Quirky NBC comedy series, 30 Rock, is nearing an end after its seventh season. With its bizarre, shallow plot lines and blatant industry commentary, the show has undeniably changed the landscape of network television.
But TV writers aren’t the only ones who can take something away from Tina Fey’s approach. Marketers have a big opportunity here too.
Not to put Fey up against A Few Good Men, but the talented sitcom writer recognized something big—people can handle the truth. And they love it. 30 Rock was not afraid to be itself, consistently using honest, self-deprecating humor to create characters that people had never really seen before. These personalities unapologetically owned their absurdity, which provided a breath of fresh air to audiences accustomed to entertainment that takes itself too seriously.
No matter how creative your marketing tactics are, at the end of the day consumers know what’s going on. So why not embrace it? This is your chance to humanize your business. Consider what your fourth wall is—the thing that’s preventing totally honest communication between you and your audience. And then break it. Once you let them in, you can establish a mutual trust that will really shake up your relationships.
We’ll never forget when Kotex decided to make fun of an unlikely target: themselves. Their new spots served as a hilarious commentary about how ridiculous ads in their industry can be… including some they had done themselves. They were just verbalizing what everyone was thinking. Women were able to share a laugh that they never really could before. And whether you loved the spots or hated them, it was an original approach that other brands eventually imitated.
Create a Subculture
“Blurg.” If you’re a 30 Rock fan, you don’t need this Liz Lemon-ism explained. And you can probably follow it with at least five more of her distinctive expressions. That’s because Tina Fey managed to create not just a television show, but also a solid (and absurd) community with the kind of loyalty you want for your brand.
But fans like these hard to come by. So what can you do? Well, just like the NBC hit, you need to tell a unique story. Give people the chance to create social objects—things that are celebrated and shared until they become iconic.
That’s what happened with the old woman in the classic Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” spot. The case will probably be the same for new figures like Allstate’s Mayhem or Progressive’s Flo. They help cultivate a brand identity, and one that people have fun connecting with.
So, don’t be afraid to be a little ridiculous. 30 Rock was not something you would expect to work for network television, but it did. Because it unapologetically stood out among the standard programs people were used to.
Invite them in
Another reason people gravitated toward the series is the premise—it’s the making of a TV show within the NBC building. Even though we know it’s fictional, we love this insider glimpse at a huge industry. Plus, it’s just fun to muse on what happens in this space.
But this applies to everything. Customers love seeing what goes into the products and services they’re buying—the “making of” appeal. And they like getting to know who they’re buying from. Figure out how you can create this intimate feeling with your audience. If you’re doing something cool, invite them in and show them how (and why) you did it.
Take Chipotle, for example. They received an unbelievable amount of attention from “Back to the Start”, an animated video that shined a light on the state of the farming industry and how Chipotle was aiming to change it for the better. People connected with this spot because it was honest. Audiences got a more glimpse at what the brand stands for… and not just what it sells.
So while we have no choice but to say goodbye to a television triumph of awkwardness and wit, hopefully we can take something away from it, allowing Lizbianism to live on in the world of marketing.