What Retail Startups Can Learn From 'The Daily Show'
“A joke is a very serious thing,” warned Winston Churchill, two or three ticks before reminding his listener, “I’m just preparing my impromptu remarks.”
Wit is not just a hook, nor is humor a ruse. When it comes to selling products online, entertainment is a powerful tool that’s capable of transforming mundane and ‘ordinary’ moments into memorable, addictive experiences. Beauty and sex might be powerful drivers of desire -- as are ego, insecurity and the creation of need. But laughter is a woefully underutilized differentiator when it comes to brand, content and sales. That’s why e-commerce businesses stand to learn just as much from watching The Daily Show as they do from monitoring Fab.com.
Dominant online retailers to date -- Amazon, eBay, Target and Walmart -- have behaved like buying sites based on search functionality. What they’ve failed to create are shopping experiences dedicated to discovery and engagement. What e-commerce needs most isn’t more stuff, but more shopping. Not more merchandise, more entertainment. To recreate the dynamism of brick-and-mortar shopping online, sites need at least three key elements: discovery, inspiration and entertainment. Most notably absent from online shopping experiences today is the element of entertainment.
Nimbler, more-focused competitors like One King’s Lane, ASOS, Warby Parker and other reputable startups are embracing the power of design, packaging and presentation -- all while borrowing key lessons from the brick-and-mortar world. Their growth and success is testament to their commitment to entertain, not merely to sell.
But even these paragons of design fall short in a category that I would argue should be considered vital: humor and entertainment.
Creating true brand loyalty, real differentiation in the market and memorable experiences for consumers requires more than just stuff -- even more than ‘better stuff.’ The real unmet desire, the unmet need, is merchandise that matters. To you, to me… Not ‘things I like,’ but goods that reflect my values and identity. History, provenance, story -- they matter. Helping people understand the ‘how’ and ‘why’ is something humor can uniquely achieve.
That’s what The Daily Show does. Using a highly selective filter (for the news), intermingling humor, presentation and yes, curation, they’re able to drive deep loyalty among a devoted audience of not just comedy fans but political junkies, a seemingly disenchanted demographic. Jon Stewart may be a virtuoso on camera, and ably backed by the brilliant Steve Bodow -- the executive producer behind the mantle-busting dozen-plus Emmy awards. But together, they pick what matters most to their audience: They cloak, drape or repackage daily-political developments in a comedic veneer. And they’ve created, using this formula, one of the most addictive experiences on television -- an opportunity not just to laugh, but to learn.
What this means for the rest of us in online commerce is hard to achieve but simple to follow: if we can make people learn, make them laugh and do both nobly and consistently, we can gain permission to make them lust. Laughter and learning license us to drive desire for the things we want to sell. Woody Allen once said that “money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.” And funny is better than serious, if only for e-commerce.
How do you make customers laugh? Let us know in the comments section below.
Michael Phillips Moskowitz is the founder the Bureau of Trade, a luxury shopping portal that blends retail opportunities with style and cultural criticism. He formerly served as a Middle East foreign policy research analyst at think tanks in the United States and overseas. Over the last several years, he co-founded the award-winning menswear label, Gytha Mander, and TODO Monthly magazine; and spent several years at IDEO, a design and innovation firm in Palo Alto.