, Layne on set for a Sabra hummus commercial, where his hands are examined by the director to ascertain if they can also be used as female hands.

Miller, who met Lane when he was shooting a commercial for Red Vines licorice, had no idea that what started as kind of a joke when he began following Lane with a camera would become the subject of a short documentary he produced called Handjob: Portrait of a Male Hand Model. The film screened at major film festivals from Berlin to Los Angeles to Cannes.

 

Miller and Lane (who is also an executive producer of Handy) poke fun at the business of advertising and the often-peculiar mannerisms of people who really are hand models.

 

“This show definitely plays with the stereotypes of hand models,” says Miller, “and yes, in real life there are those who wear gloves all the time and hold their hands upright above their heart so the blood so the blood doesn’t rush to their hands and make them veiny. They really do talk about their million dollar liability insurance on their hands.”

 

Still, it’s hard to understand why Miller didn’t stay with Handjob over Handy as the show’s title.

 

“Oh trust me I wanted to, but basically a marketing guy with a pretty important brand said, ‘Put us on the list of brands who will get involved when you change the name.’”

> Catch up on all of “Handy” here.

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