Going back decades, Hollywood’s most famous stars have subjected themselves to a public grilling where their so-called friends pick them apart for a few hours on national television.
These spectacles are called roasts, and depending on your sense of humor, they can be a blast. Not for the “honored guest,” of course, but for the bloodthirsty crowd gathered to do the dissection and those watching it all unfold.
Agency Humanaut has taken a page from this legendarily cutthroat event by partnering with stand-up comedians in New York and around the country who have been thrown out of work by the Covid-19 pandemic and related club closures.
But the subject under their microscope won’t be Kanye West or Dwayne Johnson—it’ll be your brand. If you have a thick enough skin, that is, and you’re ready to part with $15,000.
A merciless roasting
Here’s how it will work: There are 10 spots open for brands that aren’t afraid to get bullied and mocked by perhaps the meanest focus group ever assembled. Once the comedians have let loose with their humiliating insults, Humanaut will turn those sick burns into actionable insights.
Each brand will get a video highlight reel, and Humanaut will nudge those participating to share an approved version with the world.
Humanaut, based in Chattanooga, Tenn., has made a name for itself with genre satires and trope busting like “Save the Bros,” “Welcome to Merryfield” and “Saving the Planet.”
To launch the program, the indie agency has made a PSA-style video with David Littlejohn, founder and chief creative director, who promises that “no one is more brutally honest than stand-up comedians.”
“They’ll mercilessly roast your brand and tear your strategy to pieces,” he says, “all for the price of a bunch of stupid banner ads.”
Since there’s so little to laugh about in 2020, perhaps brand marketers could sacrifice themselves in the name of entertaining shade thrown by masters of improv? That’s the goal, anyway, in a video that’s shot to look like a traditional purpose-driven effort.
Along with Littlejohn’s earnest plea—he only breaks character once—there’s a preview of things to come.
A chance for brands to become ‘less full of shit’
One comedian holds a package of Beyond Meat burgers and says, “This is what Democrats bring to a barbecue when they want to start a fight,” and another, holding an Organic Valley milk carton says, “It’s a sign you should stop when you lose your job to a nut.”
The agency will turn smack talk like that into “genuine honest insights that you can use to be more authentically self-aware and less full of complete and total shit,” Littlejohn says in the digital short film.
“Honesty is a powerful way for a brand to break through,” Littlejohn said in a statement. “Not many brands have the stomach to go there, but the ones that do almost always win.”
Humanaut is getting an assist from Jeff Greenspan, a veteran ad maven and former chief creative officer of BuzzFeed who’s now a stand-up comic. Greenspan, who relocated from New York to Chattanooga recently, helped recruit comedians for “Brand Roast.”
“I worked at BuzzFeed, Facebook, and dozens of ad agencies. My entire living was made off of lies. Now I’m doing standup and trying to tell the truth, and I can’t make a dime,” Greenspan said. “I’m excited the Brand Roasts will give talented comics a much needed opportunity and financial boost during these tough times.”