What You Can Learn From the Funniest P&G Marketer Ever

Rajiv Satyal Assures That in Comedy and Marketing, It's All About Insights

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Rajiv Satyal may be the funniest Procter & Gamble Co. marketer ever, having moonlighted as a comedian in Cincinnati during his six years of working on marketing-services procurement, product-placement deals, the Tremor word-of -mouth agency and ultimately Herbal Essences.

Rajiv Satyal
Rajiv Satyal
Mr. Satyal left P&G in 2006 to become a full-time comedian based in Los Angeles. But now he's putting together comedy shows for corporate innovation sessions on the side. Brands such as Dannon, P&G's Herbal Essences and Gillette have signed up. Drawing on his experience in comedy and marketing, here's his take on five things marketers can learn from comics.

It's all about insights. Both marketers and comedians depend heavily on insights about human behavior, Mr. Satyal said. To that end, get as close to the consumer as you can. Those insights aren't always universal, though. "One of my biggest laugh lines with South Asian audiences is "My parents to this day do not know that soap-bottle refills exist,'" he said. "The soap gets down to half of the bottle, and they don't fill it up with soap. They fill it up with water, shake it up, and set it back on the sink. I told that same joke to a group of largely Caucasian executives at General Electric, and nothing. Why? Affluent white folks don't do that . Indians -- even wealthy ones -- do."

Keep a pen and pad in the bathroom. Inspiration can come anywhere, so be prepared. Don't necessarily look for things that are funny. Look for incongruence.

Accentuate the absurd. "Just like marketers, the best comics propose solutions," Mr. Satyal said. These are preferably unexpected ones. He points to a joke from Billy Crystal in "When Harry Met Sally." "What's so hard about finding an apartment?" Harry asks. "What you do is look in the obituary section. You see who died, find out where they lived and tip the doorman. What they could do to make it easier is combine the two. You know, Mr. Kline died yesterday, leaving behind a wife, two children and a spacious three-bedroom apartment with a woodburning fireplace." 

Find yet another way to skin a cat. Comedian Jim Gaffigan does eight minutes on bacon. Brian Regan can do five minutes on moving boxes. "They take something and slice it apart from every possible angle," Mr. Satyal said.

Change the context. A message may function in different ways in various media. Does a joke work as a standup bit? Or is it better acted out in a scene with actors? Is it a bumper sticker? A T-shirt? A tweet? Experiment and see. Brands are getting better at this with "holistic communications strategy planning."

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