What Digital Marketers Can Learn from Adult Swim’s Bizarre Marketing Strategy


Stop banner blindness like Adult Swim without alienating your audience. Adult Swim has one of the most rabid fanbases for a cable tv program in the last decade.

They have captured the coveted 18-35 audience by speaking their language and not being afraid to experiment.

Imagine having the power to captivate your target audience or customer base with absolute creative freedom…

Matt, YouTube Producer Extraordinaire, breaks down some of Adult Swim’s out-of-the-box tactics so you can add it to your toolbox for digital marketing.

What We Covered


Yeah, it is unexpected. Hi, I’m Matt. YouTube content producer for digitalnomad.com. I’m filling in for Christian on today’s video, which is fitting because we’re talking about breaking conventions and marketing through the lens of the most provocative programming block in today’s television and how this can help you as a digital marketer.

But before we do, you’ve probably heard this your whole life, right? Cartoons were for kids and maybe they were right 30 years ago, but as more cartoons focus on more adult themed situations like the Simpsons or king of the hill.

Cartoonist and TV executives kept pushing the boundaries even further for adults. Enter adult swim, a programming block on the kid friendly cartoon network that was anything but. Starting up on September 2nd, 2001 at 10:00 PM during the channel’s after hours, the block was devoted to more mature shows featuring strong languages,

and violence wrapped around. Surrealist humor and my surrealist, I mean one of its flagship shows involves, a meatball, a milkshake in a large fry solving crimes and living together. As the block grew in popularity their approach to advertising did as well. They initially started with grainy deadpan bumpers using footage of old people swimming in a pool, get it. It’s adult swim, but as their biggest commercial block success was the simple text bumper. This is the thing that made him really popular. It was white letters against a solid black background, usually featuring jazz, 8-bit techno, hip hop, what have you.

Now this shouldn’t work. It’s actually goes against convention. No supplemental imagery, no true call to action. Nothing really to sell on the surface. They’re just jokes. I mean funny jokes but jokes. Yet, at the end of each bumper shows there now iconic logo which is Helvetica font protected by two brackets. I’ll be damned if it’s not effective brand recognition. Now we’ve covered a bit of postmodern advertising in a few other videos, which you can check out here, but essentially we’re going to go against convention. You know, adult swim. They risked it and it worked because it’s ironic. I mean, would you really expect something like this with a logo like this?

Yet, it works and soon adults swim was taking over that coveted 18 to 34 demographic. I mean that demographic helps shape the wave of the new shows. I mean, if you thought aqua teen hunger force was surreal,

check this shit out. Eventually the advertising

had to Match that same programming attitude or it would have been too contrasting, they adopted this almost avant garde approach with grotesque imagery, Serene images has nothing to do with the show or even taking their shows currently and morphing it into something even more absurd. If you can believe it. Fun fact, if it seems like the adult swim commercials look a lot like the old spice commercials. It’s because old spice actually recruited Tim Heidecker and Eric Woreheim from adults swim’s Tim and Eric Awesome show, great job! To write their commercials and revitalize their branding. How does all this fit into you, As a digital marketer? Well, for one thing, adults will knows their audience Extremely well. Remember that key 18 to 34 demographic I mentioned? What type of TV consumer will be up late at night on a weekday from 8:00 PM to 6:00 AM to watch gory and weird cartoons? Stoners and college kids!

I mean that isn’t to say that you have to be a college student to watch robot chicken, but if you’re within that age range, there’s a good chance you’ve spent at least one night falling asleep to adult swim with some cheeto dust smeared all over your shirt. Adults Swim knew their perfect customer Avatar. I mean, we’ve talked more extensively even about customer avatars and one of our other videos called Woke advertising. I recommend checking out that video if you’re curious how big brands build their Avatar and their demographic as well as their psychographics. So with adult swim, they didn’t just advertise for the audience, they advertised with their audience, they knew their audience, they understood their audience, hell, Some show runners were their audience, many of the creators fit right alongside that same demographic group. And so as their viewers grew, so do they. As long as you market in a way that seems genuine with your consumer yet not trying to pander to them, you’ll succeed.

Of course, what good is discussing adult swim without talking about their social media? There’s so much emphasis on getting things trending or shared on sites like Facebook, reddit, Twitter, or even Instagram. How does a brand like this with a persona wrapped around the obscure, the nonsensical and at times graphic reach a brand audience and convert people to watch TV late at night on a weekday? Well, to answer that. We need to talk about what not to do on January 31st, 2007 adults swim’s marketing team, tried something bold to promote Aqua Teen Hunger Force’s upcoming movie. They placed led placards with one of their more outspoken characters called the mooninites, all around the city of Boston and surrounding Massachusetts area. But, the character flipping people off in a simple design, The idea was to show newcomers exactly what type of content adult swim had with Its in your face attitude towards animation and for fans of the show, it was a nice in-joke that they could be proud to be a part of. Did it succeed? Did it go viral? Yeah! Just not in the way they intended,

cable news viewers in this country were treated to hours of live coverage this afternoon. As suspicious packages were discovered, all over Boston roads were closed, The Charles River was closed, and questions were asked about terrorism.

