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Stephen Colbert bites the hand that feeds him

February 24, 2012

Last night on “The Colbert Report,” Stephen Colbert devoted the entire middle third, nearly seven minutes, to Wheat Thins. You can’t buy that kind of time and attention – at least not on purpose. The impetus was the Wheat Thins sponsorship of the show, or more specifically, the Nabisco brand memo which went along with that sponsorship. In sharing, and let’s face it, mercilessly mocking that memo, Colbert provided us with a glimpse behind the MarComm magic that typically accompanies a product sponsorship.

The memo was produced by Nabisco’s marketing communications department to help define the Wheat Thins brand. From the extensive excerpts shared by Colbert it was clearly meant as an internal document. MarComm professionals produce documents like to this help others (advertising agencies, graphic artists and illustrators, commercial writers and directors, etc.) correctly express their product attributes. Knowing that “Wheat Thins are not a crusader or rebel…” provides the guidance an illustrator needs to decide whether or not to add a bandana to the cartoon cracker character created for a website. It provides an advertising agency the background needed for the  Don Drapers  of the world to come up with the clever idea for a 60 second TV commercial (and the 30 second variation). Knowing how these things work, Nabisco likely had the opportunity to have a Wheat Thins product manager meet with some or all of Colbert’s 12-plus writers. This memo (along with lots of boxes of crackers) was the “leave behind.”

I experienced an odd sense of embarrassment and delight in watching the segment; I imagine the Nabisco folks felt the same. Clearly this was not the way they had imagined their sponsorship would play out. On the other hand, the crackers brand memo provided incredible grist for the comedy mill. Despite the mockery, Wheat Thins was talked about by Colbert for nearly a third of his show and by many others, in many ways, for many days thereafter (witness this blog post). The exposure of the mechanics behind the marketing campaign (like a magician explaining her tricks) resulted in the Wheat Thins brand attributes being laid bare. And while the memo excerpts were funny, they were in no way damning. In the end it was a minor coups for Nabisco, despite the embarrassing exposure of the over-the-top, inspirational language used by frustrated English majors in typical brand guideline memos (and yes, I’m one).

Stephen Colbert extols the virtues of Wheat Thins

Watch the original Wheat Thins segment here on the Colbert Nation website. It’s delicious!
Stephen Colbert, “Let me reiterate — I cannot say this too many times — that this is an actual memo from Wheat Thins that I received. And I just wanted to make sure you understood that before I informed you that [quoting from the memo] ‘Wheat Thins are not a crusader or rebel looking to change an individual’s path (or the world).’”

From → MarComm/PR 101

One Comment
  1. karin spruill permalink

    Very insightful!

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