Team Coco and the new world of digital marketing

Last May, when Conan O’Brien spoke to an audience at Google, he described his situation as akin to being “a prisoner in a 14th century cell writing little things on a piece of paper and throwing them out the window.” Having been contractually barred from television appearances upon his departure from NBC, Conan was forced to turn from the traditional approach to marketing used by the networks to social media and launched one of the most successful marketing campaigns the web has seen. Those “pieces of paper” Conan referred to? Tweets. The result of his efforts? 1.8 million Team Coco members on Twitter, a massive presence on Facebook, Foursquare, and in the press.

The digital onslaught launched by Conan resulted in the wildly successful, sold-out live “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television” tour this past summer, huge buzz both on- and off-line, and culminated last week with the premiere of his new late-night talk show on TBS.

The marketing effort has been unstoppable and serves as an example of how a company can use it’s own native resources to build audience and market outside of traditional channels. O’Brien and his team of writers, tweeters, and digital media gurus have produced a non-stop stream of content: the Coco-Cam 24 hour live web event; a “miniaturized” version of the first episode that was aired online and consisted of a monologue with just of one joke, a guest list of just one celebrity (who was introduced to the audience and immediately left the stage), and a band composed of one lonely piccolo player. The Flickr and Tumblr pages, the YouTube channel, and the twitter streams became huge online magnets with millions of views.

The show’s first episode aired last week and the digital rollout strategy proved triumphant, reaching a huge audience of 4.2 million viewers, beating both Letterman and Leno in the late-night sweepstakes, and garnering a massive 3.3 million adults in the all-important 18-49 age group. As O’Brien put it to his audience, “I know what you guys are thinking: ‘Hey, it’s the guy from Twitter.'”