Last month, during their promotional tour for Daddy’s Home 2, stars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg sat down to complete in an episode of All Def Digital’s Dad Jokes. Now, content partnerships and branded content are nothing new to the digital space, but what made this team up significant is that it was a major motion picture and two major A-List stars coming to play in All Def Digital’s sandbox, on All Def Digital’s terms.
The barely four year-old company is clearly poised to take that next big step forward.
“We’ve been kind of focusing on two major things,” says Kevin Fredericks, the head of comedy content at All Def Digital. “That’s the original IP that we create, and then partnering with brands. Dad Jokes was one of our big winners of 2017, but we’re stoking the fires on new innovative creative content for our own channels and also to partner with brands and do bigger things.”
Since its inception in 2013, All Def Digital has relied primarily on social channels like Facebook and YouTube to reach more than 100 million reported fans monthly. In 2016, the company established its own in-house creative agency called ADHD, with a focus on cultivating talent including social media influencers, comedians, musicians, and other artists. “We focused in the first three years on just growth, growth, growth, growth,” explains Fredericks. “Now we’re focusing on original creative and capitalizing on that scale.”
But the strength of All Def Digital has been in its own unique programming (as well as its connection to the iconic and long-running HBO series Def Comedy Jam, which has just returned in a new incarnation to the cable network as All Def Comedy Live). YouTube-centric series like Roast Me, Bad News, and Great Taste have cemented their unique brand of humor and young, urban demographic.
With 2018 looming, the question becomes how All Def Digital—which has a reins-off, freewheeling style that is either loosely structured or clearly making it up as it goes—can marry its sensibility to image conscious brands and higher profile productions.
“That’s kind of the line that every company that creates some content has to walk,” says Fredericks. “I think what we live by is that the people who create it have to love it. We all know there’s things you have to do for brands or tweaks you have to make, but we’re always making something that we love.”
Fredericks, a standup comedian and writer himself, also sees each partnership as a unique challenge. “It’s a great way to flex your create muscles,” he says. “You think, ‘how can you work creatively with a company that might not perfectly align with your brand?’ And do it in such a way that your audience accepts it. It’s part of the fun of being a creative, finding out how to do it. And then there are just some things that you’re probably not going to do…ever. The hardest part is saying ‘this isn’t right for us. But thanks for considering us.’ Especially if there’s a high dollar value on it.”
All Def Digital comedy creative Patrick Houston sees the growth and change coming their way as an excuse for All Def Digital to get even more innovative in how and where they connect to their fans.
“We’re playing with different formats. We just actually shot a show in New York called Hol Up and it’s basically taking advantage of this new wave of social media and how everybody is sort of using [Facebook] Live and polling and all these new things that companies haven’t really figured out how to move in on yet,” says Houston. “And we developed it into this cool show idea where we can poll people in different cities to get food advice or different experiences…so I think that’s the new lane we’re trying to go into. Integrating social media and all these new apps and all these new platforms – things that haven’t been integrated into shows yet. So we can amplify that one-on-one fan interaction. Any chance we have to bring our audience in, and make them feel like part of the conversation and a part of the channel.”
Being true to yourself and your audience is key, of course, but in the case of All Def Digital, there’s the additional challenge of encapsulating—even for themselves—what exactly their voice is. This question will be a big part of their next steps forward.
"It’s kind of like hip hop. Hip hop means a lot of things to a lot of people,” says Fredericks. “To some people, hip hop is Eminem. To some people it’s a Tribe Called Quest. To some people it’s Kendrick Lamar. Our comedy is for everyone and no one at the same time.” When pressed, Fredericks can only chuckle at the inherent contradiction there. “I know that’s very confusing, but there are church people who you wouldn’t necessarily think would follow All Def who meet us and go, ‘hey man I love Roast Me – I can’t tell my wife or my pastor, but…’ We’re kind of like your guilty pleasure. I like to think of us as the cool kids who sat in the back of the classroom. The kids that disrupted the classroom and everyone thought they were funny and got sent to the principal’s office.”
He adds: “But then the principal lets them off because he thought they were funny, too.”