Real Marketing Lessons from "Nathan for You"

One of my favorite TV shows ever is "Nathan for You".


If you haven't seen it before, it's a docu-series on Comedy Central where Nathan Fielder hilariously comes up with elaborate and ridiculous marketing plans for small businesses.


What amazes me is how he is able to generate a huge PR response, customer excitement, and sometimes even sales (see the Dumb Starbucks or Petting Zoo Hero episodes).  


And he does it all in a matter of weeks with a small production team and budget.

It really makes me wonder how I can employ some of more effective creative approaches Nathan takes, into real world marketing. So in this post I'm going to pull some of my favorite lessons from the show that would actually make truly effective marketing.

The Movement

The driving reason his marketing stunts pay off is that they are completely unique. People and news media love them and just share them like crazy. Now most of the episodes are absurd and more awkwardly silly then examples of brilliant marketing but others could have a place in your marketing strategy.

In season 3, episode 3, Nathan provides a moving company with free labor by developing an exercising fad known as "The Movement". The moving company owner shares that labor is his biggest expense, so Nathan's plan is to use the exercise program "The Movement" to get people who want to get into shape, to do the moving.

Nathan hires a fitness spokesperson, Jack Garbarino, who claims he got fit using the program which he claims to have developed. Then Nathan takes it further by hiring a ghostwriter to write a book about the creator.

The Movement: How I Got This Body By Never Going To The Gym In My ...

Next, Nathan seems to have no problem at all booking Jack on local and national media outlets for TV news interviews promoting the book and workout. After promoting a workout with Jack on Craigslist, Nathan also has no problem fulfilling his plan to have willing exercisers complete the move for free - and he probably could have even charged them for the "workout session".

So how does this apply to actual marketing?

Lessons

  1. Have a conversation-worthy twist - because the fake workout program has a unique twist, media and people in general want to talk about it. A filter I give myself - "If I told my friend about this, would they be interested?" and better yet "would they also tell their friends?".
  2. Breaks common belief patterns - the slogan for The Movement was "How I got this body by never going to the gym in my life". If you tell people they don't have to do what they hate and can still get results, it's very compelling.
  3. Alert the media - once you have 2 things above, you need to spread the word and you don't necessarily need a PR team. Just email local news stations with a well written press release (even if it's ghostwritten). Start with a smaller, local outlet then leverage that placement to book bigger spots.
  4. Give it a name - make it easy to "share" your brand or product, by calling it The Movement, it's easy to communicate and memorable.
  5. Have a face - using Jack with his transformation story, people connected more with him and the program.

Dumb Starbucks

This was by far Nathan's most successful business venture. from season 2, episode 5. Nathan uses parody law to legally imitate the Starbucks branding in his own coffee shop by naming the store Dumb Starbucks and all the menu items Dumb (i.e. Dumb Grande Latte).

Within 48 hours of opening the store in LA, there is a line around the block after someone shared a picture of the store on social media and message boards. Nathan appears on talk shows and media swarms store concept, cups and merchandise from the store is resold on eBay for $500+. It's a massive viral sensation almost immediately.

Nathan for You - Dumb Starbucks

Lessons:

  1. Create controversy - everyone LOVES controversy. Dumb Starbucks was playing against the rules and that's exciting, especially to challenge a corporate giant like Starbucks.
  2. Make it a story-worthy experience - People were willing to line up for hours, not to buy a $2 coffee, but to see what was going on with the Dumb Starbucks concept that everyone was talking about. More importantly, to share on social media that they had been there and collected the souvenir merchandise as well.
  3. Grassroots promotion - Nathan handed out flyers and tried to reach the hipster taste-makers who ultimately got the word out.

Summit Ice

In season 3, episode 2, Nathan creates the Summit Ice, a holocaust awareness-themed clothing company after another brand Taiga, posted a tribute to journalist who was a holocaust denier. It's a strange concept for a brand but it catches fire. The concept was so successful that celebrities like Jack Black, Seth Rogan, Rob Lowe, and many others have been seen wearing the jacket. The company generates more than $2.2M in sales annually (all for charity)- with no paid ads at all.

Summit Ice jacket: Nathan for You coat generates $300,000 in sales ...

The website is still live and shop is active to this day, 5 years later.

Lessons:

  1. Be subtle cool - only fans of the show and insiders would know about the "Summit Ice" brand. Anyone seen wearing Summit Ice would likely get a "respect nod" from other fans, it also gives customers a cool story to tell about their jacket.
  2. Have a unique mission - there are many mission-driven brands (i.e. Tom's Shoes) but I think Summit Ice
  3. Get celebrities onboard - I know this is easier said than done, but sending product and trying to have celebs seen with your product just works.
  4. Alert the media - since the message is unique and interesting here, the media storm was ready to promote the brand with little convincing or ad spend.

In conclusion

The main theme here is doing something uniquely different then promote it to influencers and the media. So what lessons did you take away from the show? Tell me in the comments below.

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