Gossip Girl fanatics were thrilled on the final episode to finally know the true identity of the Perez Hilton style blogger who made most of the drama happen on the show by blogging about the main characters. The posh female voice who had narrated the show, the catty, clever language used in the blogposts and the almost eponymous sign off “XOXO” made one think the show’s secret star had to be female…
The big reveal was “Gossip Girl” was the nomme de plumme of none other than a starring character, Dan Humphrey. The protegee writer had created the blog at the end middle school to chronicle the exploits of his one true love, Serena Van Derwoodsen. As he explained in the ending, by writing about Serena, he created a mythical version of her; An aspirational female beyond his flesh and bone crush.
Brands Create Demi-Gods
Brands do this every day, creating demi-gods that people feel emotional connections to. Sometimes the brand is literally personified or animalitized, like in the case of Tony the Tiger or Aunt Jemima, other times the brand is an idea of a person, like J. Crew or Ann Taylor, and sometimes a real person is blown out into a character, like William Shatner for Priceline.
I was lucky enough to be treated to a presentation by a brand manager for Betty Crocker who was discussing how her team is developing the classic personification of the Betty Crocker brand into it’s own “Gossip Girl” voice. The Betty Crocker brand began with the face of a model posing as the “perfect housewife”. Over the years artists were used to depict various June Cleaver or Jacklyn Kennedy type women who were called “Betty”. The character the company created was so relatable, women would write in asking the company for questions on baking and even in landing a husband.
If you’ve studied polytheistic religions, you’ll notice enduring gods have malleability across centuries. Between Roman, Greek, Viking and Hindu gods, there are great deal of similarities. Gods of fertility, war, famine and knowledge exist in every anthropomorphic religion. In ancient fairy tales, wind, air and animals become elves, trolls and sea people. In far Eastern religions “gods” may be supernatural people who interact with humans to bestow gifts or teach lessons. In Catholicism saints have similar characteristics, giving worshipers a person to connect to in a way the more abstract God can’t: St. Thomas promises to find lost travelers, while Mary Magdalen offers hope for “lost” women. The uniting thread for a god between the centuries is what they offer for the worshiper – strength, fertility, knowledge – and consistency in their character. Loki, a Norse god, is clever, but will always make trouble. Krisna is always youthful and protects the people.
Betty Crocker evolved the same way, keeping her core value as a champion for “homemakers”, evoking images of the perfect caretaker and a great cook. In the nineties the company moved away from the personified brand and began just using her talisman, a red spoon, in marketing and advertising. This degraded the brand and removed the ability for consumers to feel a personal connection. Today the company has removed the actual representations of the brand as a female housewife, into a malleable “homemaker”, called Betty, who, like a Zeus, can be incarnated into anyone: Someone of any race, gender or lifestyle who represents the core values of a caretaker and baker.
Social Media Personas
At our National Leadership Summit, I presented to a group of college students on managing their pages. I introduced myself to the class as “Steve Dupont”. Most of the room knew who Steve Loflin, our founder, was, and of the Steve Dupont Facebook account, but were shocked to see the young female face actually behind the brand. Steve Dupont had become a demi-god.
When I first took over my company’s social media account, the Steve Dupont account had been in place several years, and had been managed very successfully by a digital strategist. “Steve”, was a brand created around our company’s founder, a slightly-geeky leader who champions high achieving first and second year college students. To personify a social media brand you need more than just a mission and a clever name, you need a character and a voice.
Community managers know their job is about 40% customer service, 40% cheer leading and 20% actually finding interesting content. Managing, and now training my team on managing our brand through social is helping them realize your personality is only a little part of what you want your brand to project online. This may apply to your personal brand as well. For my company, Steve Dupont is a faceless brand who can relate to any major or career interest. He is more excited than you are about your academic achievements! He wants to see your pictures and is so proud of what a great person you are through the service work you do. He thinks the blogposts you write are amazing and he wants to share your work with all of the community. He’s there when you need an internship or a scholarship, and is going to push you to succeed and achieve more. He celebrates your “geekiness”, loves cats, and will never post anything controversial. He respects every opinion, but never judges himself. Steve Dupont is a malleable god, incarnated by every NSCS member.
Our Millennial-aged membership is great representation of the country, with extreme diversities spreading across regions. This is the audience most companies are dealing with today, an audience which doesn’t fall into a niche or prototype customer that’s easy to create a personified brand to connect to. Brands today have to create a voice and character that can represent their customers and offer the intangible qualities humans crave, while keeping the character ambiguous enough to appeal to any background or walk of life.