Finding inspiration: The good, the bad and the botoxed

19 April 2023
Nicola McCooe.

Nicola McCooe, Copywriter at Ogilvy Australia

As another season of the controversial reality TV show, Married at First Sight comes to an end, so do the secret conversations about it with my creative director who pretends to others that he doesn’t watch it. Despite him knowing more of the contestant’s names than me, he, like most creatives I work with, hides the fact that he watches reality TV (better than he hides his Love Island water bottle in his locker). But in the pursuit of brands creating entertainment and engagement, reality TV is our best kept secret for providing insight into our audience’s hearts and minds.

So in the spirit of ‘nobodies’ putting themselves in the public eye and mostly ruining their reputations, I’m now going to open my very own honesty box and make a confession. *Cue the dramatic music.  

Some nights, I like to lose myself in a perfectly mixed, hard-hitting cocktail of love, highs, lows, drama and a hell of a lot of Botox too. I fill my cup with a dangerously addictive, toxic substance called reality TV. But controversially, I think my addiction has made me a better creative.

Hi, my name is Nicola McCooe… and I am a reality TV-aholic.

I’ve come this far, so I’m going to call you all liars too. Because the reality is, it’s not just me… a lot of other people dabble too. 76% of Australians to be exact, according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority – but clearly, most people aren’t ready to admit it.
Taking WPP’s annual report Secrets and Lies into account, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. It uncovered that “49% of Australians admit to regularly misrepresenting themselves” and “52% have told lies at work”. But why do so many people feel that reality TV should be another one of their dirty little secrets?

I’m not going to lie, I know it’s got a bad reputation. But it’s not entirely a cultural black hole where bogans take their braincells to die. Intelligent people are watching it, like notable feminist and writer, Clementine Ford who thinks there are lessons to be learnt within it. Not only am I admitting to rummaging through the trash to find my own treasure, but I believe there’s more brands can learn from it too:

It's not just about nothing
Behind the fake lips and fake storylines, reality TV shows delve into topics that actually ring true. Exploring things like bullying, sexism, racism, body shaming, toxic masculinity, abuse, grief, betrayal, relationship breakdowns… the list goes on. The real value comes from uncovering and unpacking these issues that usually get swept under the rug. Never have I ever heard so many people talk about ‘gaslighting’ or end toxic relationships, because they’re more aware from MAFS being on air. So why do we shy away from talking about reality TV when real impact can be made? It's never been more important for brands to understand their target audience and what makes them tick. So take note, because it can monitor significant cultural shifts that can help us uncover unique themes to explore in our ideas as well as new ways of communicating.

It’s not reality, but it’s relatable.

We know that these heavily edited shows are far from a true reflection of reality. But they do allow us to observe the human experience and help us to form stronger insights. In the same way we can learn from less polished user-generated content on platforms like TikTok and Be Real, where the everyday lives of users drive engagement in an unpolished way. Relatable content made on a small budget, but backed by a strong insight can resonate just as much as a multi-million dollar production. People want to feel seen and understood and brands that can tap into their audience’s emotions, problems and stories in an authentic way will always win.

Entertainment is everything

Reality TV shows make us laugh, cry and roll our eyes. They cram the most extreme events, emotions and experiences (that might take years to unfold in the outside world) into just minutes and have people enthralled. Viewers are offered up a heightened reality full of heroes, villains and clowns. Where they follow storylines as unpredictable as 2020 and emotions just as intense. So aside from everything else, we can’t forget that at the end of the day, it’s prime time – when people just want to escape and to be entertained.

When creating work that resonates, no one wants to acknowledge these low-brow forms of entertainment as a means of finding strategic opportunities or inspiring our creative approach. But reality TV can get us out of our own echo chamber and exploring unchartered waters of inspiration. In the business of engagement, take in the best of culture, but don’t be afraid to watch a bit of “trash” telly too. Because you never know what sort of treasure you’ll find just because the Bachelor chooses Sue.

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