Boston PD mistakenly thought the placards were explosive devices and the two people responsible for hanging them up were arrested. The Mooninite characters were eventually recognized, but not by the police or by investigators… It was by a young staffer in the mayor’s office. Now remember, this was back in 2007 and myspace and Facebook were only a few years old at the time. I haven’t even reached drinking age. True Story. So a marketing campaign like this was only shared by word of mouth and new segments covering that Boston PD overreaction. So as a pro tip, if you’re going to think outside the box for marketing you need to think about how people outside your demographic will react to it. Granted with the age of targeted marketing situations like these become less common, but you keep in mind if your marketing strategy includes reaching a broader audience, consider ad creatives that do not alienate or in this case raise criminal suspicions that can put you to jail. Now compare that bit of viral marketing to present day with one of adults swim’s most

popular shows: Rick and Morty. The show about an alcoholic mad scientist and is often unwilling assistant or his grandson. What started off as a cult following grew immense over the years the show did attempt a quirky social media marketing stunt back in 2014 by premiering one of their episodes on Instagram’s story feature.

If you know about the feature, you know that it only holds 15 seconds per video, so to show the entire episode, they uploaded 109 individual clips that ended up getting a lot of attention online. What’s genius about this approach is how absurd and out of the box it is. I can’t imagine another brand or business attempting to copy this exact marketing stunt. Thankfully, most businesses do not require this type of marketing strategy. Which is considered a form of brand awareness. Like, imagine if Panera bread tried marketing the Paninis by posting 109 Instagram stories about it. Now, most businesses are either looking for new clients to serve or to sell more product. We actually teach several marketing tactics on our website, so if you’re planning on becoming a freelance digital marketer or you’re thinking of building your own agency, but before I get into that, let me tell you about one of the best of adult swim’s marketing stunts that actually started a movement… Later on down the road,

Anticipations for the third season of Rick and Morty was huge and had swarmed social media with posts and memes and anticipation for its season premiere. Yet nobody knew when it would premiere. Show creators, Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon continued to tell fans that the release was being delayed and fans were left speculating and admittedly inpatient. Fast forward to April fool’s day in 2017. Adult Swim had already made a name for itself with its April fool’s day tradition on the channel. So they either repeated showings of the Cult Classic, the room

oh hi mark,

either relaunched Carter network’s iconic toonami anime block, all the way to just general sites and sound gags. That’s the April fools. Fans we’re left wondering what they would do this time, However. Of all things they didn’t expect Rick and Morty’s third season premiere unannounced and on repeat for every 30 minutes and thanks to social media word spread like wildfire by the 11:00 PM showing it nearly had a million live viewers. That’s a lot. It wasn’t without its own controversy as the marathon bumped

an episode of the revived Samurai Jack to another week and fans of that show were not, to put it bluntly, happy about it. They were pissed okay. The Samurai Jack sub-reddit was in an uproar, especially since it was its last season, this is what I consider a

Microcosm of what many people consider outrage culture. Adult swim and many other big brands like Nike, Pepsi and even gillette have leveraged outrage culture by profit and by creating what’s called, woke advertising. Yes, mad Prophet, like $6 billion worth. with a b. we did a comprehensive video. If you want to know more, I’ll link the video in the description down below. but in a nutshell, the upper actually helped bring more engagements to the adults swim brand and then yet another stroke of unintentional marketing genius Rick’s Persistence in that same episode about getting the discontinued szechuan sauce for Mcdonald’s tie in with the movie Mulan, spark petition and mass request for the fast food chain to bring it back, citing the show as inspiration. So nearly 10 years after their botched Boston Mooninite panic, Adult Swim pulled off a master stroke of social media marketing with taking advantage of Instagram’s new story feature in fresh and provocative way, an unannounced premiere that spread like wildfire, upsetting one of the other fan bases with their move to create further discussion online and connecting their show to the most popular fast food chain

as a joke, being an unintentional catalyst for change. But what’s the takeaway? To break traditions Once in a while. Shake things up with your advertising. Unlike the Boston stunt, They had the foresight to know what what happen next. They knew that the Rick and Morty fan base was loyal and hungry for content. They knew that having news spread on Facebook, Twitter and read it would bring more viewers in later in the night and they knew that they would take criticism from the Samurai Jack fans because those fans are so loyal, they’d come back next week for that new episode. This goes back again to knowing your customers. You have to be able to adapt and grow with your fanbase, Your customers, or your followers as their expectations change. What started off as a late night alternative to Cartoon Network’s kid friendly atmosphere, shaped into a place with fans of mature content than watch and enjoy.

Adult Swim is one of the best examples of how a marketing strategy can be its own living thing. Always ready to grow, always ready to test and learn with its creators as well as its audience. In order for most digital marketers to execute creative outside of the box ad successfully, they need to know the fundamentals and learn how to get results for regular businesses first. That’s why we created a free training session that teaches you how to get clients, create targeted social media ads and bringing amazing result for them all while working from anywhere. The Team here at digital, nomad.com is a testament to that. Actually, I’m currently in Saigon, Vietnam and Christian is out in Bali, Indonesia. We don’t just teach what we know, but we also eat her own caviar too. So click the link down below to get your first lesson absolutely free. Also, hit that like and subscribe button for more amazing content, just like this, we always have a blast making these types of videos, so we hope you do too. I’m Matt from digitalnomad.com and I’ll see you guys next



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