It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Good lessons from bad marketing

Marketing is easy. 

What’s not easy is to produce good marketing.

That’s why we’ve dedicated an entire blog series to ruthlessly stealing drawing inspiration from brands and campaigns that managed to do it.

By the same token, it’s easy to mock and ridicule bad marketing. To spot ludicrous propositions, patronising copy, accidental racism or an advert that portrays a world approximately 0% of people recognise.

Hardest of all is spotting what’s good about bad marketing. Often there’s the kernel of a great idea that got lost in a series of preposterous decisions, leading to the car crash you see before you.

A case of ‘I see what they were trying to do there, but…’

But bad marketing can be just as memorable—more so, even—than good marketing. And that’s what got me thinking about It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

If you’ve never watched Sunny, it’s the joint longest running live-action sitcom in America, as season 14 wraps up. It centres on five of the very worst people in the world, the bar they run (Paddy’s Pub) and their various scams and schemes, that veer from goofy and immoral to downright sociopathic. 

And they love marketing. Love it. Barely a season goes by that one of their schemes doesn’t involve producing some accompanying marketing material which is inevitably, and hilariously, awful.

But even awful marketing can have some valuable takeaways for people looking to produce great work.

Here are four times ‘the gang’ almost moved markets with their bold, innovative marketing strategies—and what we can learn from them. 

Fight Milk: promotional video for investors

What we can learn: This is high energy content for a high energy product. 

A bold, lively product video that concisely explains the ingredients and alleged effects while promoting a strong brand message through powerful straplines and relatable presenters. It’s the holy grail of video content: just like talking to a well-informed friend. 

It knows its two audiences—investors and bodyguards—and expertly segments them with laser-targeted messaging.

Investors: “Do you have money? Do you want even more money?”

Bodyguards: “For bodyguards! By bodyguards!” 

And for evocative, emotive imagery, you can’t beat that final line: “Watch your profits soar high as a crow!”

Kitten Mittons (sic): product video

What we can learn: Here, Charlie manages to tap into a fundamental truth of all marketing, irrespective of the product: cute animals sell. 

More importantly, he’s crystal clear about the real-world problem his product is solving and, working on a tight budget, creatively uses stock footage to drive the point home.

He also manages to capture the inclusivity zeitgeist while simultaneously assuaging potential buyer fears, enthusing that it doesn’t matter if your cat’s one-legged, fat, skinny or an ‘in-between’ – because one size fits all.

He even pithily nails something we all do in our marketing when we say ‘Here’s the old way of doing it—but you should be doing it the new way. Our way.’ Charlie says what we really mean: ‘You’re so stuuupid.’ 

But our biggest takeaway here should be that they’re just an incredible product that would absolutely fly off the shelves (with the right marketing strategy behind it, of course).

Evolution: ‘Science is a liar—sometimes’ explainer.

What we can learn: All marketing—B2B, B2C, content or digital—is asking the consumer to take a leap of faith. 

We are asking the audience to believe in our story, and it is our job to make it as logical, convincing and emotionally powerful as possible. And if that means deploying stats, charts or an ‘evolution meter’ to strengthen our case, we should never be afraid to do so.

We know they will have doubts, so we should do everything in our power to counter that. All the better if it’s through a compelling presentation that foresees and directly addresses those (very legitimate) doubts. 

Although not a product as such, Mac’s pitch against evolution is nonetheless a powerful piece of storytelling that marketers would do well to study. He accepts his argument’s flaws and the strength of the opposing position, while managing to flip that script and turn it to his advantage. 

He debunks concerns, wins round doubters and uses in-depth knowledge of his audience to give him an edge over the competition. Because if Aristotle, Galileo and Newton can all be horrendously wrong, is evolution really so convincing?

Invigaron: reverse-funnel sales video

What we can learn: It never pays to get stuck in the weeds if it means losing the big picture. When you’ve got a smart, confident presenter, it’s better to just keep it snappy and limit the details to a strictly need-to-know basis.

So often as marketers, whatever the piece we’re working on, we would do well to pause and ask ourselves this simple question: what’s the one thing you’re trying to say here?

In this case it’s: ‘Ask less questions—and make more money.’ 

Sometimes your message is as simple as that, and there’s no need to get bogged down in the mystical berries, pyramid scheme, multi-level marketing, multi-tiered distribution system, and all the confusing noise around it.

So there it is, ya jabronis.* 

Some real good lessons from some real bad marketing. 

If you watched the videos, hopefully a few other underlying themes emerged: 

  • The value of good camerawork, editing software, and giving yourself enough time to make a final product you’ll be proud of.
  • Talking to your audience like they’re people, instead of bombarding them with meaningless buzzwords and technical jargon.
  • Knowing the problem your product is solving, and highlighting exactly how it does that.

We at Velocity look forward to what the future holds for It’s Always Sunny. 

But we won’t be abandoning our other sources of marketing inspo just yet.

*I know, I know—cool word.

Comments

Okay, I’m speechless. My favorite agency made a blogpost about my favorite tv show. Haven’t even read the thing yet, but needed to comment.

    Honestly, if the gang didn’t run a bar I reckon they could set up a decent creative agency.

Haha, how did I not know about this show? Those clips were hilarious. Do they often use marketing skits in their episodes? Thanks for the post, David!

    Hey Matt, glad you liked it!

    They do marketing A LOT in Sunny – a few highlights that didn’t quite make it into this post include: a billboard, a viral video, merchandise (including dicktowel.com – a real site), a song, several events and a fraudulent soft drink.

    As long as you don’t mind your humour to plumb the very darkest depths of the human condition, I couldn’t recommend it enough!

    As long as I don’t mind humor to plumb the very darkest depths of the human condition?

    Hahaha, sounds like a journey I want to make. Thanks for the recommendation!

    It’s a helluva journey but you won’t regret it.

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