NBC may have rights to the Masturbating Bear, but they can't touch the "I'm With Coco" campaign. The effort, which started as an idea, then turned into an online poster, followed by a Twitterness, which all led to a movement, was the brain child of graphic designer Mike Mitchell. The Californian, a long admirer of Conan O'Brien, designed the now infamous "Coco" logo in the midst of the tabloid hell between the red-headed host, dethroned Jay Leno, and the Peacock network as a way to lend support for his favorite late night talk show host. Little did he know, the logo and tagline caught fire instantly online. I spoke with Mitchell, who has subsequently held Conan rallies all over the place, and asked him about going viral and what propagandic (yes, I'm making that a word) lengths he'd go to for O'Brien.
How'd you come up with the concept for "I'm with Coco" and how'd it evolve so quickly?
Well, if you check out my website, a lot of what I do is fan-based, pop culture stuff. I'm a big fan of Conan, and wanted to show my support. The idea started out as purely propaganda and somewhere down the line becoming an amalgam of propaganda and presidential campaign. I finished it at 1 a.m., posted it on Twitter, and I woke up the next day and it had already gone viral. I have no idea how it spread so fast, aside from Patton Oswalt and Paul F. Tompkins spreading it around, but no clue how they got it.
So you have been an avid Conan fan before this?
As far back as I can remember. I was probably too young to catch his first couple of years, but I definitely lost valuable school night sleep because I was defying my parents wishes, and staying up to watch Conan.
I don't think there is one...but why hasn't a similar "I'm with Jay" campaign started up?
Well, I don't want to write a novel on the shortcomings of Jay Leno, but I think we can answer this by focusing on why it worked for Conan. He's a stand-up guy, who is a brilliant comedic writer. He takes risks with his show, and for years, has rewarded his fans for their viewership (Taking his show on the road, etc.) Conan loves his job, loves what he does, and even in the thick of it, he has stood his ground and did it with tons of professionalism and integrity. People can get behind that. All of Conan's fan's love him, and Conan loves all his fans.
So you're not surprised by the outpouring you've received and Coco has received?
Oh man, its been very intense. I did this as a fan, and two weeks later, I'm at The Tonight Show office shaking hands with Conan himself, while at the same time doing interviews with all these major media outlets. It is a bit much for an artist to handle. I can't answer for Conan, but if you watch his departing words on his final show I think you will have your answer.
What is it about Conan that makes him sort of the voice of a generation?
Well in our current day, we as the little guy have been subject to all the bullshit that corporate America throws at us. Conan may be a multimillionaire, but NBC has made him out to be the little guy, and he stood up to them, and I think that's a message that resonates with young Americans. Like I already said, in the face of corporate greed, and executive F-ups, Conan took a stand, and did it with professionalism and integrity. He left his show with some great parting words that will stick with a lot of people for the rest of their lives. Not to mention, he is one funny ass dude. Who under the age of 50 doesn't love Conan?
Do you think the Coco fanfare will subside once Conan's back on the air?
Anything is possible, but we have an army on Facebook who will do whatever it takes to make Conan #1 when he starts back up in September.
Why do you think Conan's ratings were lower than expected for "The Tonight Show?"
In my opinion, there are a lot of reasons. First off, he was new to the show, and they knew his ratings would be a bit low, just like Leno's were when he took over. You could also blame his prime time lead in, which had terrible ratings when compared to shows like "CSI."
I also think the Nielsen ratings have a big part to play in it. How can you really get a good read on what over 300 million people are watching when your sample audience is only 25,000? Not to mention online views (Hulu) were never really accounted for. It's not Conan's fault that NBC has failed to capitalize on what is now a big part of modern day television: online viewership.
Is there any way Jay can save face?
Oh there's a joke there, but I'm not going to touch it. I think every time Jay opens his mouth about this topic, he just digs himself a deeper hole. He could have done the noble thing to the company that "fired him twice" and walked away. I know I would have told NBC to go "F" themselves, and let Conan keep his spot. I was actually a bit worried that his Oprah interview would somehow convince Americans that what he did was OK, and that he's innocent in all this, but then I listened to it. He just comes off like a politician who constantly contradicts himself. Jay Leno's chance to redeem himself has passed, and now he just looks like a prick to way too many people. He definitely has an up-hill battle.
What are your plans to take the Conan movement to the next level? You've already held rallies...
There is some stuff planned, but you will have to stay tuned for that. I would expect some events to start popping up on the "I'm with Coco" Facebook page very soon.
Are there any other pop icons you'd be inspired to create a campaign behind?
There are very few pop icons that I appreciate and love like I do Conan. I've thought about this, and I can't think of another celebrity that this would have worked for. It was just the perfect storm in that sense.
Lastly, might I suggest an "I'm with Richter" follow-up?
Ha! I would but I already promised someone that I would never parody "I'm with Coco." Though don't count him out for a future Mike Mitchell piece.