10 Things Nathan For You Has Taught Us About Advertising

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Catch Nathan for You Thursdays at 10/9c on Comedy Central or anytime on the Comedy Central app.

Why bother getting an MBA when you can just watch Nathan for You? Comedy Central’s Nathan Fielder is a master class in advertising unto himself—a veritable sensei of the marketing world. What makes Nathan so effective at transforming small businesses is that he’s the exact right combination of old and new school. He can make a video go viral, sure, but, at the end of the day, he knows that you sometimes have to climb up into the tree and feed the pooping peacock yourself, so to speak. Watch new episodes of Nathan for You Thursdays at 10/9c on Comedy Central or anytime on the Comedy Central app. Here are ten of the most valuable lessons that Nathan has taught us about the fine art of selling things to others:

1. Set yourself apart from the crowd.

It’s hard to stand out in a crowded market. Take frozen yogurt shops, for example. They’re more or less interchangeable, from the flavors to the toppings right down to the softball team that is always there no matter when you go. Nathan knows that a small business needs to set itself apart from its competitors. Sometimes you have to make a bold move, like selling yogurt that tastes like poop. Nathan’s strategy to help Yogurt Haven didn’t bring in the “hundreds of thousands” of people he anticipated, but they did have a noticeable uptick in business from customers curious to try the disgusting flavor, simply because they couldn’t taste it anywhere else.

2. Increase accessibility.

In the most recent episode of Nathan for You, Nathan devised one of his signature complicated schemes: Use balloons to offset the weight of people too heavy to ride a horse without hurting the animal. And, when the host encountered resistance from a grouchy gun shop owner who found Nathan’s idea was too “bubblegum and sunshine” for his taste, Nathan laid one of his core business principles bare: “I think anyone should be able to do anything.” Whether it’s height limits at a roller coaster or age limits on a children’s menu, people hate not being able to do things for arbitrary reasons. Create access for all, and the money will follow. It’s like that old Field of Dreams saying goes: “If you build a helium balloon harness, the overweight horseback riders will come.”

3. Create your own demand.

When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad, some balked at the idea that anyone would ever buy what looked like a laptop without a keyboard. Five years later, your grandma is dangerously addicted to Candy Crush. Nathan knows that true visionaries simply create the need for their product—a lesson he taught us when he strategically positioned pooping birds on a tree across the street from the struggling Los Feliz Car Wash. Making your own demand isn’t easy—Nathan had to bring in larger and larger birds to increase the volume of bird feces that landed on passing cars—but the road to success is never smooth.

4. Promise protection.

If you’ve ever watched a home security system commercial, you know that the world is a scary place where cartoonish-looking cat burglars punch through glass windows even when it’s clear someone is home. Nathan knows that in today’s harrowing world people just want to feel safe. For one, they want to live in homes that are 100 percent ghost and demon free. And if they’re women, they want an online dating service that can provide the comforting guarantee that “Daddy’s Watching.” Dating DNA may not have ended up implementing Nathan’s plan to have paid bodyguards vet and monitor every date arranged through the site, but it was, in his words, a “total success.”

5. Make a guarantee.

People love guarantees. Nathan frequently puts the customer’s almost Pavlovian response to a promise to good use. When he asked Valley’s Pizza Land to promise “eight minutes or a free pizza,” the drivers had trouble meeting that deadline. Luckily, the “free pizza” part of that guarantee referred to a tiny additional pizza, and not to the original order itself. Sure, some of Valley’s Pizza Land’s customers felt deceived but the promise got them in the front door, and you can bet some of them ate that tiny pizza after the camera crews left. Nathan also put the power of the guarantee to good use at L.A. Burger, where he promised to give $100 to any customer who didn’t agree that its burger was the best in the city. The promotion cost Nathan hundreds of dollars but good advertising isn’t an expenditure, it’s an investment.

6. Appeal to the digital generation’s anti-social instincts.

One of the delights of living in the smartphone era is that we can now avoid all of the conversations that were previously required for life’s most important activities: ordering food, calling a cab, and finding someone to have sex with. There’s no better way to make a business catch on with millennials than ridding it of any interaction more complicated than a button press. That’s the principle Nathan successfully applied to Independent Cab, for whom he designed a touch screen that allows passengers to discreetly indicate whether or not they would feel comfortable having a conversation with the driver. Remember, advertisers of tomorrow: the less talking your product requires, the better.

7. Go viral.

Before Nathan for You was even on TV, one of Nathan’s viral videos—the literally-titled “Pig rescues baby goat”—went viral. And then he proved that lightning does strike twice by creating the viral business idea Dumb Starbucks in his second season. Capture the attention of the Internet for even a moment, and nothing can stop you. Except the Los Angeles Health Department.

8. Target a younger demographic.

In marketing, there’s a fine line between persuasion and manipulation. When it comes to marketing for toddlers, that line is especially blurry because they have such pliable minds to begin with. Children are also eager to seem more mature than they actually are, as Nathan demonstrated when he successfully used his favorite former mall Santa to convince a store full of children that they can only prove they aren’t babies if they play with a Doinkit. Come to think of it, it’s the same principle that Nathan applied to his liquor store makeover: anyone under 18 wants to seem older, and within the heart of that desperation lies the potential for profit.

9. Make honesty your brand.

Nathan’s an unconventional thinker, but at his core he understands that traditional values are what make small businesses tick. There’s no substitute for honesty, as Nathan proved when he had auto mechanic Greg Boodaghian deliver all of his estimates while hooked up to a lie detector. The only hitch in Nathan’s plan was the difficulty of finding a polygraph machine that can confirm that he doesn’t watch online pornography, but apart from that technological mystery, Boodaghian’s scientifically-verified honesty sells his services like a charm.

10. Be shocking.

When all else fails, the most surefire way to get attention in advertising is to go edgy. It’s hard to make a caricature artist stick out, for example, but a certified “king of sting” who doesn’t hesitate to draw himself having sex with his subjects’ girlfriends will definitely get your attention on a boardwalk. Ditto for a haunted house that can claim it’s so scary it attracted a lawsuit.

Catch Nathan for You Thursdays at 10/9c on Comedy Central or anytime on the Comedy Central app.

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