Business Lessons from the Entertainment Industry

As I watched Comedy Central yesterday and multitasked as I am often known to do, I noticed that they have strategically combined shows that will appeal to different groups. Essentially, every other scheduled program appeals to a specific kind of viewer. Of course, there is overlap but that’s just the gravy on top of there simple yet brilliant recipe.

Entertainment is an industry that everyone wants to get into yet people in the business are not always seen as “professionals”. Part of this is because every other person becomes a stargazer at some point, deluded by dreams of fame and grandeur. People fail to see that there is hard work involved in this industry, regardless of what you do. Everyone think they have talent and perhaps they do but there’s a certain work ethic required that many people lack; heck, it’s definitely not my “bag”.

Consider the job of comedians. They get on stage with very little knowledge of what their audience will be like. They have an act which, for the most part, is planned out but, if they do not get the reaction they seek, they have to improvise. By doing this, they are creating a message tailored to their audience. This is what is at the core of marketing: creating a message that suits your audience.

Most comedians these days use an inside joke approach to things. They talk about everyday life but, if you can not relate to their take on everyday life, the joke may be hard to get. Cultural barriers are critical in the crafting of their comedic material. It may sound racist but, quite often, the jokes of black comedians and latin comedians alike may seem annoying to a non-minority yuppie, especially if they are sharing their experiences in the ghetto and said yuppies never even stepped foot in a ghetto.

I’ve always noticed that people that love political humor or more dry humor may not appreciate the over-the-top acts by folks like Cedric the Entertainer, Dave Chapelle, and Bernie Mac. The exception here is that Dave Chapelle makes his jokes a bit more generalized so many different folks appreciate it; meanwhile, the other black comedians tend to form cliques of sorts by only relaying messages that their fellows can relate to. There’s nothing wrong with this at all but, of course, it shows how different audiences will receive different messages.

Consider also how some folks love Seinfield but may detest the aforementioned comedians. The same seems to go the other way around unless you are open-minded and experienced enough to appreciate toilet humor, intellectual humor, political humor, and various types of “cultural-delimited” comedy. I appreciate all sorts of films, music, and humor myself. That being said, I personally find Seinfield type humor more entertaining because it speaks of everyday experiences that everyone may encounter, not just a specific group of people. Taking simple little situations and putting them into a hilarious context is brilliant whereas these culture-tailored messages are more about getting people to say “I HEAR THAT MAN!”

The anti-thesis of popular black and latin comedy is something like Jeff Foxworthy’s “blue collar” comedy. I don’t particularly find it funny, not because I don’t get the joke but I think they try too hard to make it funny sometimes. This is also what I don’t like about other over-the-top comedians. To me, comedy should be subtle, catching you by surprise; after all, comedy in it’s essence is tragedy plus timing. This inside joke stuff is also risque because some people may not get it. Hopefully, you can get some of that viral marketing going: a few people laugh and then the others follow, just to not feel left out of the fun.

The lessons here are simple: tailor your message to the audience you wish to attract, employ timing to your advantage, and don’t make your efforts too blatantly obvious because then they’ll seem insincere and scripted. In sales and marketing, the big training message is always “find the hot buttons then push them”. This may be true to an extent, regardless of whether you are using a PPF, SWARM, FORM, or FARM approach (or something similar), but there’s much more to it. It’s all about how you do it, not what you do. People are funny: give them what they want and they may be happy but, if you’re overdoing it, they feel smothered, exploited, or used. Nobody wants to be a puppet or guinea pig; people HATE to feel used. Sadly, as a consumer, we are often being strung along and used – that’s just the way the game is played, folks!

In comedy, you have to be careful about doing things that can be controversial. Some comedians have a “nothing is sacred” approach to things and they succeed. That is because they manage expectations effectively. People know what to expect from the comedians so they are not shocked, at least not in a bad way. In general, there are a few taboos of communication and I’d say that the two big ones are politics and religion, which often go hand-in-hand. How daring a comedian is in these areas can win them a niche audience. The strength in small is having fanatical focus and, thus, a more effective message to deliver. Small is often more loyal than the many because large groups are harder to manage and predict. If you understand your market well, you can know about the biases that tend to be prevalent and, thus, be more prepared to address them preemptively, before they can explode in your face.

Let’s consider the concept of large and small demographics. When people are trying to go for the masses or mainstream groups, they are dealing with large demographics. The problem with big is that it can be intimidating. If you have a message that has a little something for everyone, you’re really not appealing to anyone in particular. As I always say around this time, appeal to the masses and your story will be less powerful, less believable, and less genuine. The same happens when you try to draw in a crowd of people that are loosely binded by one or two common interests. My particularly favorite example of this is how car makers are now trying to create entire product lines geared towards “youthful” people. I’m pretty sure if you ask people what that means, you’ll get all sorts of different answers. This then becomes an almost impossible marketing undertaking.

Small groups is where it’s at and any good entertainer knows this. Whether you are the comedian that is making references to things only certain types of people can appreciate or you’re a DJ creating sets that cater to those that appreciate certain genres, rhythms, and BPM counts, you are tailoring your message to a specific group. Though I said I do not like the culture-delimited humor sometimes, I can appreciate what the comedians are doing here. What some may construe as loud, obnoxious, or just offensive, those that can relate to it will “get it”.

These realizations are huge. People hate sales yet they fail to realize that, any time you are selling a message or yourself, you are doing sales. Once someone buys into the message you set forth, the sale has been made. The beauty of the marketing side of things is that, if you do a good job with the few, the few will tell the few that they know and those few will do the same until it snowballs into much larger numbers than you originally attended to appeal to. What’s even more beautiful here is how this game of telephone will allow people to grab the things that they like from the message and, if they is something they don’t like, they’ll just shoot the messenger, not the message.

Indeed, there are many things we can learn from entertainers and what I have mentioned is only the tip of the iceberg!


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