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In-Depth: Comedy Central Re-Brand

Editor: The following post is a guest entry from JaegerSloan Inc., a new venture headed up by Doug Jaeger and Kristin Sloan.

For our first contribution to Motionographer we thought it might be interesting to reveal the driving forces behind an exciting new piece of work, while focusing on some of the more contextual details about the experience. Today we’re taking a look at the bold and controversial Comedy Central 2011 logo redesign by thelab, to understand some of the challenges and successes and meet some of the people behind the work.

We sat down with thelab partners Alicia Johnson and Hal Wolverton, the team who met in the 80’s to eventually form Johnson & Wolverton and who later worked at EuroRCG as global ECD’s. Our impression of thelab from our 2 hour immersion into their space, work, and team, is that it is a spirited skunk works, with teams of classically trained designers backed by technical skills and curiosity.

In our interview we discovered that the Comedy Central logo was not the result of a logo redesign assignment, but an invitation to solve some of Comedy Central’s core business challenges. In Alicia’s description of the brief, “They had a solid reputation with great shows, but the shows were not being attributed to the network and they were not getting as many young viewers as they wanted.”

Alicia and Hal were a bit giddy the entire interview. It seemed as though we were all laughing the entire time, which is what you would hope when discussing a brand like Comedy Central. They started the conversation by presenting their initial pitch, which was a hundred or so slide keynote presentation contextualizing how thelab approaches problems and how they would approach this one.

The most interesting part of this project is how they got to the solution. Alicia explained, “Comedy itself is super social . . . they were not behaving socially, they were a tv station that just talked to you, one person at a time. The old paradigms of viewing times, etc, are not how consumers interact today.” In a way they were able to look back in a media neutral way and make the decision. “We should start with digital, start with the digital presence and build around that.”

So the team at the Lab invented a branding device that they felt could live in any medium. Alicia explained “the idea of this packet” which would shorten the distance between the viewer and the channel by delivering a packet to the audience through digital media, leveraging social functionality to connect the right comedy to the right audience. The goal, Alicia said, is for the packet to “behave as an object that you could share, and the object would retain branding while being screen agnostic”. This lead to a discussion on how Comedy Central could become more visible outside of the television screen: on the street, in advertising, online, on mobile platforms, tablets and smart phones. Hal cited one of the biggest challenges, “How do we get our identity to travel along with these clips that end up on YouTube?”

The solution kept restating itself. As Alicia explained “Being screen agnostic was something that just we kept going back to them on.” thelab’s solution included pages of web, tablet and mobile design comps with new navigation models demonstrating how a viewer might find the packets of content they’re looking for and what was trending, tagged or even popular amongst friends. As this structure became clear, they needed a way for viewers to identify them.

In their pitch, thelab created the comedy mark as a branding device. The C is derived from a slide carousel of “packets” viewed from above, not unlike the Kodak Carousel Projector. This C becomes the playful center of a 3d explosion of screen caps and colors in a muted palette with elegant typography. When the action rests, the flat gothic round c, is met with a second C at the same line weight to form an incomplete circle, resulting in a c surrounded by a larger backward C. In its final representation, the mark looks not unlike the © symbol with a chunk cut out of the left side. The new symbol works in a similar spirit, effectively attributing and tagging every content packet as Comedy Central’s wherever it appears.

In the reel demonstrating the new mark, the system flexes to mark each comedic moment with the same assertiveness as a dart hitting a dart board to the upper right of each of the stations notable entertainers TOSH.0, John Stewart, and Steven Colbert as they complete each truncated humor nugget.

From the creative:

“We Should Explain, Our logo has changed. No longer do you see the big buildings and globe, that quite literally said, COMEDY CENTRAL on top of it. Please welcome the new mark. We affectionately call it the COMEDY MARK. It works WAY F*CKING better than that other one we had. Big building-y globe, you served us well, but we moved on.
Thanks, Comedy Central”

While some may find this mark to be too serious, boring, or too similar to other symbols, as it acts and behaves on every beautiful back-lit screen, it shows its unique personality. As it animates, it pukes, spins, and explodes with energy. It is frenetic. When it presents its full name-with the word central upside down and backwards-it tips its hat to slapstick heroes.

When we asked them what they wanted the takeaway of the work to be, Hal stated “The desired takeaway is that Comedy Central is not a television station, it’s a brand that connects me with comedy in all media. It surrounds me.” From Alicia, “It’s as easy for me to enjoy it as it is to share it, because I think you’ll dig it.”

