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Pulling Power - Pete Davidson Shows The Path To True Brand Engagement

Pete Davidson isn’t ugly. The SNL comedian and actor has the kind of boyish looks that would’ve got him I.D’d well into his twenties and a canvas of random, mismatched tattoos that suggest a drumming career cut short mid-rudiment. He’s kookily androgynous, in a small town, bar-keep-hero kind of way.

And yet Davidson has a pulling track record that would put Hollywood’s finest Golden Age swordsmiths to shame.

Ariana Grande, Kate Beckinsale, Margaret Qualley, Kaia Gerber, Phoebe Dynevor, Kim Kardashian to name but a few. He recently added underwear model Emily Ratajkowski to his roster, surely completing the hetero male dating version of Top Trumps.

It’s a bedpost notch list that in days gone by would’ve seemed unfeasible for a guy like him - a teenager’s pipe dream. But no - Davidson used his languid Staten Island drawl and disaffected teen demeanour to close them all. Despite carrying the air of a student stoner at the wrong end of an overdrawn electricity bill (who’s had to choose between operating the washing machine or the microwave), he’s become infamous as a louche lothario shopping in the Champs Elysee with a TK Maxx gift card.

He’s got such massive game his image is likely taped to a million dartboards in incel bedrooms around the world.

So how does he do it? What makes him so special? What’s his secret?

What Davidson is so effortlessly achieving in his love life is what brand marketers try (and frequently fail) to do every single day:- to maximise what they’ve got to work with. To aim for the stars and hit the sun. And to get Mayfair results on a Tower Hamlets budget.

Be Funny

Top of the list is the obvious - he’s a comedian, and a good one. His languid delivery and topical rejoinders give him an immediate edge over every other guy in the room. For brands, especially on organic channels, the capacity to make people smile, even laugh, is gold dust. It immediately starts the brand/ buyer relationship on a positive note, it impresses intelligence and leaves warm memories of time well spent.

Self Depreciation

Nobody likes a cocky bastard, but self-confidence is a powerful motivator, greatly enhanced when the individual or brand is able to underpin said confidence with a humble positioning of disaffected success. Pete has mastered this art, but for a brand it’s trickier - but not impossible. You know you’re awesome. They know you’re awesome. You know they know you’re awesome. So you can afford to underplay it and look even more awesome.

As I said, it’s not easy.

Volkswagen introduced the concept of brand self-depreciation in the ‘50’s, KFC have explored it at length and Duolingo recently mastered it. So yes, self-depreciation can work as well selling on the high street as it does on Happn, and when everyone else is howling from the rooftops, it’s the girl or guy grounded on the street who’ll be heard more clearly.

Over-delivering Against Expectations

Looking at Pete for the first time, you don’t expect much. His personal brand doesn’t appear to give a shit, and yet he’s a sharp, sensitive and self-aware individual with seemingly high emotional intelligence. Mike Cessario, CEO of canned water brand Liquid Death recently defined unexpected overdelivery for his own products like this:-

“Truly valuable brands transcend simple functional benefits”.

Effectively, you need to surprise and delight your audience from the first interaction and at each touchpoint thereafter - they’ll subsequently respond to your brand more positively.

‘Rising Star’ Fame

The purpose of brand building is often debated but for me, the most succinct and accurate definition comes from Jeremy Bullmore’s wonderful 2002 lecture “Posh Spice & Persil”: -

“... just about the only thing that successful brands have in common is a kind of fame…” “...for most human beings, fame not only holds a powerful fascination but bestows an incalculable value on anything that enjoys it”.

Econometric data from The IPA Databank supports this premise, demonstrating time and again that the most effective approach to building advocacy is to generate (and maintain) brand fame.

Pete knows it, and yet because he’s a funny, self-deprecating guy who always over-delivers against adverse preconceptions, he’d never shout about it. He lets others do his PR for him.

And therein lies the tipping point - finding the balance between building brand fame and not looking like you’re trying too hard. It’s a difficult equilibrium, but one that brands should walk up and down the seesaw trying to achieve for eternity.

Harry Lang is VP of Marketing at games powerhouse Kwalee and author of ‘Brands, Bandwagons & Bullshit’, a guidebook for young marketers at the start of their career. You can find him at @MrHarryLang and connect with him on LinkedIn.


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