4 things marketers could learn from reality shows

Picture_1 We make fun of them, we swear we never watch them….and yet they are everywhere.

Reality shows. 

Long before the writer's strike, they were already here to stay.  Having a teenager in the house means I get to watch more than my fair share of them.  Like the proverbial train wreck, they're sort of hard to turn away from.  They are both grotesque and fascinating. 

I realized tonight that there are some lessons for us in the reality show recipe.  After all, wouldn't we like our marketing efforts to be mesmerizing?

High Emotion/Drama:  There's not a dull moment on these shows.  They have a wonderful sense of story-telling build up.  You can feel the tension mounting and before you know it — someone is taking a swing at someone else or we've got a full on sob fest.

How about your marketing materials?  Are you telling a story that builds up to a satisfying emotional reaction?  Are you drawing your audience in?

Messy:  There's nothing pretty or perfect on a reality show.  But then again, life isn't perfect.  It's messy.  Especially when you are doing things "live" or on the fly.

I think one of the reasons many companies shy away from social media tactics is because they can't package them up and put a bow on them.  It's okay to just get out there and wing it a little.  Maybe it will look a little messy from time to time — but it will also look authentic.

Conflict:  Most reality shows are some sort of contest.  It pits people against each other and within that, secret alliances, grudge matches and villains.  We need someone to root for.  And against. 

We know that all buying decisions are based on emotions. Do you know what emotions trigger a prospect to become a buyer for your product/service?  Are you setting up conflicts to evoke those emotions?

Surprise:  There are more twists and turns than the roller coasters at Cedar Point.  They're always bringing back old contestants or revealing secrets, just to keep everyone on their toes.  Adding an element of surprise enhances the three earlier elements — high emotions, messiness and conflict.  Surprise also offers relief from those elements.  So just about the time you can't handle any more drama, they'll take a twist and offer a sentimental moment.

Are you remembering to surprise your customers?   That's a very powerful way to generate word of mouth and stickiness.

So next time you are feeling a little guilty about watching Dancing with the Stars or I Love New York 2 — have no fear.  You're just enhancing your marketing knowledge!

Related posts:

Surprise — marketing lesson from Walt
Are we playing the wrong role in our stories?
Sex or money?

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2 comments on “4 things marketers could learn from reality shows

  1. Susan Plunkett says:

    I’ve a few comments in different areas. Firstly, I have a friend who is an executive producer of reality TV style shows and he argues that the media misrepresent the genre as all being ‘one’. He differentiates the Missing Person and the Border Patrol and Police shows from the Dancing with the Stars or You Think You Can Dance programs from Big Brother. He sees Big Brother as being in a sub-genre.

    The last season of BB had relatively low ratings here in Oz and was broadly trashed. Too much ‘same ole same ole’ and the audience had actually become very vocal about advertising that claimed along the lines of: “On Tonight’s Show Shock Revelation”, only to find it was about as exciting as watching jelly set.

    One lesson here about not over-hyping; not over-claiming. It’s a little like the boy who cried wolf analogy. Sooner or later people stop listening because believability is low. Aim for 90% confidence with 10% humility?

    The show gives us an opportunity to kinda sorta look in the [social] mirror. What if a cake mix ad had a woman preparing it but shown to question her role as the one to do the cooking? It is just this sort of simple question – but one after another as the show of course offers – that’s the partial intrigue I believe.

    However, one of the other reasons the show has failed here is that ultimately none of the ‘cast’ groups have reflected society. There’s always the array of would be iron men and damsels. For a couple of seasons this was fine but then predictability and thus boredom began to set it. On rare occasions there are cast differences (and I concede globally there are broader variations) but there are no interesting age mixes. Throw a mix of 20’s and 40’s together and offer a totally new twist.

    The question that arises for me on *this* topic is where is the balance between audience security and ‘fresh air’? People generally like to feel secure about a product they love and to know what to expect from it and about it. In a competitive market what might be the indications that this stance is beginning to disservice the company and should it’s marketing company work to reinforce traditional qualities or strike for a new twist or raison d’etre entirely?

  2. Susan,

    I don’t think anyone watches reality TV because they think the people on them are like themselves or their neighbors. I think that is part of the vicarious thrills — to watch people so different from us, do things we can’t imagine doing.

    We usually keep our personal drama better hidden.

    But…my point is really that we can recognize some of the elements within all reality shows and see how we could apply them to our marketing efforts.

    I’ll leave the why people watch to the psychologists!


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