When AARP Studios asked us to build buzz in early 2017 for its original digital series “Dinner With Don,” we knew we were in for one wild ride. The ambitious project, in 13 episodes, revolved around Don Rickles—the king of insult comedy—sharing a meal, stories and quips with popular younger entertainers like Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Sarah Silverman, Snoop Dogg, Judd Apatow and Jimmy Kimmel.
But then, there was a curve ball—or maybe we should call it a hockey puck. Rickles, who was 90, died in April. This presented us with a unique marketing challenge. We needed to obtain top-tier media coverage for “Dinner with Don” to drive show views, AARP brand awareness and celebrate this dearly departed comedian’s legacy without making Rickles’ death the butt of the joke.
With its content arm AARP Studios—and especially “Dinner With Don”—the brand had a chance to transcend generations and appeal to a broader audience. Our earned media plan would exploit this by tapping talent to introduce the show to their fan bases through interviews and social sharing. We strategically chose and pursued a diverse list of guests and influencer partners who were active on social media to attract different audiences to AARP’s content.
We searched for comedians, actors, journalists and other public personalities who had cited Rickles as an influence or idol, from his days working as a comedian on the Las Vegas Strip in the 1950s through his frequent appearances on celebrity roasts and “The Tonight Show” to his role as the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story films. We culled the list down to the most-promising 100 prospects and set about recruiting them for our social outreach.
For Don’s last project, we wanted our media plan to get the most mileage, too. We did this by securing exclusive story angles and opportunities for a dozen big impact news and lifestyle media outlets before going wide with our show publicity efforts.
We made it as easy as possible for our celebrity partners to participate on social media by creating a media toolkit and customizing it for each guest. Everything was turnkey, with instructions on how to post links and suggested copy for each platform. We reached out to the managers of the 100 entertainers we identified as Rickles’ fans and sent them materials as well. Through our relationship with “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” bookers, we were able to cross-promote “Dinner With Don” episodes with teasers when guests like Zack Galifianakis appeared on the ABC late-night show. Kimmel—who considered Rickles something of a crusty, loveable mentor—grew up in Las Vegas and is a major fan. For our media push, we offered outlets such as GQ.com, Esquire and AV club an exclusive opportunity to go deep on one particular episode. For instance, AV Club interviewed Judd Apatow. Other stories offered behind the scenes footage. No two pieces were the same, but they all mentioned Rickles, AARP and the show.
Our campaign garnered a total of 2.8 billion impressions and 690 media placements, and this was all achieved through earned media, not paid advertising. The program also won the Grand Prize for Best PR Campaign of 2017 and two gold honors, Best Arts & Entertainment Campaign and Best Use of Social Media, in the Bulldog Media PR Awards.
We secured exclusive stories in People, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Variety, Extra, AV Club, AP, TV Guide and Fox News. Print and digital highlights included write-ups in The Hollywood Reporter, AOL, Deadline, Paste, Yahoo!, MSN, TMZ, ABC News, CNN, Uproxx and the Los Angeles Times. What’s more, the type of deep, exclusive coverage we received—in conjunction with young, funny comedians who idolize Rickles—helped contemporize AARP and convey Mr. Warmth’s genius to future audiences. And we must have gotten our social media plan exactly right because the series became a trending topic on Twitter in the L.A. area on the day of the “Dinner With Don” premiere.