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It’s easy to think that South Park, created by Matt Stone and Trey Parker is just a cartoon filled with nothing but toilet humour, profanities and over-the-top violence.
But, South Park is a lot deeper than what meets the eye. That is why it's still one of the most popular shows today, with 21 seasons and millions of viewers for each episode!
Like it or not, the plots, gags and unique style of animation has got us talking in many ways.
Let’s check out the different methods South Park use to get people talking.
1. South Park Featured Every Celebrity Imaginable
Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Kanye West, Barbara Streisand, Mark Zuckerberg, R.Kelly, Michael Jackson, Mickey Mouse, Oprah, Obama etc...
You name'em, South Park has done them (except that… by done, I mean making fun of them).
In one episode, they made fun of Tom Cruise's sexuality by making him refuse to literally come out of a closet.
As a result of these episodes, Tom Cruise allegedly threatened to boycott his publicity tour for Mission Impossible III if the rebroadcasting of the episode was not pulled (Viacom, Comedy Central's parent company was set to distribute MI III.)
The episode was eventually pulled.
Fans reacted by posting the episode in different parts of the internet. It got over 700,000 views on YouTube.
In another episode, South Park portrayed Kanye West as a homosexual fish who couldn't understand a joke about fishsticks.
Kanye West's response was a blog post where he said he was humbled.
While making fun of celebrities or influencers to promote your brand or product is brand-dependent, the idea is to get people talking by getting the attention of celebrities. Perhaps you can quote them, piggyback a recent act they committed or talk about what they did in the recent news they appeared in (do it legally of course.)
Moreover, don't just stop at one celebrity.
You're not making them your official ambassador in a campaign. Be relentless. Find as many opportunities as possible to feature, mention, link to, allude or give a shoutout.
South Park has no official ambassador, but instead, they feature many celebrities which appeal to a wide variety of different fanbases.
2. Piggyback Current Affairs and Trends
South Park is known for creating episodes entirely out of a new trend or the latest news, so much so that today, people create news articles to predict what they're going to parody next.
Nonetheless, the show gets us talking as they air their episodes at the same time as whatever that is happening in the world. They do this by creating an episode about with an "6 days to air schedule."
Back in 2008, when Obama was elected President, the next episode was about him, but in it, Obama and John McCain were actually in cahoots to rob the White House, Ocean's Eleven style.
So what are you piggybacking? Are you with the trend or are you outdated and left far behind? How can you tie-in with what is currently on everybody's mind?
Considering how something new goes viral everyday on the internet, it's a good strategy to really keep up, nay, it's essential!
3. Making a Positive Stand Against Global Issues Through the Heart of Gold Effect
In the episode Butterballs, Butters was constantly bullied by his grandma. He eventually lost it and took it out on someone else. Ultimately, he felt bad about it, said the above quote to his grandma and said he'd pick himself up to move on.
This is by far one of the bigger anti-bullying messages out there.
If it is a cause your company cares about, make a stand. Show the world that your company is ready to tackle a global issue and that you're ready to help anyone in need of help.
It may not be on a philanthropic scale, but that's okay. It shows that you're on the ground with the rest of the world as you give them a voice.
Bonus point: I call this the Heart Of Gold effect, where a positive message is portrayed from the least expected source. South Park, with all its profanity, violence and toilet humour is (surprisingly) still filled with meaningful, positive messages.
To reiterate this, check out this screenshot from the episode, Freemium Isn't Free which talked about the problem of mobile gaming apps which stealthily gets people to pay to win literally nothing.
The message is given by none other than Satan himself, who by the way is gay and had a sexual relationship with Saddam Hussein in the show.
4. Invading Other Mediums With the Classic South Park-Style
The games get rave reviews because it retains its sense of humour, art style and being in tune with current trends.
However, do note that it was not South Park's first attempt at releasing video games.
Back in the day, they released a couple of video games which got bad reviews as they were contrived to merely tackle a genre they were not in tune with.
The first was the original South Park video game, which was a first-person shooter game. It didn't make sense because South Park isn't Call of Duty, period. The Playstation version got a score of 1.4/10 by GameSpot.
The second was Chef's Luv Shack, a party game with mini-games which was an obvious rip-off of the mega-popular, Mario Party. The game was released to mediocre reviews.
If you want to tackle other mediums, be sure that it is in sync with your brand and what you have today. Do not simply invade the space because others are doing the same.
5. Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate
The episode, Make Love, Not Warcraft was an official collaboration between Blizzard and South Park Studios. It was brilliantly done with sweet Machinma animation and it was (in my opinion) a great episode, particularly how they showed that being great in the World Of Warcraft meant having absolutely no life.
See how the video game was literally brought to life? Not only that, South Park easily stood out here as it was a unique crossover as compared to say, Family Guy and The Simpsons in which they had one crossover episode.
(By the way, of course South Park did also parody the two popular animated shows.)
6. Breaking the Rules To Say What Needs To Be Said
South Park started out as a show with kids spewing vulgarities, stupid adults who don't know any better and Kenny dying in every episode.
It was unheard of for an animated show back then! It was taboo on all levels. It was also a way of saying what needs to be said. I mean, kids swearing on TV? Kids everywhere are dying, or at least have an urge to say what cannot be said at the dinner table. A kid dying on all the damn time? Awesome!
Today, it has evolved into a show which intelligently mocks celebrities, comments on current affairs and in that mix, a little sparkle of inspiration and positivity that shines brilliantly bright.
What can you do today that is taboo? What rules can you break? And finally, what can you say to mimic the voice of your audience when they're too scared to do so?
In that sense, you can be your customers' leader.
Lead. Don't just sell.