5 Marketing Lessons to Learn from Reality Television

Marketing Lessons from Reality TelevisionAmerican Idol regularly attracts 15.1 million viewers. Dancing with the Stars draws an even 15 million. And Survivor—now approaching its 25th installment—still roped in nearly 12 million onlookers for the 2012-2013 season. What’s the allure?

Apart from the cleavage and the B-grade celebrity gawking, many of these shows provide lessons that everyday marketers can use—axioms that speak to human interest and human nature. If you avoid reality television you’re a stronger person than most… but you might also be missing out on some actionable lessons. Here are five:

1. Drama draws attention; personality sustains it.

The Real Housewives series started as a small-budget experiment in Orange County. Today it films in six cities and garners on-air commentary from the likes of Dan Rather and Meryl Streep. What keeps Bravo’s Tour de Housewives empire going? It’s not the ever-extending eyelash wars, the Day-Glo spray tanner, or even the Swarovski crystal Bibles… For the past few years, it’s been Andy Cohen—a programming executive and captivating host/moderator who’s blowing up the brand just by making it fun to talk about.

Andy has twice as many Twitter followers as any of the show’s dramatic stars. He’s the reason major celebrities now volunteer to appear live on Bravo, critiquing the latest plot twists. And he’s a genius for getting at the heart of what people really want to know. So tune into Cohen’s Watch What Happens Live—perhaps reality television’s greatest CTA—and observe the master at work.

2.  “Required” ingredients aren’t always required.

Just as the Chopped judges never nix the best chef for forgetting a required basket ingredient, the best marketers don’t lose ground for skipping out on rule-bound content. Does your business have to be on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube?  Not necessarily. Great marketing starts with individuality plus lots of trial and testing. Your landing pages don’t have to follow a set formula. Your subject lines don’t have to match the ideal character count. In the end, it’s more important to make choices based on individual goals and performance indicators, rather than universal best practices. Another thing to learn from Chopped? Bread pudding for dessert is a giant cop out. Don’t ever serve your clients bread pudding.

3. Good ideas are worth repeating.

On Property Virgins, we see the same exact scenario unfold time after time. The realtors are always reminding young buyers to curb their unrealistic expectations, and not to focus on the lack of stainless steel appliances. Yet we still watch and wait to see what happens. Why? Because it’s satisfying to see our beliefs and experiences reinforced. B2B marketing is no different. If you’ve already offered something useful—be it a white paper or a webinar—don’t be afraid to revisit that same advice in new ways, with new examples. Sometimes repetition is a welcome tool for learning. And sometimes ideas really need to soak in… like, with a spacious master suite and a jetted garden tub.

4. Commitment is captivating.

If you’ve ever seen Wife Swap you know there are some legitimate weirdos living among us. When they leave home, to swap lives with other differently-minded weirdos, we are struck by their sense of purpose and identity, their firm commitment to weirdo rules and period clothing choices. This is a good example for small businesses to follow. Not the part about becoming a rockabilly or a Civil War reenactor, the part about standing proudly for something. You should do that. Write your commitment all over your website and tattoo it on your profiles. Slap you picture next to your mission statement. Or better yet, create a video introduction, so you can literally speak to your audience. And hey, if you want to dress like Bettie Page while you’re at it… that probably can’t hurt.

5. There’s always room for more talent.

A more cynical audience might have drawn the line at two or three or ten talent-based reality shows, but America is a glutton for star quality. We never tire of consuming more singers, more dancers, more bagpipers, more plate spinners, because we like to see hard work rewarded. (We also like to see do-nothingness rewarded, but that’s a whole separate post on the Kardashians.) Don’t assume your content is going to get lost in the ocean of media. If you put yourself out there, and you share what you’re passionate about, people are going to be compelled—especially when they need someone with your knowledge.

So tell us what you’ve learned from watching reality TV. The first five readers to comment win immunity from the next challenge.


Liz O'Neill
About the Author
Liz O'Neill

Content marketing specialist (and current Director of Marketing at C&S Insurance), Liz O'Neill enjoys writing informative, engaging copy about pretty much anything—helping companies and their customers cut through all the digital noise; find each other faster; form deep, abiding relationships; and ride off into the sunset (while Instagramming the entire journey).