Colbert`s NASA Win Demonstrates Messaging Power

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Comedy Central’s faux political commentator Stephen Colbert’s bid to get Node 3 of the International Space Station named after him shows that humour and social network has the power to raise market awareness.

Colbert Nation is simply too big for Planet Earth.

In a bid to get the new module of the International Space Station named in his honour, faux political commentator Stephen Colbert has flushed his competition out of the proverbial airlock in an online NASA naming contest. The host of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” received 230,539 write-in votes, 40,000 more than NASA’s suggested “Serenity.”

Colbert, who first rose to fame as a droll correspondent on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” is pushing the envelope of television popularity and social media with campaigns to leverage the power of social networking. He previously succeeded in getting his throng of followers to crash Wikipedia by flooding the publicly driven encyclopedia with updates claiming the African elephant was not endangered. He’s also used the same technique to win an online contest to get a bridge in Hungary named after him.

While many people may dismiss such bridging of television presence and social networking as juvenile pranks, Colbert is actually trailblazing a new form of marketing. Each time he pulls off one of these stunts, he increases his visibility in the main stream press. That exposure only expands his audience and improves his celebrity status. The financial rewards come from his ability to create new products, reap endorsements and command fees for his services.

Critics might say that Colbert isn’t always successful. The Hungarian government refused to name that bridge after Colbert because “he didn’t speak Hungarian.” In 2007, Colbert famously loss a similar bid to be placed on his native South Carolina’s presidential primary ballot. And there’s no guarantee that NASA will dub Node 3 of the International Space Station after Colbert, since it reserves the right to assign an appropriate name (by the way, NASA’s top choice “Serenity” is a nod to the cult science fiction show, not some wish for universal peace). But even in failure, Colbert is increasing his exposure and expanding his market.

Believe it or not, some solution providers are following the same off-beat philosophy as Comedy Central’s funnyman. Force 3, a Maryland-based government integrator, successfully used an integrated marketing campaign around bunions (yes, the painful bumps on your feet) to capture leads for its IT products and services. Through a Web site aptly named “I hate bunions too,” Force 3 tapped into the psychie of its target market, expressing empathy for their foot pain but conceding there was little they could do to help. What they could help with is solving their more painful IT issues. The campaign worked fabulously, the company reports.

Colbert (and his people) are geniuses, but don’t for a minute think this is just about comedy. Comedy (along with sex and money) is one of the most effective marketing engagement tools. The lesson from Colbert Nation’s launch into orbit is you don’t always have to stick to the straight and narrow, dry technology marketing messages of old. Sometimes it’s OK to step out of the conventional and try something unconventional to attract new customers.