What Soap Operas Can Teach Modern Brands

Wesley Gottesman
Jan 10, 2020 · 2 min read
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The hottest topic within consumer investing in 2019, was the rise in ad prices on the “duopoly” that is Facebook and Google. In her 2019 Internet Trends report, Mark Meeker called the rise in customer acquisition costs “unsustainable.” Research from 2019, by LiveIntent, showed that CPM rates grew 90% year-over-year on Facebook. These rising costs have led CAC (Customer Acquisition Costs) to not just outpace the contribution from a purchase, but for some, an acquired customer’s entire LTV (lifetime value).

Using Facebook’s ad platform was a big driver behind the consumer brand success stories of the last decade. Companies like Warby Parker launched before Instagram and well before the platform opened itself up to advertisements. It’s not surprising that Warby’s fabled growth using Instagram is quite different than a 2020 concept aiming to be the “Warby Parker of X”.

This brings me to daytime TV dramas, and more importantly, why they are called “soap operas”. In 1932, P&G’s Oxydol laundry soap sponsored “Ma Perkins” a nationally broadcasted, 15-minute serial drama about a widow raising three kids and running a lumberyard. By 1936, the term “soap opera” was used by the Pittsburgh Press to describe the new genre of daytime entertainment sponsored by soap manufacturers. As televisions replaced radio, soap brands shifted underwriting and sponsorships to video production of the content. “The Guiding Light,” started under sponsorship by P&G White Naphtha Soap in 1937, transitioned to TV in 1952 and ran for 72 years (or 18,262 episodes.)

P&G, and other soap manufacturers, understood that to reach their target customers, they needed to talk to customers when and where the customers wanted to have a conversation. In that era, the decision-makers for buying soaps were generally housewives. In order to speak to them, soap manufacturers needed to find their way inside of the home while the housewife was alone and eager to be entertained. So, the daytime drama series, or the “soap opera”, was born.

As companies build marketing plans for 2020, this history can’t be ignored. Companies need to continue to innovate and find channels where their potential customers want to have a conversation about their brand.

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