Last week, Butterfinger unveiled a new ad starring comedian Billy Eichner and former NFL star Terrell Owens in a branded version of Eichner's show Billy on the Street, in which they accost strangers about touchdown dances and more. The campaign's called "Bolder Than Bold" and going with a pitchman who's claim to fame is yelling at strangers on the streets of New York is a pretty bold move. But it's also a gamble for Eichner, to slap a candy bar logo on his own brand of comedy and show concept.
Eichner hasn't done a lot of commercial work, but says this opportunity fit because it looked fun and allowed him to be himself. "I haven't done many commercials and I'm very picky about it because it comes down to creative control," says Eichner. "I don't want to do something that's watered down, I don't want to take what I'm known for and dilute it. Here, Butterfinger really wanted me to do my thing and I pretty much stuck to my usual creative process—I filmed with my crew, edited with my editors, and actually got very few notes on the final product. If I'm going to do something like this, that's how it has to work, otherwise it's not worth it for me."
The key to brand partnerships, particularly for comedians, is that they need to feel real or at least a natural extension of the artist's work. Now, that doesn't mean Eichner was going to go around yelling, "It's Butterfinger, you gays!" but a brand should be able to recognize that it's a creative collaboration in which the comedian is the expert.
"If a comedian has a strong following and the branded segment feels different compared to what you typically do, people will know right away that it's not authentic to who you are as a comedian or performer," says Eichner. "Brands need to keep that in mind. We're in an age of authenticity, in terms of branding, whether you're a candy bar or a politician, you should be staying true to who you are. And hey, at the end of the day, an ad is an ad, but creatively there's a way to make it an extension of your work and connected to what you usually do. If you're faking it, people will know and it's going to turn a lot of people off."
As more and more artists, comedians and performers team with brands in the race for ever more content that can actually break through the clutter and find an audience, Eichner says the key to deciding on whether or not to take on a commercial or brand partner is all about the final product. "It's all about the details and what the creative is," says Eichner. "It's the same for any creative endeavor, whether that's a branded segment or not. You have to try to stick to what you do and make sure it's as close to who you are as possible. Some people are good at it, and some people aren't, and those that aren't often get called out on their bullshit. You have to be smart and have respect for your audience."