Lampoon's Web lures back college crowd

Online focus is making National Lampoon a hit with college kids - and those marketing to them

Online focus is making National Lampoon a hit with college kids - and those marketing to them

When John Belushi roared, "Toga!" in 1978's National Lampoon's Animal House, a comedy revolution was born.

For the next two decades, National Lampoon relentlessly poked fun at the fundamentals of US society: college, holidays, and even family road trips. In its monthly magazine, on the radio, and via licensed movie franchises, such as Vacation and Van Wilder, the brand established itself as the sovereign of sophomoric comedy, raking in box-office dollars and single-handedly introducing the concept of toga parties and projectile vomiting to university campuses across the nation.

When the magazine ceased monthly publication in 1992, it also marked a decline for National Lampoon's other business endeavors. But four years ago, independent investor (and lifelong fan) Dan Laikin took over the publicly traded company, buying 25% of its stock and reinvigorating its revenue stream to include new distribution platforms from home video to book publishing. In essence, Laikin says, "we built a mini-comedy studio. For the first time in National Lampoon history, it's completely our own."

Lampoon is still actively involved with feature films; its latest, a look at the cutthroat world of supermarket bagging called National Lampoon's Bag Boy, is due out this summer. But a key element in the company's next-generation outreach has been through its free college-dorm cable network, National Lampoon College. Featuring original comedy programs, music- and video game-centric series, and edgy, Jackass-style game shows, the network is available on more than 600 US campuses. And, according to the company, it's watched by as many as 4.8 million students, or nearly one in four of all 18-to 24-year-old university attendees.

The dorm TV channel is "almost an incubator" for Lampoon's new comedy initiatives, Laikin says. "We'll adjust programming based on what we hear from the kids."

With its immediate brand recognition and narrowly targeted audience, Lampoon College has proved to be an outstanding outlet for marketing partners "looking for the elusive 18- to 24-year-old male," Laikin says. "We're in a great position" to help marketers build brand awareness, he explains, by incorporating the network in on-campus promos, sampling programs, and screenings.

"The problem today versus the '70s and '80s is there's more competition. Not just for audiences, but content," says Marissa Gluck, managing partner at LA-based research and consulting firm Radar. To compete with popular humor outlets like CollegeHumor. com, she says, Lampoon needs "to reinvent itself online to reach a new audience."

Laikin says that Lampoon College has been an asset for its online properties. The dorm network serves as a platform for the brand "to put content out, [and] drive kids online" to the main National Lampoon Web site, its KnuckleHeadVideo.com user-generated content site, and its TogaTV.com broadband video-on-demand site.

"Lampoon pursued broadband video very aggressively and has done a lot of nice work in the space," says Will Richmond, president of Boston-based market intelligence and consulting firm Broadband Directions.

TogaTV's short, high-quality video segments and well-organized site navigation "meet the needs of the college audience nicely," he notes, adding that the broadband medium allows both content providers and marketers to target very specific audience segments, in a "far more economical [way] than TV has ever allowed."

Still, more than young adults' access to technology has changed since Animal House's Dean Wormer famously "put his foot down." University demographics are different today, and college students have significantly higher levels of sensitivity, distrust, and personal experience. Is TogaTV, for example, an obsolete reference for much of the current college population?

Not necessarily, says Radar's Gluck. National Lampoon's "irony resonates with Millennials," she says. It may even seem "fairly tame by today's standards," she adds, noting that comedy - especially that directed toward college students - has become more "raunchy and off-color" than it was in Lampoon's heyday. The company, Gluck says, "must compete in that [new] environment."

But there's plenty of room for competition and innovation in the broadband arena, explains Richmond. "Humor is a huge category; there are lots of different takes," he says. And because content providers and marketers can go directly to target audiences with their video, the space is full of entrepreneurial energy and excitement.

National Lampoon seems to agree. The company is "really where they want to be," says Dawn Miller, president of LA-based Levine Communications Office, the company's AOR. "It's a brand with a rich history and legacy. Looking at this from both a media- and consumer-relations standpoint, it's time to have a re-education and communicate what's happening now."

At a glance

Company:
National Lampoon

Headquarters:
Los Angeles

Revenues And Latest Earnings:
$987,388 for second quarter 2007 (up 20% from second quarter 2006)

Competitors:
The Onion, Connected Ventures

Key Trade Titles:
Daily Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Wireless News

Marketing Team:
VP, corporate development, Zach Posner
VP, marketing, Marcy Goot

Marketing services agencies:
PR firm: Levine Communications Office
VP, corporate development, Zach Posner

Marketing services agencies:
PR firm: Levine Communications Office

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