5 Lessons from South Park Episodes that Will Boost Your Marketing

By Hassan Ud-deen On Sep 22, 2015

South Park is one of the most controversial and well-written series ever.

It has cause countless bouts of laughter, frivolous fart jokes, controversial topics, and storylines that are as absurd as they are thought provoking.

Each episode delivers a provocative lesson that stirs our beliefs about society, morality and humanity. But, its episodes are also crammed with lessons that can enhance your marketing.

Today’s post will explore those lessons to help you take your marketing to the next level.

Let’s go.

1. You Should Tell Gurus and Best Practice to Take a Hike


Southpark routinely mocks authority figures.

Parents, presidents, and experts aren't spared from scorn.

In one episode, the South Park parents hire actors to act as the kids future selves to teach them about the consequences of drug use. The plan backfires. And one of the actors is severely injured, while the company who supplies the actors has their walls smeared in feces (courtesy of Eric Cartman).

Just because everyone agrees something is an absolute truth, that doesn’t mean it is.

In the marketing world, guru/expert opinions, common marketing wisdom, and best practices are occasionally accepted as absolute truths. But they shouldn’t be. Because at times, going against common wisdom can lead to shocking growth.

A Kissmetrics post documents studies that prove this. The studies reveal amazing results by defying common marketing wisdom. For example:

  • Removing the security badge on one site increased conversions by 400%
  • Reducing the number of options resulted in 600% more sales
  • Prominently displaying product price increased leads by 100%
  • Removing social proof boosted opt-in conversions by 102%

Blindly following “common wisdom” and best practices isn’t conducive to good marketing. Always apply your own reasoning and logic, and think about what’s most relevant to your business or market.

2. Stories Are Insanely Powerful

Imaginationland” is one of the most popular South Park episodes.

It’s the conclusion to a series of episodes in which the 8 year olds carry a backbreaking burden. They have to defend “Imaginationland” (an imaginary world they’ve entered) from evil terrorists.

At the end of the episode, Kyle drops a useful nugget of wisdom:

“Think about it. Haven't Luke Skywalker and Santa Claus affected your lives more than most real people in this room? I mean, whether Jesus is real or not, he - he's had a bigger impact on the world than any of us have. Doesn't that make them kind of real?”

The lesson? Regardless of their origins, stories are powerful tools. They bring our emotional waters to boiling point and can trigger changes in our thoughts, actions and beliefs.

A real life example of this comes from Journalist Rob Walker.

He wanted to test the power stories have on our perceived value of products. So he hired a team of writers to craft emotionally charged stories about unwanted, junk items from thrift stores. Each item was then listed on eBay with its own story.

The results of this experiment?

$128 worth of junk thrift store items sold for a shocking $3,612.51. That’s an overall value increase of over 2,700%.

Yes, stories are powerful enough to literally sell junk at a premium price.

Which is why you should be using them in your marketing.

3. Focus On Filling Needs

In the “Pandemic” episode, Stan convinces his friends they can make a ton of money by starting their own flute band and selling CD’s.

After acquiring venture capital, the boys get to work and start reeling in some cash...that’s until they are detained by Homeland Security.

Their success was short lived, but highlights an important lesson that permeates every aspect of marketing. And this specific lesson is best worded by legendary copywriter, Eugene Schwartz:

“The greatest mistake marketers make is trying to create demand.”

Your job as a marketer isn't to create demand.

Your job is to take existing demand in a market and channel it towards your product.

4. Exclusivity Sells

People want to feel special. They want to feel important.

And one way to make them feel important, is to give them a chance to be part of an exclusive club or group.

This is best reflected in the “Cartmanland” episode.

After Cartman inherits 1 million dollars from his grandmother's will, he creates his own theme park called “Cartmanland."

At first he doesn’t allow anyone access. He’s the only one who’s allowed in the park. But after a while, he lets people in. And because of the park's earlier exclusivity, all the town kids are eager to ride at Cartmanland.

Cartman’s park quickly becomes the talk of the town and demand for Cartmanland soares.

This is a perfect example of exclusivity marketing.

You can implement the same technique in your marketing by:

  • Giving member-only deals and offers
  • Branding your product to match an admired group like Apple did with the Mac vs PC beef
  • Offering a limited quantity to increase urgency and strengthen demand. Like Patti Stranger, who’s matchmaking services--which are exclusively for the rich and successful--cost up to $50,000.

5. Underpants Aren’t Enough

This episode is an all time favorite of mine because of its simple, but powerful marketing lesson.

Tweek’s underpants are stolen, leaving him with his last pair. So he responds by inviting the others to sleep over and catch the thief red-handed.

Many hours later, the boys spot a gnome sneaking into Tweek’s bedroom and snatching his final pair of underpants.

The boys corner the gnome and ask him why he’s stealing them. His reply?

“It’s all part of our business plan.”

Tweak and his friends then follow the gnome to his headquarters and are greeted by mountains of underpants. Underpants are strewn all over the place, and gnomes scurry about moving massive carts stuffed with underpants.

Later, after meeting the CEO gnome. He reveals his cunning 3-step business plan. Which goes like this:

  • Phase 1: “Collect Underpants”
  • Phase 2: Is blank. It just reads “?”
  • Phase 3: “Profit”

Silly plan, right? Without phase 2--which would probably be marketing and distribution--there will be no profit.

Unfortunately, the CEO gnome’s plan is the same as a lot of rookie marketers.

They focus on their product (or underwear) and potential profit. But there’s nothing in the middle. There’s no strategy. And they have a “build it and they will come” mentality, which will get them nowhere.

Having a great product, service, or piece of content doesn't mean you’ll profit or make sales. You have to get your goods into the hands of your customer. And to do that, you need a solid plan.

Underpants aren’t enough.

(All images are sourced from Comedy Central/South Park)

Conclusion

Sometimes the best advice can be found in the unlikeliest of places.

But the truth is, great marketing lessons can be found anywhere. The key is to have a sponge-like mindset. Analyze what’s going on around you, keep an open mind, and finally...absorb and prosper.

If you're reading this, chances are you’ve already seen a few South Park episodes. So tell me, what marketing/business lessons have you learned from those potty mouthed 8 year olds?

Hassan is a geeky content marketer. He’s not sure whether to be proud, or ashamed of the fact that he’s seen every single South Park episode made (including the movie).

Topics: marketing advice

Hassan Ud-deen

Written by Hassan Ud-deen