Elan Gale is best known for facilitating romance (and plenty of drama) as the former producer for “The Bachelor” franchise and the newer reality show “FBoy Island.” But in his latest gig, he’s moving from love … to death.
From ‘Bachelor’ producer to casket marketer—Elan Gale on his shift to Titan creative director
Gale was recently appointed creative director for the direct-to-consumer casket company Titan in a part-time role where he will be tasked with reframing consumers’ idea of how and when they purchase a casket. Titan’s goal is getting consumers to pre-purchase their own casket online before their death, versus the traditional way of families purchasing a casket at a funeral parlor after a person is already deceased.
Titan has had some help getting the word out about its brand: Last year, it was featured in Taylor Swift’s “Anti-Hero” music video.
So how does one build a lively voice for a brand so closely associated with death? We ask Gale that—and much more—below.
This interview has been lightly edited for content and clarity.
Tell me a little bit about how you came to a place in your life where you are taking a creative director position at a casket company?
Pretty much everything I do comes around trying to get a little bit more insight into the human condition in different ways. … I worked on a show a little while ago that took place in a hospice [“The Midnight Club”] and was really all about palliative care and end-of-life planning, and working on that got me really interested in the space.
When I found myself face-to-face with the Titan team, I was just like, “Oh, I want to learn a lot about this.” … I had never even considered getting my own casket, I had never even considered really planning my own end-of-life celebration in that way. But when the facts were laid out in front of me, it became clear that these were really great options.
I like challenging narratives. … People are really afraid (myself included, often) in engaging with end-of-life planning, engaging in thoughts about death and dying. And for me, when something is a little bit scary emotionally, it's worth looking into.
Say more about that.
I don’t understand everything when it comes to death and what happens after we die. But I think that thinking about it, and thinking about the lives of those that you leave behind and trying to make those pleasant—make that transition, for the living, easier, less of a potential financial burden … if that means some slight discomfort for me now in thinking about these things, that’s a worthwhile trade-off.
Like most things, as you spend more time thinking about a topic, the taboo goes away. And there’s no good reason for us to be afraid to talk about death and dying. There’s no good reason for us to not be able to talk about end-of-life planning and end-of-life care. They’re parts of life. I think that trying to engage with that is a worthwhile endeavor.
How did you get introduced to the Titan team?
I got introduced to the Titan team through my team of agents at WME and their partners at Endeavor. I think they were just looking for someone who was unafraid to tackle interesting topics.
Emotion and honesty and communication about the realities of life are really important. And so when they came to me and said, “Hey, are you interested in meeting and chatting about this,” it was a really quick yes for me.
What are the responsibilities and scope of the role?
My job, as I see it, is to help facilitate normalizing public conversations about death, dying and end-of-life planning. Traditional advertising is wonderful, and we should continue to employ it whenever possible. But there are not necessarily channels devised for younger people, for healthy people, to have these conversations. And so trying to think about ways that we can get the American public to engage with the conversation of end-of-life planning, in a way that isn’t scary, in a way that isn't necessarily sad or dark—but just recognizing that as part of life, and finding either public activations, interesting partnerships, events that we may hold, collaborations with different brands … really re-imagining potentially what caskets can be and how personalized they can be.
All the way down to really just helping people learn about the funeral rule … making sure that we find interesting, clever and engaging new ways to just make people aware of their rights when it comes to their funerals and the funerals of their loved ones.
When you say “the funeral rule,” what do you mean by that?
I mean the fact that it is a requirement that funeral homes accept the casket, regardless of the origin. Most funeral homes obviously sell caskets—we are all legally allowed to deliver a casket of our choosing to a funeral home and have them process it, handle it in the exact same way they would their own product without an added fee. People just are not familiar with that. And obviously it’s all about allowing the customer to have price comparison and transparency into what ends up usually being a very costly purchase, and just making sure people know what their options are.
Did you have anything to do with the Taylor Swift video and the casket that was in it?
I did not—although obviously that kind of organic advertising is incredible. I’m happy to put it out there that we are prepared to collaborate with Taylor Swift whenever necessary—I’m waiting and I’m ready whenever she wants, any other casket items, urns, anything, we’re here and available.
What would you say the biggest difference between working on a product that’s about love, such as “The Bachelor” or “FBoy Island,” and a product that’s about death is?
In a weird way, they’re closer than you think. When dealing with things like caskets [and] end-of-life planning, we’re still talking about love. We’re talking about the things people care about, we’re talking about the things that are important to people. People’s desire to fall in love, start a family, people’s desires to be buried—in a way, those are all part of creating their own personal legacy and telling their own personal story. So for me, it’s less that they’re separate, and more that they’re just often chronologically distant.
“The Bachelor” is what you’re most well known for. What is the biggest learning that you’re taking from producing that show for many years into this new project?
The thing I learned from getting to work on “The Bachelor” for so long, and with so many interesting contestants, is that everyone’s really, really, really different. They may have characteristics that seem similar: age, demographic, religious denomination. But at the end of the day, underneath these things that we use to compartmentalize ourselves and each other, everyone’s a really, really complex and specific individual. And when you meet 10,000 people over the course of 10 years, you realize that there’s really 10,000 kinds of people.
Funerals should be able to be as bespoke as everything else in life. And giving people more options will allow them to better express themselves and exhibit the full display of who they are, who they were, who they want to be remembered as.
You know so many influencers, from your time producing reality TV shows, which have become influencer factories over the past couple of years. Could you see yourself partnering with anybody that you've previously worked with from that reality TV connection?
I mean, without saying too much, I think that there is definitely an opportunity to really think about ways to open up the public conversation and create more awareness by tapping into pop culture figures, making them aware of our mission, and bringing them aboard as brand ambassadors. That’s definitely something that I'm interested in. I can’t confirm anything yet. But yeah, I don’t think there's any reason not to.
What kind of person do you feel like would be a good fit? Just somebody who’s experienced death? How would you even go about vetting people for that?
I think what you said is essentially the key. If we're going to engage with someone as a brand ambassador or influencer—casket influencer, I’m not sure that exists yet … I think it’s really about authenticity, and making sure that we’re working only with people who really, really connect with the product and connect with the mission. Though, I think it is people who have probably experienced some kind of loss at some point in their lives, which I think is relatively universal, frankly.
Have you thought about the tone for these marketing efforts at all? I feel like many funeral home advertisements, whether it’s a billboard on the highway or something else, are very serious and sad. Is that sort of the same tone that you are approaching this with in terms of marketing messaging?
There’s no question that there needs to be a certain reverence paid to the topic. But I don’t think it has to only be that. There are ways to talk about death that allow people to not necessarily have to think about it in a very serious way. Going back to the general concept of normalizing conversations about death: Death is very serious, and it's a part of life and not something we should be afraid to talk about. I think the short answer to your question is disparate. I think that there’s a wide variety of tones for a wide variety of audiences. I think that the kinds of people who need caskets are not a monolith. They may all be grieving, but people grieve in different ways. And as a result, I think we want to be able to be a happy home for people who grieve in whatever way they choose to grieve.