By Paolina Milana
All good things must come to an end. But if you are, as I am, a self-proclaimed #bbaddict, then you’re already experiencing withdrawals in anticipation of the series finale of Breaking Bad – truly a great thing that sadly is soon to be no more. As homage to what has become my favorite TV show, I thought I would follow in Walter White’s teaching footsteps by sharing a few important marketing lessons I learned, not only from the show’s storyline and characters, but from the making of Breaking Bad itself. Here is my top ten list of marketing lessons learned from Breaking Bad:
1. Respect the Chemistry
Between writers, the actors, the crew, the audience, something magical happens when the focus is on what it should be: the message. Too often – whether on set or in the corporate boardroom – egos get in the way. In Breaking Bad, the actors trust the writers to tell the tale, and the writers trust the actors to breathe life into their words. While collaboration and communication are key and definitely not confined to silos, everyone laser beams on what is best to drive the story forward. Each actor could have gotten sucked in to campaigning for what they thought was best for his or her character (more lines, more screen time, etc.), just as in the corporate world, senior execs from other areas or staffers from other departments might try to influence the content and the marketing of that content for the wrong reasons (i.e. sales quotas to be met, names and titles that want to claim ownership, etc.). Without the right team chemistry and the right blend of ingredients all focused on supporting the end product, the execution will always fall short.
2. Simmer ‘til Cooked
When Breaking Bad debuted in 2008, ratings weren’t great, just over a million viewers. The show’s creator Vince Gilligan has been quoted as saying that Breaking Bad should have been cancelled. It took a while for the show to catch on, a few seasons, in fact. But once it did, the numbers kept climbing and the cult-like fans kept growing. In season five, the current viewing numbers of nearly six million and an Emmy win for best drama say it all.
Too often in marketing, we (or more likely, higher level bean-counting execs) want immediate results. Especially with the advent of social media and the lack of understanding surrounding it, marketing seems for some to be synonymous with “magic bullet,” and if whatever marketing initiative doesn’t return sales overnight, it’s seen as a failure and programs are often cut short.
Breaking Bad is proof that even brilliant ideas, campaigns, stories, and content need time to simmer, generate buzz, and build an audience.
3. Heisenberg and Blue
This one is a no-brainer. And others have aptly tackled the Brand lessons learned, so I won’t say much here. “Blue” became synonymous with the Brand. And Heisenberg became synonymous with his Brand. In addition, the content of shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men that came before it have served to give rise to AMC’s branding rebirth…a risk for AMC, however, one that paid off.
Whether we’re talking about an individual, a product, or a company, Brand matters. Everything that’s done needs to be done in support of that Brand.
4. 92 to 99% Pure
Think about the product – the actual meth produced by Walt and even by Jesse. Nearly 100% pure, and that’s what resonated with the market.
In today’s marketing, the content matters, the core message matters, the story matters. Today’s consumers are smart and savvy, and they can smell fake on first impressions. Think of your product – your content – as needing to be as pure as possible. Never waver from its truth.
Too often, especially in times of economic downturns, companies will opt for “lesser than” and “low hanging fruit” at the cost of true value and a consistent credible core. Don’t do it. It may offer slight returns at the onset, but only too soon, you’ll be found out that you will have lost your loyal customer base, and it takes a lot more effort to get them back.
5. Vision in the Rear View Mirror
Breaking Bad – as a TV show concept – has been said to have been one of the worst ideas ever with little to no chance of seeing the light of day. A 50-year old guy (not a desired age bracket in entertainment) is dying of cancer (not a hot happening topic viewers wanna see). He works a lowly job as a chemistry teacher (boring) to take care of his pregnant wife and teenage son who has a disability (are you kidding me?). He starts cooking meth…
Now nowhere did Vince Gilligan get a bunch of data from any analytics tool telling him that THIS is the story that the world wants to see unfold. Nope. Vince is a storyteller. He’s not consulting data about what has happened or what already is being talked about. Instead, he’s forward-thinking, ahead of the curve. In many ways, he’s an inventor, just like Henry Ford who is quoted as having said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”
Too often, companies focus on data to the point of not being willing to make a move without almost guaranteed proof that whatever is being proposed is exactly what the market wants and as a result is going to succeed. Forecasting and data-driven initiatives often kill creativity, gut instinct, and inventions. Vision and an entrepreneur sense of spirit is required, and focusing too much on the numbers is looking in the rear view mirror and claiming what you see as your vision.
