What Marketers Can Learn From 'The Bachelor'

Execs, Former Contestants Take the Stage at Ad Age Brand Summit

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Before the rise of social media, digital platforms and viewer fragmentation there was "The Bachelor." Leading up to the Ad Age Brand Summit conference next week, Ad Age spoke with Brooke Karzen, exec VP-alternative programming and development, Warner Horizon Television, who oversees production of the show. Ms. Karzen will be appearing on the panel, "Building Bachelor Nation," along with Jill Gershman, VP-comedy & alternative series, ABC Entertainment Marketing. Both executives have been brand stewards of the Bachelor franchise since it debuted in 2002. Former Bachelor Sean Lowe and his wife, Catherine Lowe, who received his final rose, will also participate in the panel.

Brooke Karzen
Brooke Karzen Credit: Warner Horizon Television

Ad Age: "The Bachelor" has outlasted and outperformed most other reality shows. From your perspective, what are the biggest factors behind its longevity?

Ms. Karzen: "The Bachelor" has a simple, clean format, and the theme -- looking for love -- is universal. Everyone relates to it. It's a great story, a wonderful wish-fulfillment journey and adventure. People love to gossip about love. Watching these people looking for love is so relatable, it makes us feel better about ourselves.

Social media has been a natural outgrowth of the show, and we've totally embraced it. It's helped the show advance beyond what anyone could have imagined. There are brick-and-mortar viewing parties along with the whole viewing party taking place online. Mothers watching with their daughters -- it's almost a rite of passage.

Ad Age: In your role, you're charged with shaping these stories as they emerge. In many ways, brand leaders are faced with similar challenges -- trying to craft the best stories from a lot of raw information. How do you turn chunks of content into a compelling narrative?

Ms. Karzen: We start with a well-crafted show, and we have terrific producers who are also amazing storytellers. And we have a simple roadmap: one guy with 25 women, or vice versa. So it's a simple, clean format. While the tent poles don't change, the producers don't know where the story is going. But they're able to color outside the lines and embrace it as it happens. And then in post-production, we focus on building on those key stories and continuing to reinforce the characters.

Ad Age: Is seems the show has gotten funnier over the years. Why?

Ms. Karzen: We started in the beginning of prime time reality TV, and everything was more earnest then. It was a serious quest for love, all about "the most dramatic rose ceremony ever." It still is, but now it's become a part of our culture, the social lexicon. And that naturally extends to making fun of itself. The show has a sense of humor about itself, and avid journalists have offered a more comedic take on the show as well. We've also learned how to embrace brand extensions like M&Ms that take it to a comedic place.

Ad Age: The series had a lot of brand ambassadors -- most obviously, the former Bachelors and Bachelorettes. Not all have been good for the brand. But somehow the show has a Teflon quality, nothing damaging seems to stick. What protects it?

Ms. Karzen: It goes back to the enduring nature of the concept of the show and how it's produced. This story is as good as, or better than, any soap opera. There are characters and personalities that people love, along with the villains you hate. And it does feel Teflon, even when you get cast members who aren't as favorable. But every moment is talked about and taken seriously. The producers pay attention: they live, sleep, eat and breathe the show. So I think it's really about the fact that no one takes success for granted. Everyone is passionate about making it great. And the minute you stop doing that, you're not Teflon anymore.

Ad Age: How do you evaluate talent -- who will have that star power -- when the cast is all unknown?

The key part is finding people who really are ready to find love and who [the contestants] are going to be crazy about. We have a rigorous casting process, and our casting team has been with the show since day one. So there's a shared experience. Having done it for so long, having great successes and learning from mistakes, I think that's key to the success of the show overall.

Register today to see "Building Bachelor Nation" live at the Ad Age Brand Summit. Save 20% with code AAREADER2.