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Saturday Night Live: How to Retain Brand Freshness for Decades

Saturday Night Live, often called SNL, has run on NBC since 1975. That means it’s been entertaining audiences for a whopping 38 seasons — close to four decades! Not many television shows can make that claim; in fact, only Sesame Street, The Wonderful World of Disney, and The Price is Right have been on longer than that (unless you count news/sports programs and soap operas, which I did not).

SNL didn’t become an iconic TV program without doing a thing or two right, let me tell you. How have they stayed relevant for almost 40 years, and how can your brand also get on the fast track to Success Town? Well, for starters:

Hire the best people you can get your hands on, and make sure they work well with others.

Kristen Wiig's glorious send-off after her final show as a cast member.

Kristen Wiig’s glorious send-off after her final show as a cast member.

Everyone has a favorite SNL cast member, past or present, so I won’t argue with you on specifics. However, you have to admit that the best actors are both talented and amiable. The show’s comedians (and comediennes, if you like that term) are the heart and soul of the show.

Examples of this hiring strategy in SNL‘s case: Take Kristen Wiig as a good example; you know, an adaptable person who’s willing to work hard and who also gets along with pretty much every employee. She’s exactly the type of person you should strive to hire, and she’ll likely be around for years if you treat her right. On the other hand, you don’t want to hire an excess of people who radiate a Chevy Chase vibe, because that would be terrible for everyone. He’s talented, yes, but also notoriously difficult to work with! He’s even been involved in his share of vicious public feuds with co-workers. And you know what else? He was only on the show for one season. (Side note: I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Wiig or Mr. Chase, so my opinions could be wholly inaccurate. For that, I apologize. It’s just an example).

Yes, Kristen. You're fabulous!

Yes, Kristen. You’re fabulous!

Why you need to care: A well-rounded employee has talent and class, so don’t settle for less when it comes to your own brand. Before making a decision, ask the best interview questions to determine if he or she would fit in well. Sometimes you’ll be disappointed by the experienced people who look the best on paper and pleasantly surprised by the fresh talent with personality. Every employee brings a different quality to the table, and diversity will pump fresh perspectives into your brand’s veins. And whether you like it or not, your staff IS the face of your company.

Press shuffle by introducing new people (or things) into your work environment.

Okay, maybe you don't want to introduce mandatory bubble costumes, but you get the idea, right?

Okay, maybe you don’t want to introduce mandatory bubble costumes, but you get the idea, right?

Have you ever wanted to mix up your office environment so that every day isn’t identical? You’re not the only one. Saturday Night Live keeps shows interesting because they invite a new guest star to participate in their diverse sketches each week. They also tailor their content to match current events, which keeps them timely and relevant.

Why special guests and diversity work for SNL: Guest stars range from actors and musicians to stand-up comedians and athletes, and they add a pinch of variety that might not exist otherwise. The main cast rocks it on their own, but guest stars open new opportunities and retain overall freshness. Similarly, they vary comedy skits by changing the formula once in awhile. Fake commercials, pop culture references, and news updates accompany the standard-format bits to break up the monotony for viewers and actors.

Versatile guests like Justin Timberlake switch things up for SNL.

Versatile guests like Justin Timberlake switch things up for SNL.

How they can work for your brand: Unless you’re reading this article to get tips for your own variety show, you may be wondering how this point applies to you. I’m getting there! Keep your pants on. Celebrity visitors may be out of the question, but occasional treats are not. Implement a “Bring Your Loveable Spawn to Work Day” every year, spring for a company-wide ice cream social once a month, or organize a bi-weekly potluck. Employees will appreciate it and likely do better work because of it. Also, provide consistently relevant and timely information to your audience. The content itself should be fresh at all times! Variety is your friend.

Do more of what your audience likes and less of what they dislike.

SNL's Digital Shorts, created by Andy Samberg and The Lonely Island, are consistent hits.

SNL’s Digital Shorts, created by Andy Samberg and The Lonely Island, are consistent hits.

Saturday Night Live airs entertaining content the majority of the time, but not every attempt is a gem. Certain guests turn out to be flops (Eli Manning, anyone?) and others constantly bring their A-game (like Justin Timberlake). The same goes for the skits; audiences rave about favorites (like the Stefon segments on Weekend Update) and diss the lame ones (like Gilly the troublemaker schoolgirl). Granted, SNL doesn’t always heed viewer complaints, but the flat-out awful skits are often booted and the horribly unfunny guests rarely return.

How it’s effective for SNL: As I mentioned above, reoccurring sketches and hosts help Saturday Night Live stay current, but that’s only if they’re well-received. The show won’t win over new fans if the material stinks! How does SNL find out what people like and what they hate? I don’t know for sure, but a logical option would be to turn to social media for instant feedback. Fans frequently use the #SNL hashtag on Twitter, both during episodes and between them, which would help determine successful shows and/or sketches. And since SNL has an incredibly active Twitter account, I’m going to go out on a limb and claim that they listen to their fans (and for good reason).

Stefon, played by Bill Hader, has a way with audiences, too!

Stefon, played by Bill Hader, has a way with audiences, too!

How it’ll benefit your situation: In case you didn’t figure it out yet, the moral of this segment is that it’s smart to listen to your clients. You may get the occasional hater on social media, but most of the time you’ll receive feedback you can use to better your brand. Test a new product’s potential reception by sharing it on Facebook. Ask customers to share their experiences and consider their responses. ASK and you shall receive!

Now, I’m in no way saying that these 3 points are the only ones needed to run a brand for decades. Of course you’ll need common sense, a strong business model, and a metric ton of diligence if you want to make a go of it for that long. However, SNL does incorporate smart hiring, varied content, and user opinions into their strategy (just like any successful brand does), so follow their lead as far as those 3 attributes go.

By the way, if you’re a fan of NBC and comedy programming in general, check out some of our past posts! We like giving fun advice from pop culture. For example, you could learn about marketing from Community’s Dean Pelton (and then gush about the show’s awesome merch), let Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope teach you about leadership, and even get work ethic tips from The Office’s Dwight K. Schrute.

Oh, speaking of Community, here’s one last NBC-related tip for brand relevance:

'Nuff said.

‘Nuff said.

What do you like most about SNL? Any other brand longevity tips you’d add to my article? Any Saturday Night Live skits you’d like to see die in a fire? Let me know in the comments section below!

Expand Your Brand!



Jill Tooley

Jill has been obsessed with words since her fingers could turn the pages of a book. She’s a hopeless bibliophile who recently purchased a Kindle after almost 6 years of radical opposition, and she loves stumbling upon new music on Pandora. Random interests include (but are not limited to) bookstores, movie memorabilia, and adorable rodents. Jill writes for the QLP blog and assists with the company’s social media accounts. You can connect with Jill on Google+.

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