Interview date: 12.14.2010
Interview by: Doug Jaeger/Kristin Sloan
Video by: JaegerSloan, Inc.

Posted on 5 January 2011 |

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26 thoughts on “In-Depth: Comedy Central Re-Brand

  1. Very interesting post. When I first saw the logo, I thought “Why so serious Comedy Central?” But after seeing the branding reel, I feel the logo really comes to life and represents Comedy Central the best in context. Maybe not so much on its own.

  2. Wonderful post.
    I want to read more and more of these insights.
    And my hat goes off to Comedy Central for not being afraid to try something different and risky. Love the result.

  3. While this post is awesome and I appreciate a logo that means something, it’s still too serious. The first time I saw the new logo was after watching The Daily Show on demand, and it happened to be a pretty weighty episode with actual 9/11 first responders talking about the house filibustering the bill to cover their healthcare costs by closing a corporate tax loophole. So, it was pretty serious. And then I see this logo and think to myself, “Wow. Comedy Central is trying to tell me they are a legitimate source of cultural critique.” While I appreciate the notion of a news source that presents facts AND opinions and uses humor to denote the difference, I don’t think people should be turning to South Park or Always Sunny syndication for their social awareness. In the same way that Weekend Update on SNL is a critical satire of television reportage, The Daily Show is a spin, and the comedy is supposed to point that out, not make you think they’re on your side. Stephen Colbert seems to understand this best.

    Getting back to the topic of discussion, almost nothing discussed in these insider conception notes comes through in the logo, which means it fails. It’s sharp, and a welcome change from the old logo, but corporate and clean is easy. Communication is not.

  4. ugh, the people involved with making this seem so full of themselves. its a freakin logo people, not a revolution. id like it a lot better if they didn’t need a two-minute b&w video to explain it. still a good rebrand though i think

  5. Gosh, this kinda falls into the category with the new PEPSI logo, Democrat Logo and the failed attempt over at THE GAP. Seems too simple, too corporate, too cold and empty to me…. maybe even too “sophisticated and snobish”? The backwards outer C is pointing in the opposite direction of natural eye/flow movement. I’m going to miss the hell out of the “old logo”! Hello cold world, gimme a hug.

  6. “…it’s a brand that connects me with comedy in all media. It surrounds me.” I’m not sure I agree with the whole “designer / artistic” approach. This isn’t an Etsy store network. It’s Comedy Central. Key word being Comedy. I understand all aspects of the media CC produces, but this new refresh is a clean, corporate, NBC’esque look. It’s simply not fitting. I mean you can make something look incredible, but remain having some character. All the life has been pulled out of its look. The only thing living now is the colour it’s presented in. It’s not a half romantic, quarter crime-drama, quater comedy channel, network, or brand. It’s comedy. It’s fun, it’s exciting. There’s a billion fonts out there that shout that feeling, all beautifully crafted. Going with a sans-serif super clean chic one doesn’t fit in this case. That’s just my opinion.

  7. 1. 90% of all people in an industrialized society will immediately think of the copyright symbol when they see the logo, and will make an initial phantom connection between comedy central and that concept. Which is a fail…. copyright issues = comedy? No.

    2. It’s too formalist. Formalism = comedy? No.

    3. Nothing about it communicates anything remotely associated with comedy.

    4. They could’ve at least leveraged that mark to convey the concept of “central”, which would serve the client’s goal of being seen as a destination/source, but there is no real “central / target / epicenter” aspect to the mark. Which is kinda a huge fail.

    5. Its use as a defined graphical mark that can truly exist as a bug & “cattle brand” moniker (ie. not a logotype / word) is a great decision. Kudos for that.

    6. I suspect they wanted to appeal to the college educated internet savvy demographic, so they went forward with a mildly pretentious and moderately snobby logo. Which is a fail because they fail to realize that just like when those people want to eat BBQ ribs and go to a restaurant that has a hokey logo and rolls of paper towels on the table for napkins, that internet savvy demographic doesn’t for one second feel like they’re not being themselves. They feel like they want ribs and that is what is synonymous with a good rib joint. No one thinks “I want to find a restaurant that is decorated like my nice apartment, that happens to serve ribs”. They just want ribs, and if they do end up finding a place that serves them but IS decorated stylishly and semi-high brow, they will be confused. This new logo will confuse people. But then again, spend enough money to make the logo ubiquitous and associate it with Jon Stewart & South Park, then problem solved I guess.

