For almost four years, Canadians have been exposed to mobile telecom brand Koodo's loudmouthed cartoon wrestler El Tabador mostly in 30-second instalments. But will viewers tolerate him for nearly 30 minutes?
A new project is banking on it. Carl DeMarco, former president of global business development for entertainment powerhouse World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE), has struck a deal with Telus Corp. for the global rights to the lucha libre fighter character. Through his company Camillion Corp., Mr. DeMarco is developing a sitcom starring El Tabador's "celebrity lifestyle," living in a mansion with his entourage.
It will be styled after the "mockumentary" show format seen in popular sitcoms Modern Family and The Office, and as in the commercials, the cartoon character will be superimposed on a live-action setting.
As they have since its ad agency Taxi 2 created the character in March, 2010, Koodo will continue to use El Tabador in its ads.
"It was definitely a surprise. It was never our intention to take him further than our TV spots," said Koodo's manager of marketing, Kate Robb.
According to Mr. DeMarco, one Canadian specialty channel has expressed interest in the show; before investing in the project, he spoke to his contacts in the broadcast industry from his days at WWE to suss out its potential.
Next week, he will travel to New York for the Kidscreen industry summit to pitch the show to distributors and broadcasters from other countries as well. He estimates it will be on the air some time in 2015.
Building a show around an advertising mascot is rare – it is much more common for characters from television shows to be featured in ads – but it is not unprecedented. In 2007, U.S. network ABC launched a sitcom called Cavemen, based on characters that had been featured in ads for Geico Corp. Critics hated it, and it was cancelled after only four episodes had aired.
Mr. DeMarco says his sitcom is more promising, since it has the potential to appeal to wrestling fans looking for something to watch with their children. "Co-viewing" is a buzzword in the industry, as broadcasters pitch family shows to advertisers that are looking for more ways to reach the adults making purchasing decisions.
"We need to make sure that it's funny and that people enjoy it, that it's a standalone sitcom," Mr. DeMarco said.
That will depend, however, on viewers' tolerance for his brash – some would say irritating – humour, and off-kilter references to seducing plastic dolls and life-sized human women alike.
Ms. Robb acknowledges the character is not to everyone's taste, but she says the brand receives more positive than negative feedback; in 2010, it released a limited-edition series of action figures that could be purchased or were given away with Koodo purchases – 57,403 were sold raising $190,000 for charity.
Mr. DeMarco has plans to feature celebrity guest appearances and says he has already been in talks with several well-known wrestlers. That would not be a first for the character: Last fall, Koodo aired mockumentary-style ads in movie theatres featuring Bret "The Hitman" Hart– for whom Mr. DeMarco once served as manager – reflecting on his time in the ring with the miniature fighter.
Part of the deal involves consulting with Koodo and its agency to ensure the character remains in line with the image the brand has developed.
While the show will not be integrating mobile phone advertising into its plot lines, Ms. Robb welcomes the exposure.
"Entertainment like a television show could fuel conversation about Koodo," she said. "... That's good for our brand awareness."
Still, the project will seem far-fetched to some. But Mr. DeMarco argues that his background in wrestling is the perfect foundation for developing a successful sitcom.
"There's great drama in [wrestling], great comedy … it's entertainment. This project wouldn't be any different," he said. "Putting the best producers together and the best distributors, that's what we know how to do."