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Why Co-Opting Pop Culture Could Sink Your Marketing Ship

Inbound Marketing

You’ve seen them--the advertisement from the flooring company showing a light saber duel. The blog post from a software company invoking Charlie Brown’s football-kicking prowess. Or maybe the grocery store with Minions handing out coupons.

What on earth did one thing have to do with the other? Nothing more than a desire to piggyback to a little more fortune, if not fame.

It’s the classic pop culture co-opt, and it’s sooooo wrong. But it’s sooooo tempting. The creative side of your brain is just aching to create an epic video of Iron Man and Batman slugging it out over who has the better smartphone. Wouldn’t that be cool?

As an exercise in filmmaking, maybe. As a way to market a product or service, not so much.

But it would be so epic!

Sure it might be epic. But as a B2B brand, you are not in the business of creating epic stories that have nothing whatsoever to do with your business. You’re in the business of bringing in qualified leads. Sure, you may get some attention from the fleeting fame of a pop culture phenom. But is it bringing in new customers?

If the answer is “no,” you are wasting time and money.

But Why?

There are a few problems with trying to ride popular culture’s coat-tails:

    1. Most of the content is terrible. Really…really…terrible. With tie-ins, your content can’t just be good or even great. It has to be f*@$ing awesome, and relevant. Most B2Bs don’t have the time, budget, or the right audience to make producing that level of content worth it.
    2. Most of the content tie-ins don’t just make a stretch. It’s, as Jacob Klein puts it, ”Content that strains with every fiber of its being to be relevant to both the pop culture icon it’s highlighting as well as the completely irrelevant business interest of the author.”
    3. It makes the fans angry. You won’t like them when they’re angry. Angry fans will not convert to happy customers. Non-fans will just think it’s stupid, and will not convert to customers either. And all of them are people you hope will share your content, who won’t be doing that either.

But I Still Want To

OK, fine. Here are a few things that might…might…help.

    • Watch your timing. Tying into pop culture can take split second reflexes because the popular attention-span can be extremely fleeting. If you can’t hit it at its peak, which is usually just after the movie opens or the book is published, don’t bother.
    • Be the first. If you come along after even one other marketer trying to do the same thing, you’ll be perceived as a copycat and the effect diminishes from there.
    • Get help if you need it. If you aren’t a Trekker, don’t develop Star Trek content. Find someone who has the expertise/geekiness to either develop the content, review it, or both.

A Last Word Regarding Google

The Google Penguin update came down hard on websites it felt had too many irrelevant links. It should go without saying, but trying to stuff irrelevant pop culture keywords, references, and links into your content could cause you to skate too close to the line and get penalized.

You’ll get more qualified leads and happier customers if you stick with relevant, informative content that doesn’t rely on superheros and zombies to get noticed.


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