Content Marketing Lessons from Late Night

Over the past decade, the world of late night has changed significantly. The end of the Leno/Letterman era ushered in a new batch of hosts keen to attract the next generation of late-night viewers. What can us content marketers learn from their tactics? 

Image by Daniel Semper via  Flickr

Image by Daniel Semper via Flickr

Brevity is the soul of wit…

What the new era of late night understands is: today’s audiences don’t watch TV like they used to. We get fidgety and start to zone out faster than you can say ‘attention span’. The late-night hosts—particularly Jimmy Fallon, with the others soon following suit—zeroed in on this change in audience behavior and adapted the late-night format into a series of short segments that could be chopped up into easily digestible YouTube clips.

From Fallon’s ‘True Confessions’ and ‘Lip Sync Battles’ to Conan’s ‘Alex Trebek Has Gone Insane’, millennials finally had some late night they could sink their teeth into! Let this be a lesson to all us content marketers: for social, viral success (particularly with video), keep it short! 


...but don’t be afraid of a deep dive

Every rule has its exceptions, and when it comes to the brevity rule, John Oliver’s show ‘Last Week Tonight’ is one of them. John Oliver’s success hasn’t, in fact, been due to short, snappy segments. Instead, the former Daily Show correspondent excels in thoroughly-researched presentations on life’s rage-inducing, yet under-reported, controversies.

Oliver’s comedic lectures are evidence of another important content marketing lesson: in the clickbait age of Buzzfeed listicles and Upworthy headlines, audiences crave quality. Perhaps best exemplified in his unexpected interview with Edward Snowden, Last Week Tonight gives us the substance we seek. Most impressive is Oliver’s follow-through—his commitment to his viewers. When he founded his ‘Church of Perpetual Exception’, donors were thrilled to discover an actual ‘thank you’ letter in their mailboxes, complete with cartoon sketch of the prophet himself.

Establishing your unique voice is key

Just like the web, late night television is a crowded space and audiences aren’t as loyal as they once were. Whereas the generations before us picked a show and stuck with it for sixty years, viewers these days follow the funny wherever it may lead them. For each host to get noticed, cornering their niche—their unique brand of comedy—has been vital.

Like a bit of self-deprecation? Conan’s a good bet. How about some silly SNL-style sketches? Fallon’s your man. With Kimmel, you’ve got your mainstream likability. Or there’s always Colbert for some intelligent character comedy.

Remember, essential to defining your brand is defining your audience. That’s where your brand story must begin.

Audiences love user-generated content

When presented thoughtfully, user-generated content often does a better job of showcasing your brand than any fancy ad campaign ever could. Content created by real customers is inherently more authentic and relatable. Better yet? It’s free! Jimmy Kimmel tapped into this with his now-iconic ‘Celebrities Read Mean Tweets’ segment. The simple sketch has now been borrowed by everyone from the Drag Race queens to the National Hockey League.

And Kimmel’s user-generated success doesn’t stop there. His YouTube challenges—from asking parents to film their kids unwrapping terrible Christmas presents to urging kids to serve their dads breakfast in the shower—are some of his most successful bits to date. Hmm, I think it’s time Kimmel gives his viewers a raise!

It’s all about timing

Finally, there’s something late night has always done well: relevance. With most shows airing every weeknight, late-night writers pull from the day’s hottest news stories to create an entertaining show that matters to viewers right now.

Although 'evergreen' content plays an key role in content marketing, fresh, timely content is equally important. From real-time video streaming via Periscope to quick-thinking tweets that capture a cultural moment in time, being agile is crucial for quality content marketing. Essential to this is a short sign-off process, and therefore a trusting relationship between brands and their marketing teams. 

Read more about our content marketing services and get in touch to find out how your company can benefit from a thoughtful content marketing strategy.