    7. Overall, I suspect its (relatively massive) failings are a result more of marketing people who view their field as a science (it’s more medieval alchemy that the latter) than the creatives who worked on it (for probably months and months).

    - From a jerk. Who has worked on a lot of identity design.

    • Yeah this seems staid and corporate. when I saw it online I was like “oh, they changed around thier online idents.” which made enough sense since Hulu and the like all have a clean bite that I thought it worked for the place and time… But no, they changed the whole damn channel into some Charles Schwaab commercial looking Bullsh*t.

      The logo with the buildings at least worked to drive the point home that NY rules comedy. (sorry Boston and LA). The slide projector is weak. Will 2011 be the year we stop using “vintage” technology as metaphor???

      Thankfully they didn’t go the Sci-fi (…Syfy) route and call the station, Comd Sntrl.

  8. I think, the new logo looks great. Simple, powerful mark. I was actually surprised that it took Comedy Central that long, about 10 years, to change the logo.
    Given the channel’s expanded role in our culture, especially when it comes to covering (or even influencing) politics and policy makers (with The Daily Show pretty much being the only real newscast worth watching), the new ‘Comedy Mark’ gives it a much more iconic presence. Their previous logo wasn’t groundbreaking, by any means. it was actually somewhat similar to the one they had before that (10 years ago, the creative brief was ‘to refresh what we have’ which was a globe with some buildings on top it)

    Disclaimer: I was the lead designer on the previous Comedy Central logo. Imaginary Forces was the design company.

  9. The animation is cool, but it seems like it could be interchanged and used for a number of other networks if it wanted to. It doesn’t seem integrated with everything else and It seems like the animation is doing the heavy lifting to make up for the lack personality in the logo.

  10. The only comedy in this logo is that someone thought anything this generic and sterile would be appropriate for a comedy network.

    In all seriousness, with 100% honesty, the first thing that came into my mind when I saw it was “Corporate Fascism? Oh wait, Comedy Central? WTF? Really THAT’S their new logo?”

    The image is almost as disturbing and oppressive as the OCP logo from Robocop.


    Or something that would grace a business card of Patrick Bateman (American Psycho)

    • I know. It’s not at all. Again, they missed their mark. It has NO personality. Whatever if they didn’t want to incorporate any clever comical portion to their identity (of which their brand is all about), but it’s sterile and corporate. The slide carousel is only in there because some “trendy” designer thought it looked smart and cool because it’s retro. As “the_entire_universe” put it, it’s interchangeable with just about any network in the US. A generic identity is a poor one.

    • Slide carousels are either full of really funny vacation photos or hilarious business meetings, circa 1976. Don’t see the connection? Hmmm…

      • I don’t believe all slides turned out hilarious. Of course some were! If anything, business meeting slides pushes the whole cold-corporate feel to the new branding even more. Retro objects are always used with trendy designers – to me, there’s no other reason they pushed that look forward than “it’s cool, let’s do it”. My main concern, however, isn’t the colour or the reference to 1970s slides, it’s the logo that emulates 0 character.

  11. Whenever the people designing for and working on big gigantic corporate identity systems lack a strong “risk taking” idea, they usually steer toward reduction, simplicity, and absolute abstraction. It’s a strategy to push the work through the system. It also allows the creative to project the marketing goals onto something without being too specific. For example, “This colorful band of squares represents joy, happiness and diversity and can appeal to a broad audience. This approach really makes it easy for everyone to get onboard and pass it along and have everyone approve everything. Nice job!

  12. Jesus Christ people, where’s the perspective?

    Completely humorless in every possible way. What happened to form follows function? Design 101

    The design studio is actually proud of this work and the deathly dry approach?

    It invites mockery.
    It is an example of pretentious design thinking gone amok.
    And I love minimal design.

    Can anybody imagine Jon Steward, Steve Colbert, Dave Attell, the South Park creators, or any of their on-air talent watching this with a straight face? They would tear this promotional video to shreds.

    I used to be a senior designer at CC years ago, so I’ll stay anonymous.

    Wow. Maybe I should forward this to some comedians as source material.

  13. a coherent bit of reductionist corporate design but unfortunately rather soulless. alicia and hal, get over yourselves… it’s just us.

  14. Not a fan of the logo.. It doesn’t make me think funny at all. It makes me think of the CIA or government agency, or some super corporate financial entity with no personality trying to steal my money. The inverted C also kinda gives me a headache.

    Oh well. These are probably all reasons why I’m not designing for these type of clients.