What Idols Show Can Teach You About Marketing

Idols television show format is extraordinary popular all over the world. Some people hate the show, some people love it. Whichever party you belong to, there are valuable marketing lessons in Idols.

They are playing good cop & bad cop
Controversy. People are eager to say their comments on controversial topics and are eager to not only attack, but also defend those who are treated badly. That’s one reason why Idols is successful: at least one of the judges plays ‘bad cop’ – is giving negative comments, and that causes people to go against him. This means people are talking at work and everywhere “how that mean judge is such an idiot”. If one goes shouting how ‘Linux is for losers, Windows is the best operating system’ you can rest assured there’s lots of people taking the bait. Many people simply are like that. And that’s something one can use in marketing. I personally don’t think being controversial is way for me to contribute in a positive manner, so I don’t (consciously) write controversial topics or do this kind of marketing. Nevertheless, it seems to work for those who want to get attention.

Real people, real lives and, ‘user generated content’
I think this is another reason for the success of the Idols show: they have real people, real lives and they let their contestants to ‘generate content’ so to speak. These real people have real lives, and dream of becoming a popular star – and they are singing and performing in the show. It’s not a show where some comedian tries to come up with funny jokes, it’s a show where contestants make sure they bring fresh content in it. No wonder that the Web 2.0 ideas such as user generated content is coming in area of gaming business as well.

They seem to know what they are doing in Idols. They sure are using successful promotional tactics.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Well yeh, true – although this varies from country to country. In Finland the format and comments are probably less negative than in USA, but even here the negativity has got some people to take a look at the show… and to talk about it.

  2. The problem with the good cop/bad cop idea is that Simon (typically viewed as the bad cop) only occasionally makes NEGATIVE comments, most of the time he is the only one of the three judges that actually says anything useful. Paula -never- provides anything constructive, she’s actually destructive to the point of interrupting the other judges when they actually have an opinion. Randy fluctuates, sometimes he has something useful to say, but most others he just says more of the useless crap that Paula blurts out. Simon is absolutely correct with 95% of what he says, and is actually providing people with what they need to improve to get better.

    Yes, you’re still absolutely correct that this is how it’s percieved, and it definitely helps generate a ton of conversation about the show, but I feel the “good/bad cop” is simply a label, and does not actually describe how the judges are. Simply a response to you saying “negative comments” rather then constructive criticism.

    There can also be a big argument as to how “real” these people are acting since they’re on tv, and how “real” what we hear about their lives and actions are, but that’s a minor issue in my mind. There’s definitely a lot to be learned from Idol as far as marketing goes, but when someone providing good criticism is interrupted by a stupid-ho it just pisses me off.

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