Personalities like Stephen Colbert aren’t ignorant to their own fame; they could literally book an ostrich and people would watch them ask it questions for fifteen minutes. But at the end of the day, they’re a platform for guests looking to promote their latest work. The only reason you know that’s what they’re doing is the few minutes per episode they actually spend talking about their latest book, album, or movie. The rest of the time they’re joking around with the host, sharing stories, and revealing sides of their character typically unseen. That’s the part that viewers remember—and that’s the part storytellers everywhere can learn from.
Here are three content creation tips you can learn from Late Night.
Colbert’s sit-down with Steve Carell last December was more or less a reunion among coworkers; both met at comedy club Second City thirty years ago, and it would be a shame to ignore their hilarious history. “Look at you!” said an enamored Carell as he greeted Colbert in a “you’re all grown up” kind of way. Reminiscing about their start together, the interview was laden with unscripted compliments and shameless self-mockery. Colbert even referenced their stint at The Daily Show (a competing program, in some ways). “Everyone’s bored with us,” Carell joked, emerging from nostalgia. “But I’m enjoying this conversation,” Colbert replied.
Then they got around to Carell’s recent role in The Big Short, leaving the topic again three minutes later.
This approach benefits Carell’s project because it raises the curtain on his career, taking it off the pedestal it sits on when he’s actually performing. Unaware audiences want to know who Carell is behind the scenes, and current fans would much rather see him get chummy with the host. Brands—no matter if they’re personal or enterprise level—thrive on this anti-promotional style of storytelling by building trust in readers who are intuitive to anything that sounds remotely rehearsed.
Just as Colbert went off-book with an old friend, so too can a brand by telling a bona fide story of its history and customers. Ford’s ” Real Stories” video series celebrates its loyal customers by telling their stories—a search and rescue volunteer and his dog who save a woman buried in a blizzard, a storm chaser who heads into the storm to provide real-time safety updates on social media. These are the stories that stick—not blatant product promotion.
The only thing better than a product you can joke around with is one that needs no introduction, and that was definitely the case with Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the end of last year. Two weeks before its release, lead actor Daisy Ridley sat down with Jimmy Fallon. More memorable than the interview from the desk was their game of flip cup next to it.
Star Wars has nothing to do with typical house party happenings, but it is entirely appropriate with respect to whom they’d expect to see at the theater. And although Ridley’s appearance on The Tonight Show by no means made or broke the success of her first movie role, it needed to excite the new generation without patronizing a forty-year legacy. What better way than to give Rey, the scavenger from planet Jakku, a classic red cup, flat-brim R2D2 hat, and a spot in a game she could lose just as easily as anyone else? (She did, and that’s what made it so perfect.)
The same goes for your content: Don’t plug a product that already has a reputation—celebrate it. Take it out of the context everyone expects to see it, and write it into a situation your readers would appreciate. In keeping with Star Wars, for example, how well would an IT firm’s network monitor support the WIFI access points of a company droid? Just ask Ipswitch. “Is Star Wars in real life even possible? And specifically, is building this kind of tech a worthwhile investment? Would the C-suite get on board with you remodeling the server closet to look like the Death Star, or a practical BB-8 to help out around the office? Perhaps.”
Of all the late-night talk show hosts, Kimmel may offer the most distinguished content creation tips in that nearly all of his guests are subject to something weird or embarrassing. A recurring segment is “Mean Tweets,” wherein celebrities read aloud some of the most judgemental things (within reason) Twitter users say about them. And as indulgent as he’s been toward show business, it was still surprising to see President Obama agree to it.
With jabs like “How do you make Obama’s eyes light up? Shine a flashlight in his ears,” the social roast was a softball. Nonetheless, it still managed to imply genuine grievances: “Obama’s hair is looking grayer these days. Can’t imagine why since he doesn’t seem to be one bit worried about all that’s going on,” another one said. The Commander-in-Chief was expectedly a good sport about it—”You should see what the Senate says about me,” he joked afterward.
Although presidencies may not be the biggest “brands” in the world, they are the most delicate; no other company has to reinterview for its own existence after four years in business. And because this one still had a year in office, it was bold to embrace the hate amid his push for a Student Aid Bill of Rights later into the episode—the main reason he was there. But it addressed what many consider to be the biggest flaw in modern politicians: no humanism.
This isn’t to say your content should chastise its own clients, nor does it mean storytelling should belittle the protagonist. It does, however, demonstrate the value of a little humility in an otherwise authoritative product. Confess to its limits and your audience will respect its abilities. Expose a character’s weaknesses and readers will root for his strengths.
It’s no fun admitting the things we peruse on Hulu or YouTube are just as salable as the thirty-second spot that loads before it. But the fact that we can barely tell is what makes branded content so opportune. Apply these three content creation tips from the entertainment biz, and you won’t dread the CTA at the end of the piece.
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