6. Lydia: Your Distributor
It’s not enough just to cook the perfect meth. Sure, selling locally and word of mouth helps, but if you want to grow, you need distribution. Breaking Bad’s Lydia is some serious distribution. And she’s a lesson in what distribution ought to be in marketing: the silent, “goes-undetected” partner.
Too often in marketing, we get caught up in the channels , the tactics, the tech tools, and we forget that unless the content resonates with the target audience, none of these distribution vehicles matter.
7. Quality v. Quantity
Lots of meth around. Lots of cooks. Quantity isn’t lacking to serve the demand.
But when quality makes its debut in the form of Walt’s Blue, suddenly it has the power to generate demand. Forget the status quo or “good enough,” now people want – demand – the blue stuff.
Same holds true with today’s content marketing. Yes, volume is needed to feed the beast. Consumption of content is constant. As such, it’s unrealistic to believe that every single piece of content created is of the highest quality. It’s just not possible.
That said, quality is what sets your Brand apart from all the rest. A few key pieces of high quality content – core to your message and mission, unique, engaging, and a catalyst for action – are what’s needed to drive demand.
So think in terms of percentages, decide what your target audience now requires and what your ideal audience on the horizon deserves, measure that against your resources and come up with what for now you can produce in the way of both quantity and quality product. (I’ll be talking more about content marketing on September 25 at 2 p.m. ET online during CommPro’s “In the Office” – join the conversation.)
8. Just Say No
Of course, this is obvious on a bigger picture “beyond Breaking Bad” level. But dig deeper here. Walter White may have cooked meth, but he wasn’t a user. He may have fallen from grace, but his logical, mathematical thought processes were rarely impaired. Jesse Pinkman, on the other hand, acted before he thought things through. And that’s dangerous. Not only can it lead to disaster in the world of drugs and drug lords, but it can seriously impede the success of any marketing effort and damage a brand, sometimes beyond repair.
Remember Gap’s new logo?: The backlash that incurred? Drake University’s ad campaign?: “D+ – the Drake Advantage.” Or how about the recent Bic Lady Pens what-were-they-thinking product launch and asking Ellen Degeneres to be the spokesperson?: If you haven’t already, Ellen and Amazon reviews are the kind of content worth reading and viewing.
Getting to market quickly, taking action, checking it off the list: all great marketing wants, but remember to just say no when taking action hasn’t taken the time to think about strategy.
9. “Ya, Bitch! Magnets”
Remember that episode with the magnets? Gus’ superlab is burned-out, but the surveillance camera has captured some incriminating evidence. Hank has seized Gus’ laptop that has a copy of what that camera may have seen, enough evidence to put Walt, Jesse and Mike away for good, and it sits in the police department threatening our anti-heroes…? But who saves the day? Not the smartest brain, but the one that goes off on more tangents.
Albert Einstein said: “Imagination Is More Important than Knowledge.” In Marketing, thinking outside the box is key to making magic. The prize doesn’t go to the most intelligent, but to the most creative…the marketing initiative that, like a magnet, draws people to it.
10. Be Your Own Vince Gilligan
Vince Gilligan is an extremely talented, gifted individual. No doubt about it. He’s creative and inventive and a risk-taker. At his core, he’s a storyteller. But guess what? If you have anything to do with marketing today, especially content marketing, you need to be a storyteller, too.
So take this last lesson learned from Breaking Bad and take it to heart: be your own Vince Gilligan. Dream up your own great stories. Don’t data them to death. When higher-ups or decision-makers turn you away, believe in what you’re pitching and keep pursuing until you get a “yes.” And if you can, why not make the decision to really be your own Vince Gilligan and stop waiting for others to give you the green light?
Lots of people exist in this world who need guarantees before they’ll make a move and who are too afraid to take a chance and who will Monday-morning quarterback things to death (either to point out why you were wrong or to take credit for your success). Why not “be the danger” and create your own Breaking Bad?