I’ll start this by shamelessly saying that I love TV, and of the things I love most about TV is the quintessential, bad boy character. In performing hours of, um, “research” in the area, I found that along with tips on stealing a best friend’s love interest, bad boys could also teach us a few things about content creation.
Here’s what we can learn from TV’s top bad boys*.
*Editor’s note: At this point, I should probably say “spoilers ahead,” but this is the Internet and that goes without saying.
#5 – Boy Meets World’s Shawn Hunter: Creating Emotional Connections
Rumor has it that Shawn Hunter was designed in a lab to win over teen and tween viewers— a Frankenstein experiment of that went so, so right. Shawn was introduced in the series as the angst-ridden, sarcastic best friend with multitudes of wasted potential. Throughout Boy Meets World’s six seasons, Shawn’s transparency with his emotions helped him win the hearts of teen and tween viewers everywhere. He was funny and made a name for himself as class clown. He wrote poetry and mourned his past relationships. He was a bad boy who wore his heart of gold on the sleeve of his signature leather jacket.
For brands, emotions can be a powerful tool as well.
The number of times a brand’s name is mentioned, both verbally and visually, has been found to have little or no impact on its online popularity. This means that viewers will intentionally share a commercial in the same way that they would share non-commercial clips, like the ever-ubiquitous cat video. The catch? They need to be able to draw an emotional connection to the content they share.
To forge these emotional connections, aim to create content that draws out powerful emotions—content that evokes physiological responses is most likely to be shared. Don’t shoot for content that makes us smile; make us laugh. Don’t irritate us; shock us. Don’t be a Matthews; be a Hunter.
When creating emotional content, brands always run the risk of overdoing it, of crossing that line between Cory’s sickeningly sweet love for Topanga and Shawn’s rocky-but-relatable relationship with Angela. Avoid cheesiness and #sadvertising by drawing upon authentic human experiences to create a moving story.
For an example of brands expertly using emotion, check out this emotional roller caster from Patagonia.
#4 – Game of Thrones’ Jaime Lannister: Powerful Partnerships
Few characters can push a kid out of a window and still recover the audience’s good favor—even fewer can do it with the style and grace of Jaime Lannister. The secret to Jaime’s quick turnaround: Brienne of Tarth. Through Jaime’s partnership with the widely liked Brienne in seasons two and three, viewers can see another side of Jamie, a side that his, ahem, “partnership” with Cersei didn’t highlight.
Not only did the alliance between Jaime and Brienne inspire a cornucopia of fan fiction (thank you, Internet), but it also allowed viewers to see Jaime as his usual, wisecracking self, while still appearing trustworthy and collaborative as he and Brienne work together to overcome the typical Westeros troubles (swordfights, lost limbs, regicide, etc.).
A similar “ew he’s the absolute slimiest character in the history of television, but wait maybe he’s actually not that bad—yeah, okay, he’s cute” transformation can be seen in the brand world as well. Enter, the Teva sandal. While once beloved by sandal-and-sock-wearing dads and Dave Matthews enthusiasts, Tevas have shifted to the world of fashion, seen everywhere from runways to music festivals.
One of the keys to Teva’s success (last year, the brand recorded a 13.4% spike in year-over-year sales) is its work with partners. In short, Tevas weren’t cool until cool people started wearing them— a prime example of the “I saw Regina George wearing army pants and flip flops, so I bought army pants and flip flops” phenomenon (but that’s a blog post for another day).
By creating relationships with the right media partners, Teva let others do the talking for the brand. In doing so, Teva was easily able to showcase a different side of the brand, a more fashion forward side. Ads in Nylon won over a new, collegiate crowd. A partnership with Who What Wear attracted fashionistas. Working with influencers at Bonnaro and Austin City Limits gained a festival following. All of a sudden, Tevas are everywhere. Welcome, ladies and gentleman, to the Teva Renaissance.
#3 – The O.C.’s Ryan Atwood: Adapting to the Audience
When asked “who are you?” by Marissa Cooper in season one, Ryan Atwood lit a cigarette and answered, “whoever you want me to be.” In that moment, Ryan cemented his spot in the Bad Boy Hall of Fame (which is kind of a big deal, even though bad boys don’t think twice about awards).
Ryan’s ability to adapt to his audience is unparalleled in the Bad Boy genre. He can fit in at an ex-girlfriend’s family barbecue in one of Chino’s most dangerous neighborhoods just as well as he can blend in at the Newport Beach Yacht Club.
Adapting to the audience’s needs is just as necessary for a brand’s survival on social as it was for Ryan’s in Orange County. An Instagram post could be subjected multiple rounds of editing and scrutiny, but all of the intense filter analysis will be pointless if the post is irrelevant to its audience from the beginning. Relevance determines social success.
To ensure that you’re creating relevant content, determine how your product will positively affect consumers and let them know.
If your audience were to ask your product, “what are you?” a seven-step story exercise can help you express the answer “whatever you need me to be.” The exercise, which originated in improv circles, aims to determine why your product is relevant to your audience. An abbreviated model appears as follows:
Once upon a time, <customer name> was doing...
And every day, he or she did <big challenge he or she has>...
Until one day, he or she discovered <enter the solution: your product or service>...
And because of that, he or she could <benefit 1>...
And because of that, he or she could <benefit 2>...
And because of that, he or she could <benefit 3>...
And every day since that day, he or she uses <your product or service> because it enables him or her to <big human need>...
Once you have determined how your product can positively affect consumers’ needs, craft clear but subtle messages explaining this to your audience. Ryan Atwood never explicitly said, “I belong here!” to Julie Cooper and the rest of the Newport Beach elite because he didn’t need to—it was implied by his change in dress, attitude, and gradual decrease of fistfight frequency.
Edgy, angst-ridden, and full of brand content brilliance, there’s so much we can learn from the bad boy character that we’re to have to say “To Be Continued” on this post.
Questions? Comments? Just want to point out the differences between the Game of Thrones TV adaptation and the books? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments here. Until then, binge watch some teen dramas and check back next week for the top two bad boys of content.