The Onion’s NewFronts pitch: ‘We’re funny and millennials like us’

Can The Onion get people to enjoy advertising as much as they do its own content? That’s the claim the publisher made to advertisers during its unofficial NewFronts event on Tuesday. Here’s how “America’s finest news source” made a case for its potential brand partners.

The pitch: 

The Onion’s NewFront’s pitch was characteristically tongue-in-check. Its presenters, which included TV anchor Regis Philbin and personalities from The Onion News Network, joked more about the “glories” of advertising than the Onion’s approach to it. But that was exactly the point. The Onion’s basic pitch is that it creates genuinely funny content that people like to share (it’s pitch was reminiscent of BuzzFeed’s in that respect). Bonus, the bulk of its content is popular with millennials, a demographic notorious for being hard to reach with conventional advertising.

“Our approach is to always create content that the audience loves and that they find genuine, all the while serving the advertiser’s needs,” said Mike McAvoy, president of the Onion, after the event. “We find that if you don’t do that in a subversive way, it’s really difficult to create content that’s engaging.”

Core to this pitch is the Onion Labs, the Onion’s in-house production arm that creates content for brands in The Onion’s characteristic style. By combining its distinct tone with its knowledge of what young people like, The Onion says it can help brands organically reach audiences that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

The buyer’s take: 


While the bulk of The Onion’s content feels unsafe for brands — one of its new programs is called “Who’s Fucking” — brands, for the most part, appreciate the site’s approach.

“For us, when you align with a brand like The Onion, you have do so in a way that’s both brand-friendly and authentic,” said Nicole Estebanell, SVP of media at Digitas. “[You have to maintain] the authenticity so that you are more welcome within their audience versus force-feeding a brand message that’s a complete disconnect with the tone,” she said.

“They know that audience better than anyone else. They did a nice job owning their personality here today,” said Sanjiv Gajiwala, director of marketing at Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

Notable quote
“You could have chosen other paths in life — as first responders, inner city educators, Peace Corps workers —  but deep down you knew you were better than those selfish fame-seekers, and that’s why you chose the noblest pursuit of all — digital advertising.”

The scene

the-onion copy

Held at the TimesCenter, The Onion’s NewFronts event was physical embodiment of its print and video satire. Rather than hand out fancy hors d’oeuvres and alcohol, waiters walked around with dollar bills and business cards for The Onion’s sales team. There was even a giant dollar sign ice sculpture.

More in Media

YouTube is under fire again, this time over child protection

Adalytics Research asks, ‘Are YouTube advertisers inadvertently harvesting data from millions of children?’

Illustration of a puzzle that spells out the word 'media.'

Media Briefing: Publishers pump up per-subscriber revenue amid ad revenue declines

Publishers’ Q2 earnings reveal digital advertising is still in a tight spot, but digital subscriptions are picking up steam.

Lessons for AI from the ad-tech era: ‘We’re living in a memory-less world’

Experts reflect how the failures of social media and online advertising can help the industry improve the next era of innovation.