I recently finished “Made to Stick” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, a book with the tagline, “Why some ideas survive and others die.” The main point of this book is that sticky ideas contain a combination of qualities summarized in the acronym SUCCESs: simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and stories. Normally I leave blogging about pop culture to my peers. However, America’s Next Top Model (ANTM), and I assume other regions’ top model competitions, is one of the few ideas that seems to incorporate all of the SUCCESsful qualities. This is how this show hooked me not only into watching the most recent season, but reruns, whenever I have the time. And I’m not the only one: ANTM had the CW‘s highest average audience of 2006-2007 television season.
Simple: The show’s core idea is obvious and can be expressed within a sentence fragment: A modeling competition documented in a reality television show. It also contains a consistent format characteristic of other documented competitions that makes it easy to follow.
Unexpected: I think ANTM does this best out of all of the SUCCESs qualities. My favorite unexpected moment, which you can watch here is the show host and head judge Tyra Branks’ line in Cycle 5 during an elimination, “…tonight, both of you must pack your bags – because we’re all going to London!” Within the span of that line, fans go from thinking the judges will eliminate one woman, as usual; then two, unprecedented at the time; then none, also unprecedented. Confetti and London flags flood the set; traditionally dressed guards march into the room; all the model-wannabes cry with relief.
Concrete: ANTM’s personalization of modeling through documenting individual women is public relations for the modeling industry. It gives us people behind the photographs. Some of the show’s language is purposefully vague, for example, “Nigel Barker, noted fashion photographer,” and “Elite Model Management, one of the top modeling agencies in the world.” However, aspects of the show are very concrete, for example, how one of the consistent prizes is “a cover and six-page spread in Seventeen Magazine.” This show also contains easy references, also an aspect of simple, such as “Top Model Prep School” as Cycle 10’s casting setting.
Credible: I’ll summarize this section in two words: Tyra Banks. The first cycle of this show relied on Tyra Banks’ heavy involvement for success. Tyra’s connections legitimize not only the entire show, but decisions for locations, photographers, and other professionals the contestants meet, for example, “[This photographer] has even shot Tyra.”
Emotion: Isn’t this what reality television is all about? In addition to the inherent emotional difficulties of roughly a dozen young female competitors sharing a house on camera, Tyra Banks encourages emotion by asking the contestants probing questions during casting and in sessions similar to therapy, both individually and in groups. Most documented emotion includes crying, screaming with joy, and the women yelling at each other. One the most dramatic emotional moments is a huge fight in Cycle 10 between Whitney and Dominique, which culminates with Dominique calling Whitney a racist.
Stories: Each cycle is a story in itself, of all the contestants. Additionally, I’m pretty sure that Tyra chooses at least a couple contestants with compelling life stories for every cycle. Some of these include Fatima from Cycle 10, a refugee who experienced female circumcision in her home country; Shandi of Cycle 2, the cinderella story if you will; and Amanda of Cycle 3, who is legally blind and will be completely blind by her thirtieth birthday.
So what does all of this have to do with public relations? ANTM maintains excellent public relations and marketing partnerships. Tyra Banks’ weekly reminder of the grand prizes serves as an approximately one-minute commercial for the partners. The show regularly incorporates the partners into challenges and photo shoots: contestants must put Covergirl‘s newest line of makeup on each other, then the winner gets to shoot a spread for Seventeen Magazine. Elite Model Management supervises the go-see challenge. ANTM and its partners share target audiences.