John Oliver is the CTA King
Every Sunday night, John Oliver’s new HBO show, Last Week Tonight is quietly stirring up a revolution.
If you’re not familiar with the show, Last Week delivers uncensored opinions on current events in uncensored language. And, hands down, it’s the most educational (and often the most entertaining) show I watch on television each week.*
One thing that separates Last Week from shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report is it devotes a huge chunk of time each week to one, long-form piece of investigative journalism.
On its own, a deep dive investigation of a topic isn’t that novel for TV news (although it is increasingly rare in the age of soundbite, snackable media). But the way Last Week’s segment is produced and delivered is.
It’s an approach from which marketers could learn a thing or two.
1. Real information, delivered so it’s real funny.
Last Week’s weekly deep dive topic is often on the heavy side, but balanced with humor. As a result, the audience learns a lot without feeling like they’re learning a lot.
Oliver’s team explores each topic from multiple perspectives, and backs up opinion with facts and research.
Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture, calls the approach “investigative comedy” — an altogether new media form.
Because Oliver takes his time making his argument (and he IS making an argument in these segments. It’s a commentary, not just a report) the audience gets pulled in deeper than they would watching their local news.
The segments generally leave you shocked, incensed, perplexed or excited — all of which sets you up to be more responsive to the call to action that follows.
2. Clear requests, catered to a digitally-savvy audience.
Nearly all of Oliver’s shows include some sort of CTA that directs audiences to an accessible digital forum (email, twitter, URL).
Often CTA’s follow the longer segment, but sometimes they’re at the end of shorter, lighter bits at the end of the show, (e.g. #GoGetThoseGeckos and the Kansas sex toy auction segment). Sometimes the CTA is a comedy bit in and of itself, (e.g. #NotMyChristian).
The CTAs are clearly presented, with Oliver often pointing down directly at a website or hashtag pictured at the bottom of the screen. He also verbally reinforces the CTA by telling you exactly what he’d like you to do next (or what he “doesn’t” want you to do, in the cases where his CTA is on the subversive side.)
This one-two punch is clearly a winning combination for Last Week…
- Oliver’s takedown of Miss America’s scholarship program caused one charity to received $25,000—15 percent of the individual donations they receive in an average year. Traffic to their site doubled and its social media numbers increased 20 times over.
- Oliver literally took down the FCC’s website with his rant on Net Neutrality after more than 45,000 people left comments at Oliver’s behest.
- Following a scathing report on student debt, Oliver told his audience to send a hilarious form letter to the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities. While that organization refuses to discuss how many emails it received in response, the fact that the request has received thousands of likes, comments and shares on Last Week’s Facebook page suggests it may have been substantial.
(All segments are included below.)
If you’re in marketing, nothing about this approach may strike you as unique, (pull the audience in, then ask them to go do something for you is marketing 101). But the way Oliver is turning this approach on its head and tweaking it to speak directly to a multi-screen, digital generation deserves your attention.
My guess is John Oliver and his quiet revolution may not stay that quiet for long.
We should learn the lessons he’s teaching us now before they simply become our new rules.
*Which seems strange to say since I have not actually watched a television in years. I catch Last Week via the HBO Go app on my iPad. (Dear HBO: please sell this as a stand alone service.)