4 Lessons Marketers Can Learn From ‘Arrested Development’

In honor of “Arrested Development’s” release on Netflix this week, I’m keeping with the television theme for one more column. I don’t know about you, but I spent the day locked in my apartment watching the episodes back-to-back. It was glorious.

Here are four lessons for digital marketers we can glean from the show:

  1. Every campaign should ladder up to your overall brand story. Arrested Development was a pioneer of the season-long story arc – a detail in one episode gained significance and resonance as the season went on. (Remember that news report from Iraq with a home in the background that looked a lot like the Bluths’?)

    In many marketing organizations I work with, I see a pervasive temptation to reinvent the wheel and begin each campaign from scratch, with new messaging and new creative style each time. Don’t do this. It’s far better to spend the time upfront setting your overarching story and goals. Then, use each individual campaign to support that story and build upon it. In this way, marketing creates a virtuous cycle of momentum, not just noise.

  2. Explore new formats and platforms. When Arrested Development went off the air, fans were devastated. I wasn’t one of them. That’s because I, like many fans, came to the show later on, once it was already out on DVD. I binged on all three seasons in just a few sittings. At that time, the DVD boxed set was a new entertainment format.

    Then we wished for an Arrested Development movie – putting our desires once again into another existing format (the feature film). We didn’t know to ask for a whole season to suddenly appear on a web-streaming video device, because the platform and format didn’t yet exist. Challenge yourself and your teams to explore new formats for telling your brand’s story. Spend time experimenting with new platforms. Be open to the next innovation – it could be the one that revitalizes your brand.

  3. When you’ve “Made a huge mistake,” pivot quickly. Not all campaigns are created equal. As we discussed a few weeks back, experimentation is the only way you’ll learn what works for your brand. But don’t stay tied to a campaign, a creative, a format, or a platform that isn’t working. Jeff Hayzlett, a marketer I very much admire, recently told a story about a great campaign his team ran in movie theaters. They had an engaging, star-studded creative that ran just before previews and asked viewers to text to get a discount on a high-value ticket item. The only problem? No one texted, because their phones were already silenced and put away! ‘Doh! Jeff acknowledged the miss, quickly retooled the campaign, and got it back on track. If you’re going to fail, fail quickly, then pivot.
  4. “There’s always money in the banana stand.” While Lindsay and most of the Bluths look for an easy way to win fame and fortune, awkward and lovable George Michael understands that success requires persistence – and yes, work. Marketing is both a science and an art. Building a brand doesn’t happen overnight, but just like the banana stand burned down in a matter of minutes (along with the $250,000 in cash lining its walls), a brand can lose its luster in a matter of moments. Ironically, one of the best examples of this is Netflix. A well-intentioned move that was simply ahead of the market and user behavior caused seemingly irreparable damage.

    But as Netflix also learned, a few smart, forward-looking moves executed successfully (e.g., new offers to win over ex-customers, the public apologies, and investing in original programming like “House of Cards” and Arrested Development) can, with time, put the halo back on again. And as I think G.O.B. would agree, that’s no illusion.