A man named Kenny walks along a crowded city sidewalk on his way to work. He rides a public bus and tries not to look too closely at the woman sitting next to him, who is reading a newspaper. Everywhere he goes, people stare at him in mild disgust. At a deli, one man calls him a "freak."
Kenny looks confused, but you can't really blame him. Except for him, everybody around him has moose antlers growing out of their heads.
Kenny isn't a character in a new suspense thriller or science fiction flick, but the star of a new Discovery Channel television ad.
Toward the end of the 30-second spot, titled "Antlers," the story emerges. Kenny is in a meeting, trying to explain the situation to his co-workers.
"Everything is terrible," he says. "I built a time machine, and I went back in time. I must have somehow altered the future because now everybody's got these, these . . ."
"These what?" asks an antlered man in the front of the room.
The ad ends with the tag line, "Know More Than You Should," followed by the slogan the Discovery Channel introduced last year, "Entertain Your Brain."
"Antlers" is one of four ads designed to boost the young male audience that the Discovery Channel has attracted with shows such as "Monster Garage" and "American Chopper." Last fall, both shows helped Discovery gain male viewers even as television analysts were saying that fewer young men overall were watching the tube.
The other ads in the campaign are similar to "Antlers." One involves a torso-less pair of legs; another centers on a telepathic rancher. The third features an overturned milk truck and lots of cats.
None of them bring to mind the natural science documentaries for which the Discovery Channel is best known. That's precisely the point. The campaign seeks to redefine the Discovery Channel as a source of entertainment while also intimating that regular viewers learn cool stuff that not many others know.
"['Antlers'] went beyond [Discovery's] core genres. It was not necessarily important to us that it reflected natural history," said Julie Willis, Discovery Channel's senior vice president for marketing. "The ad goes one step past that into the fantastic, adding personality attributes to the brand. It lets viewers know we're smart and entertaining and can be a bit ironic."
Irony, it turns out, appeals to young males. The spots are appearing on ESPN, MTV and Comedy Central. "We've advertised on those networks before, but this is much more targeted," Willis said.
The new guy-friendly pitch coincides with the debut of two Discovery shows: "Big," in which people build gigantic, functional versions of everyday objects, and "American Casino," which focuses on the lives of casino employees. Both shows are expected to do well with 18- to 24-year-old males, whom advertisers pay a premium to reach.
The ad campaign, along with the "Know More Than You Should" tag line, builds on pop-culture references to the Discovery Channel, Willis said.
"If you haven't checked out Discovery in a long time, this ad campaign invites [viewers] to reconsider," Willis said. "It shows we have a fresh attitude, new programming."
To produce the ads, Discovery executives eschewed the usual practice of hiring an advertising agency and collaborated directly with director Jim Jenkins. Jenkins is best known for the American Express commercial featuring film director Martin Scorsese making fun of his reputation as a control freak.
Discovery declined to disclose how much the ads cost to produce.
Jenkins shot the ads over three weeks in Cape Town, South Africa, where local officials made special accommodations for them, Willis said. One of the ads, for example, required a tanker to roll over and spill hundreds of gallons of what is supposed to be milk into an intersection. Cape Town officials temporarily redirected the flow of the sewage system to drain the liquid, Willis said.
Discovery executives are so pleased with the spots that they are submitting them to the International Advertising Festival at Cannes. A previous spot for "Shark Week" won a 2004 gold Addy award from the American Advertising Federation.
Willis said that what sets the new Discovery Channel ad campaign apart is that it is not simply entertaining, but taps into people's aspirations. "That is the promise of Discovery -- knowing a little bit more than the next guy," she said. "It's about the inherent fun of being smart."