Back to reality: What the Bachelorette can teach us about marketing strategy

“Will you accept this audience insight?”

You might think that a reality TV show where a physically attractive woman seeks out love would have little to do with helping marketers bring brands closer to their audiences.

As with the whole concept of thinking that appearing on a reality TV show is the best path to finding love, you would be wrong, though.

To “win” the Bachelorette, 30 or so contestants need to distinguish themselves from another as they fiercely compete for the attention of a single person.

Which is, when you think about it, exactly what a marketer needs to do to “win” in their space.

People often don’t want something new

Every season of the Bachelorette is, more or less, the same.

The men arrive. They compete against each other for the Bachelorette’s attention. They receive roses. Some of them advance to “hometowns” then “fantasy suites”.

So how, you ask, could a show that is basically the same thing year after year stay on the air for 17 seasons?

I’m going to let you in on a secret: It’s because people don’t want something new. They want a slight variation on a theme.

People love the Bachelorette because they know they can tune in every Monday and see basically the same thing.

The franchise knows this. How else to explain how the archetypes continue to persist in subsequent casting decisions? Year after year – without fail – audiences know at least one of the contestants is going to accuse another of “not being here for the right reasons” or complain about how they’re “not getting enough time” with the Bachelorette.

Heck, the show took the unprecedented step of REPLACING the Bachelorette one season for the very reason that she wasn’t willing to play the game of going through the motions to choose a partner after deciding pretty early on whom she loved.

This matches, pretty closely, with what we know about how brands grow.

People like brands because they stay pretty much the same over time and are familiar. In fact, they sort of hate it when brands try to change.

Take, for example, Tropicana. The orange juice brand tried to revise its iconic packaging one year — only to just as rapidly change it back once consumers decided they weren’t buying the logo change.

For brands there’s a clear lesson. Change, but remember: It’s an evolution not a revolution. Your audience wants more of the same, not something brand new.

People are looking for an excuse not to love you

It’s kind of shocking how little strategy goes into being a contestant on the Bachelorette.

There are now close to 20 seasons of tape to draw from – you’d think someone, before going on the show, would actually review it in advance so they could put their best foot forward and have the best chance of winning.

And yet, contestants make the same mistakes over and over (and over) again.

They engage in needless confrontation with one another. They pantomime the phrases we usually associate with love without actually meaning them. They give the Bachelorette nonsensical ultimatums.

For the Bachelorette, these screw-ups are almost welcome. They are, after all, at the centre of attention for 30 or so attractive men – getting an excuse to eliminate one of them is unexpectedly helpful.

“Hey, I’ve got 20 other hot dudes all trying to get with me right now. Why in the world would I waste my time working through this guy’s personal issues?”

The marketing world is no different.

We are all bombarded with so many messages, so many competing demands for our attention, that it’s frankly a relief to be able to just ignore some of them.

It’s an important lesson for marketers: People aren’t just looking for a reason to love your brand. They’re often looking for a reason not to love your brand.

If you can offer something unique, distinctive and of value then you won’t get washed away in the tide of marketing messages we all receive on a daily basis.

Distinctiveness matters

Conventional beauty (at least as pop culture and the world of celebrity defines it) doesn’t make its way into our normal lives on a regular basis. For the most part we all lead ordinary lives with ordinary faces, wearing our ordinary clothes and sporting our ordinary haircuts.

Most of us have learned to settle for the terrible, unsatisfying feeling of inner beauty (I know. Barf).

Not so on the Bachelorette, though. On the Bachelorette, literally every contestant looks like they could be on the cover of People magazine.

So, for the Bachelorette, that’s good…for the most part. Except for a very practical problem that could really only exist on a reality TV show airing during this particular period of late-stage capitalism: How do you differentiate between 30 or so men who all look roughly the same?

Enter: The gimmick.

Basically the idea behind the gimmick goes something like this. Bachelorette contestant X arrives on night one toting some sort of prop, vehicle or costume to help them stand out from the other contestants.

Sometimes, as in the case of a Bachelorette being shown around a suitor’s recreational vehicle, it goes poorly.

Other times it goes like this.

Yeah, it can get pretty weird.

The point is that for the Bachelorette, sifting through dozens of men with perfectly coiffed hair and immaculate clothing is difficult. The only way to get her to pay attention to you is to do something that’s so immediately distinctive that you stand out right away.

It’s the same for brands.

Maybe your razor has the power of eight blades or your dishwasher detergent busts all the baked-on grease faster than the others. The fact is that none of those differentiators will matter if you aren’t distinctive enough to grab the audience’s attention in the first place.


The Bachelorette is, of course, not literally like the world of marketing strategy. That would be sad and disheartening for consumers and marketers alike. It does, however, hold lessons we can use to create campaigns that connect with our audiences.

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