What Saturday Night Live Can Teach You About Smart Marketing

What can a few generations of funny do for your company’s marketing tactics? Use these tips from the decade-spanning late night sketch show to amp-up your efforts.
Columnist, American Express OPEN
October 28, 2013

Since 1975, Saturday Night Live has given American culture some of its most memorable moments in comedy. So what can this 30-plus year pop culture mainstay do to shake up your company’s ho-hum marketing?

Truth: It’s Funny

I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but the jeans I wear at age 40 are different than the ones I wore at age 24. Your customers face random truths like this about their lives every day. Why not use those ponderings to share a laugh? The Mom Jeans SNL skit that hits a little too close to home is a timeless kind of funny, because it's uncomfortably true.

Ask yourself: What makes our customers laugh? What’s a truth our customers face every day? How can we use that truth to create a conversation that’s on-brand and but also gives your customers the type of relief they're looking for?

Guests: Just What You Need

This fall, there’s one late night skit that has been the talk of the conference circuit: Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon’s #Hashtag skit. It's not just the subject that has people buzzing. Even late night shows know that sometimes an outside voice is just what a brand needs. SNL brings JT back to host time and time again, and in the process, creates some of the show’s most memorable (and radical) skits.

SNL has built its entire show around the addition of a new host each week. This falls into the Smart Marketing bucket for a couple of reasons:

First, guests ensure a steady flow of new audience members to a brand on a regular basis. Plenty of brands find themselves struggling to revive stagnant legacy audiences, and guests keep this from becoming an issue. Alec Baldwin has stayed funny for 16 appearances on SNL. SNL continued to book Baldwin, knowing full well that his fans from 30 Rock would follow him wherever he goes. Think about the genius in having Miley Cyrus host a television show that’s spanned over three decades, bringing her young audience along with her for the ride.

Secondly, guests add an undeniable (and shared) WOW factor. From interviews to guest blogs to conference keynotes to other fun projects, a great guest isn’t just interested in another cameo. They’re there to make your brand look good.

Ask yourself: Who’s a contender in our industry that could bring value to our brand? Who’s influential outside of our industry that could bring benefit to our audience? And most importantly, how can our audience benefit the guest we’re pursuing?

Embrace Now

I hate to tell you this, but your customers aren’t looking for your next meticulously crafted blog post.

They’re looking for escape. That’s why great SNL skits make the rounds every week. SNL knows how to create escape and deliver messages. And it's beyond Bassomatic-fantastic at getting that done.

Pop culture, politics and other current events give your brand the opportunity to make your brand relatable. And it’s not about your brand having a political agenda. SNL finds the current event-related funny in its “Weekend Update” feature.

When you can artfully weave what’s top-of-mind in the world at-large together with your brand message, from political tensions to the latest hot TV show, a few things might happen. One, you might find more clicks coming your way. Secondly, you just might find more folks inclined to share your message (because they’re now sharing fun and smart, not just a blog or a video). And finally, you might find what you create making the rounds because you gave people a much needed break with a little learning mixed in.

Ask yourself: What’s going on in the world today that’s generating buzz? How can we use that buzz to tell a smart, yet entertaining story about our company’s brand message? How can we avoid being link-bait by delivering smart content beyond a catchy headline?

Teamwork: The Source Of All Success

The only reason Saturday Night Live happens every week is because a team gets it done. Writers work with producers who work with hosts who work with folks who get rights clearances who work with the lighting and wardrobe crews. And that barely dents the entire team involved in every SNL episode.

Great brands thrive because they focus on building teams committed to a few key efforts:

Share ideas. The most memorable SNL skits are the result of one person saying, “So, I had this idea.” Do you work on a team that feels encouraged to share ideas or terrified by the very thought of doing so?

Work toward the same goal. There’s always that guy (or gal) who won’t let go of their idea. They want the credit, the fame, the glory. If you learn nothing from SNL, learn that SNL thrives because of Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Amy Poelher, Gilda Radner, and every other cast and crew member since 1975. Notice I said “and.” What does your marketing team come together to create every day: egos or a better company?

Abandon the dream killers. It’s funny to me how many companies I come across that are more familiar with the word “no” than “yes.” If you create a team where sharing ideas is welcomed, rewarded and encouraged, everyone heads in the same direction: to make those ideas better. And that’s where the dream killers get kicked to the curb. Someone else’s idea doesn’t have to die in order for yours to thrive.

SNL has proven that there's room for 30+ years and counting of good ideas. How much killing does your marketing team do—and is there a better way to reach your goals than by having a bad attitude toward your team’s ideas? You know ... the ideas that can make everyone look good and build a company that thrives. Those ideas.

Ask yourself: Who's on our marketing team? Do we have just a team or a team with a shared culture? Is anyone poisoning our team? Do we say no more than yes? What would happen if we said yes more often?

Remember, in marketing and in business, it's okay to be funny, and working together as they do on SNL might just help your business be a standout success for a long, long time.

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Photo: NBC