FUGLY (2010)

FUGLY (2010)

CASE STUDY: UGLY AMERICANS

Ugly Americans premiered in 2010, and it was right in my wheelhouse: weird, animated, and funny. I handled the creative for its launch campaign and the marketing campaign for its second season. It was never a ratings bonanza, but it developed a devoted core audience that loved it, with whom our brand desperately wanted to connect. Thus, the initial challenge about explaining what the show was in the launch campaign morphed into a challenge to show why we loved the show so much in the second season. We weren't given much to hype the second season, but I formed a partnership with Jake Wallace (a producer in our multiplatform division) and Shawn Silverman (now VP of Promotions Marketing at Comedy Central) to make the best damn multiplatform phenomenon we could on a micro budget. The result was a quirky, funky, resounding success.

More on that in a bit, but first, a few words about the launch campaign.

LAUNCH (2010)

This was the main launch promo for Ugly Americans, featuring original animation by Devin Clark and Augenblick Studios and a heavily sped-up Devo cover (produced by Escort's Eugene Cho with vocals by Electric Six's Dick Valentine). Note the very rare "Boards" version of the Comedy Central logo at the end!

There were a bunch of different spots we made for the launch campaign of Ugly Americans, including several spots introducing the main characters and many many clip spots, but the "Beautiful World" spot above is the one I'm proud of the most. The purpose behind it was to show the world of the show in as elegant a way as possible, to let people realize what was the fantasy of the show. I came up with the concept, found the right track to license, and worked closely with Eugene Cho (of Escort) and Dick Valentine (of Electric Six) to speed up the tempo and add some energy. Then I got to work with show creator Devin Clark  and Augenblick studios as they animated my concept. I think it all came out pretty awesome, and it connected with enough of an audience to give the show a solid debut ratings-wise (holding on to more than 53% of the  South Park lead-in with a 1.2 HH and a 2.0 M18-34 rating).

GROSSROOTS (2012)

For the second season of Ugly Americans, the deck was stacked against us.  The show premiered well and had a devoted fan base, but the ratings it was pulling were not high enough. It was a show on the brink. And we had been told that there wouldn't be much airtime available for promos, so there wasn't much in the budget to promote it: a measly $40K for the entire campaign.

But that's where we got to work. I reached out to Jake Wallace from our multiplatform/digital division and Shawn Silverman from our promotions marketing division, and we came up with a plan and a concept:

What if Ugly Americans (a show about monsters living in the big city) is only doing poorly because the Nielsen corporation undersamples monster-Americans in their ratings?

We could use the little money we had for one extravagance: Makeup and Prosthetics. Then we could let the monsters loose in the city and film a moody documentary about their feelings of marginalization, which we could seed out as web videos. The monsters would also start a facebook group (known as FUGLY: Friends of Ugly Americans) and maintain a social presence, letting people know about their plight. A protest of demons picketing with "NIELSENS: GO TO HELL" signs outside the offices of Nielsen communications was proposed but abandoned.

These were all background characters from Ugly Americans which we used as the basis for our prosthesis and makeup. Everyday workaday monsters.

These were all background characters from Ugly Americans which we used as the basis for our prosthesis and makeup. Everyday workaday monsters.

To film the web videos, I reached out to amazing makeup artist Soula Kalamaras, and started building a team and a shoot plan. We would make the monsters up in our studio, and then have them walk around the West Village while we followed them with a guerilla camera crew for our B-roll. Then we'd get them doing their testimonials in a studio.

A few stills from the makeup application table.

I'm going to show you what we got first, and then I'm going to tell you how we got it, because the process here was as important as the product.  But first, the product:

This one featured Luke Miller, Darry Logan, and Kevin Maher as the heads of this tough Hydra.

This one featured The Debate Society's Paul Thureen as the zombie.

This one featured Nicholas Kinloch as the fishman.

This one featured burlesque star Edie Nightcrawler as the succubus.

Since the budget was low, I used all the resources we had at Comedy Central: volunteer extras from around the office,  camera people from our digital division and graphics department, and all the equipment and camera kits we could muster. We ended up with 4 units operating simultaneously, each taking out a different monster on a different walk at a different time.  I pretty much had to work as my own AD, and not only come up with the creative but devise a detailed plan of how to make the creative come together.

The color-coded shoot plan I made up to keep track of which monster went which route with which unit. We made it work.

The color-coded shoot plan I made up to keep track of which monster went which route with which unit. We made it work.

We also had a bunch of fun making these things, and the importance of having a cross-departmental fun creative project cannot be undersold. Teams that had been separate from one another started working with each other and seeing what was possible if they combined their efforts. Connections were formed between departments and people became familiar with what other departments did, and everyone got experience making content. Show creator Devin Clark and Executive Producer Dan Powell got to see their designs come to life, and got a chance to see Comedy Central rally to their cause as well.

The spots performed incredibly well on Comedy Central's YouTube channel, especially when compared to other Ugly Americans content. We also made the front page of the pics subreddit for a while when people saw a fishman on their way to work.

We weren't able to save the show, unfortunately, the ratings were still too low to meet the third season benchmarks (except weirdly in Latin America, where the show was absurdly popular). But what we were able to do was make something cool, have fun doing it, bring people together, and communicate a soulful and playful brand image. Pretty good for a stacked deck.