When it comes to business advice, a lot of it is pretty generic. “Don’t air your dirty laundry on social media” is one I hear all the time. Another is “always use professional language.” Now, this is typically good advice to follow but there are times when generalizations like these can actually hurt your business.
When you think about it, there are tons of examples of businesses that don’t follow this advice at all. In fact, they scoff in the face of it and shout a hearty expletive, to boot.
A great way to frame this idea is to think about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The movies aren’t necessarily squeaky clean but they are billed as family entertainment. So it comes as a bit of a surprise to see a show like Jessica Jones pop up on Netflix.
Why Jessica Jones Matters
Jessica Jones debuted on Netflix in 2015 and has built a steady fan following ever since. Many flocked to it because they wanted to see the latest offering from Marvel. But those who hadn’t cracked open a Jessica Jones comic book before were in for a surprise. The show is dark. Like, way dark. It’s filled with graphic violence. It’s unlike anything else bearing the Marvel brand in TV or film thus far. And despite how different it is from the typical superhero fair — people like it.
Plenty of companies have done this to great effect. Take Erika Napoletano, for instance. The business and personal consultant runs a blog called Useful Sh!t that’s laden with profanity. But that’s just the flavor. There’s actually helpful content there, too. Plus, she gets invited to do TED Talks, which says something about her credibility. She offers solid advice and speaks in her own voice. I guess sometimes profanity works.
Most people think of superheroes as clean and pure, especially those who aren’t devout comic book readers. They may not be familiar with all the dark places Marvel has gone in the past. And sure, Batman over at DC is dark but people still have a sort of glossy image regarding superheroes in general. That’s why Jessica Jones as a streaming show — removed from the comic book context, even — works so well. It subverts the popular image of what a superhero should be to reveal characters with flawed personalities and personal struggles.
She’s a slightly less than noble private investigator. She’s been the victim of a horrible (really, really horrible) villain named Kilgrave, one which led her to deal with PTSD. We see her struggle, make bad choices, and find her personal compass for doing what’s right. We watch her be human, not just superhuman.
A good example of this kind of subversive quality comes from Thug Kitchen. This cookbook series and site turns the whole notion of recipes on its head with NSFW write-ups designed to get a laugh and inform. In this case, the subversive voice is what makes the brand stand out from the million other recipe sites out there. It’s funny, dark, and has a decidedly brash personality. And people like it for those very reasons, not in spite of them.
Not Everyone Can Be Captain America
I’m not dissing the Captain. He’s great. Really. But how boring would the world be if every superhero were as squeaky clean and altruistic as he? A little bit of grunge, a little bit of edge makes the world interesting. This is especially the case when it comes to media like TV shows and films. Jessica Jones is gritty and real. She saves the day, sure, but the plot of each episode reveals that sometimes doing so is a bit more complicated than swooping in while wearing a cape. Being a hero has consequences. Being a hero means standing up for what’s right — but what’s right isn’t always so clear in the real world.
The benefit of an edge applies to business branding as well. In general, tabletop games are considered to be something families partake in around the dining table. However, Cards Against Humanity flips that idea on its head. This game is crass, rude, and outright offensive. And that’s precisely why people find it so fun. Sure, it’s not family-friendly, but everything doesn’t have to fit into a singular mold. I guess what I’m trying to say is there’s a time and a place for Go Fish, and there’s a time and a place for CAH, too.
Would You Bring Jessica Jones to Your Business?
Well, not literally. But would you bring a bit of this subversive in-your-face quality to your business if it fit? Have you ever considered breaking some of those tried and true business rules to pursue a more personalized voice but were afraid to do so? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject below.