Four Marketing Lessons from Television’s “Golden Age”

UK USA copyWhen I immigrated to the United States from the United Kingdom 34 years ago, I quickly realized that while we share some things in common culturally, in reality, a common language separates us! One of the first differences I noticed, and that still persists today, is how many American pop culture references—from television, movies and sports—creep into business conversation. That wasn’t so much the case in the U.K. when I left there, as we only had about three TV channels being broadcast at the time.

During my first American business meetings in the mid-eighties (and for the next 10 years afterward), I felt like a double agent. I’d listen to a TV or sports reference made during a discussion and could usually figure out its context, but just to make sure, I’d make a note and look it up later. Sports references were easy to find and apply, although admittedly, I still struggle to understand baseball (no, I don’t understand cricket, either). TV references were a little harder to figure out in the eighties, especially since back then one couldn’t run to Netflix or YouTube to locate old episodes of Leave it to Beaver or The Andy Griffith Show, which at that time had long been in syndication but were still ubiquitously popular viewing. Oftentimes, I had to ask my native-born wife or a work colleague to help me understand references made to the Cleavers or Mayberry.

50's TV commercialOver the past few weeks, I had the chance to watch a few episodes of Leave it to Beaver, since one of my daughters discovered the show on Netflix. As I walked through the living room while it was on, I got sucked in. Before I knew it, I’d watched two episodes and thoroughly enjoyed both. What a fun way to experience 1950s American culture. Thinking about it since, I believe there are some interesting marketing lessons that can be gleaned from Wally and the Beaver:

1. The first lesson comes from Wally and Beaver’s burning desire to have a pet alligator. Seeing an advertisement in a comic book, the boys pooled their pocket money and ordered the critter directly from a Florida farm. What the two trusting lads didn’t realize was that ingenious “Mad Men” of the era designed the ad to boost consumers’ inflated imaginations. When the gator arrived in a shoebox at the post office, Wally exclaimed to the postal worker, “Is this all there is, Mister?”  Clearly, opening the box to find only a six-inch-long baby alligator was a deflating experience—since they’d anticipated it being much larger. 

So what’s the marketing lesson here? Do your best to match expectations. As much as we want to excite and sell, credibility should not become the victim of hyperbole, as there’s a loyalty and satisfaction price to be paid when this happens.

2. The second lesson to be learned from any long-running, popular Netflix show is to never overlook the power of reruns. For me, Leave it to Beaver remained a powerful draw, just as I imagine many “gone but not forgotten” TV shows do. Too often, marketers promote their great content only once or twice. According to LookBookHQ.com, almost 60 percent of marketers reuse content two to five times. Wisely, they generate “snackable” content based on their proven assets.

3. Leave it to Beaver—as well as today’s Modern Family episodes—were written by the best talent TV land has, and they are always astute at tapping into topics, concerns and preferences important to their audience. Takeaway: Know your audience and don’t ignore what’s of interest or relevant to them. Just as Leave it to Beaver had a strong kinship with its late 1950s and early 1960s audience, Modern Family addresses much of what’s timely today. RSS Concept

4. Syndication may have started as a Hollywood technique to continue the flow of dollars, but it also works today for every marketer. Put your content out there in the right places for your audiences. And, for economics, it’s important to balance content creation with curation. So what is the “perfect mix?” According to Curata’s recent report, on average, content marketers should aim for the following: 65 percent created, 25 percent curated and 10 percent syndicated.

Now that I have several decades of American television under my belt, it’s gotten much easier to engage in pop culture discussions in business meetings and around the water cooler—I’m rarely left scratching my head. It’s also much easier these days for me to see the parallels that exist between what we watch for entertainment and how we market, engage and create content effectively, including for B2B audiences.

With summer in full swing and most network shows on hiatus, I’m glad for Netflix and the new experiences I’m able to gain from some old television favorites. I hope you’re having a great summer, wherever you are! Be sure to let us know if you’d like some help on developing compelling new content—or finding ways to reuse your “vintage” proven content—to reach and engage new customers. Let’s talk!

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