Ellen DeGeneres: The Personal Branding Model of the Century
When it comes to daytime television, there’s no name that stands out to me more than Ellen DeGeneres. From her bright, engaging eyes to the vibrancy evoked through her personality, she has exactly what it takes to sit on the throne of daytime television (and believe me she’s SITTING STRONG).
Let’s take a brief look into her Hollywood history:
Planting the seeds of her career in stand-up comedy, Ellen got her start performing in clubs, comedy houses, and just about any quaint little space she could. After years of touring and performing, she’d firmly established her name in the industry and built up a strong enough network of people to introduce her to opportunities in the mainstream entertainment industry. She guest starred on a variety of television programs before landing her own sitcom in 1994: Ellen. It’s here when life and fame really threw her for a loop.
Now I’d just like to say, that Ellen DeGeneres “Broke the Television” way before Kim Kardashian was even old enough to concoct her plans to “Break the Internet” (she also foreshadowed quite a lot of the current internet trends we know of today, but we’ll discuss that later). In the fourth season of her fictional sitcom series Ellen, it was revealed that the title character (also played by DeGeneres) was gay in the infamous “puppy episode”. Ellen herself came out immediately before the episode in an interview on the Oprah Winfrey Show (the former queen of daytime). She made the history books, becoming the first openly gay woman playing an openly gay character on TV. The ideologies of what sexualities were “generally acceptable” in society were very different during this time to say the least and ratings/support for her show began to plummet. JC Penney, one of her big sponsors at the time, actually pulled their support from her due to pressures from their large devout Christian customer base (I was SHOCKED to read this; Imagine if something like this happened now?) Ellen ran for a fifth season but was then cancelled due to fluctuating support. She launched another sitcom in 2001 titled The Ellen Show that was cancelled after its first season as it failed to generate as much attention as it wished too. DeGeneres faced a few tough years of unemployment before finding her niche in daytime television with the launch of The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2003.
You can read more about Ellen’s story and struggles here:
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Now this article isn’t going to be speaking about Ellen’s rise to fame, but rather, the way she’s used the experiences and struggles she’s gone through over the years to build her personal brand to the superstar level it’s at today while always remaining true to herself. After analyzing Ms. DeGeneres’ talk show and other brand platforms over the years, I’ve noticed a few trends.
- Ellen always capitalizes on the hype of the moment
As a staple to The Ellen DeGeneres Show’s content design, Ellen always manages to snag one of the first interviews and/or public appearances of the most recent online viral stars. From Sophia Grace and Rosie, the little pink tutu-wearing dancing girls with a love for Nicki Minaj and a super talented young vocalist, to Alex from target, a short-lived internet meme about an attractive looking part-time employee, and most recently, Lil Hank Williams, the infamous 2018 Walmart yodel boy. She also invites any popular celebrities of the moment to join her and speak about their rise in popularity. For example, after Canada’s winter Olympian sweethearts Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir stole the world’s hearts in the gold medal ice skating performance in Pyeongchang this winter, she hosted them on her show.
By doing this, Ellen drives the viral attention back to her show, increasing viewership and attracting new eyes that might stay to watch the rest of the content she offers. Since she’d become known for doing this over the last few years, people have begun to expect these appearances from her show and anticipate these episodes to find out more news from viral stars. She posts her interviews on her YouTube page and capitalizes on “clickbait culture” without the use of hyperbolic titles, but rather, by hosting the viral clickbait in her shows. By firmly attaching her name to the Internet “hype”, she increases her viewership and ratings whenever the Internet establishes a new fad to obsess over. This has made her personal brand a permanent part of the “cool crowd” in the rapidly changing online social environment.
Ellen’s use of momentum in this way remains true to the older versions of her personal brand. By coming out as lesbian through her character on Ellen and making television history during the time period that she did, she knew she was bound to create a lot of buzz around her name. Whether or not she knew the buzz would be so negative in nature is debatable. She even admitted in her interview with Oprah “I knew it would be big, but I had no idea it would be this big.” Based on her experience in the industry, she definitely chose to come out in the way that she did to make a statement and garner more attention to her sitcom show and ultimately, more attention to her brand.
Ellen has always capitalized on the moments she’s in. Whether they were good or bad, she found ways to grab the people’s attention and keep it. Yet another example of her ability to foreshadow future trends: Ellen foreshadowed “clickbait” waaaayyy before this Internet culture term existed by creating it throughout her work.
2) She steers clear of controversy on her show and in her life and only features content relevant to her personal brand
Unlike her Queen of Daytime Television predecessor Oprah Winfrey, Ellen has kept her daytime talk show purposely free of potentially controversial topics. She intentionally opts to feature more positive, heart warming segments in her shows. Viral videos can be positive AND negative in nature (need I remind you of Logan Paul’s viral disaster when he posted a video with a thumbnail featuring the image of a deceased while in Japan). Ellen carefully selects the less problematic fads to feature on her show, which has effectively kept her brand image on a positive level with her audience.
She rarely comments on political issues and other popular news media topics unless they relate to the LGBT Community. This helps solidify her brand since much of her image is rooted in her sexuality because of to the historical way she came out to the world. Even these segments are delivered in a more light-hearted way on her show. Ellen hosted Caitlyn Jenner in Jenner’s first talk show appearance since she revealed her new transgender appearance. During this segment, the two also welcomed a young transgender girl named Blossom Brown onto the show. Caitlyn had vowed on her own television series to help her achieve her dreams of attending nursing school. On the show, she stated she’d applied 8 times to different schools but never got in because of her transgender status. Ellen and Caitlyn then awarded the young lady with a $20,000.00 cheque to help her in her school search. Ellen incorporates social responsibility segments into her show on a regular basis, which helps strengthen her brand’s sense of community. By regularly creating and posting nonthreatening and apolitical content, The Ellen DeGeneres Show appeals to a broader customer base. Without a definitive bias in her persona, she avoids controversy with her brand and maintains a safe reputation within the industry.
We all know the list of things that people get offended by in 2018 is LOOONG and seems to be increasing everyday. Over her career, Ellen’s maintained a fairly consistent reputation of being non-controversial and confrontational (Yet ANOTHER example of her psychic foreshadowing abilities).
3) She maintains a genuine and relatable public persona
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, there’s just something about Ellen that keeps me engaged. When I researched further into this feeling, I found out that I’m not the only one. Ellen has maintained a very down-to-earth persona in the public over the years which has kept her fans by her side. She doesn’t try to pretend she’s perfect; she’s awkward sometimes and she totally embraces it! She lets her guests do most of the speaking on her show and often plans out cute pranks on them to lighten the “professionalism” of their interview situation. Her tweets are often sarcastic/comedic in nature and her social pages are often FILLED with cute baby/animal memes. Through all of this, Ellen has proved to us that she’s exactly like us. She’s an awkward, sarcastic, meme-obsessed 21st century woman navigating the precarious waters of the modern media industry just like everyone else (well, I guess to an extent with the “media industry” reference). Her drama-free, light-hearted personality appeals to a large audience and makes her content enjoyable to all.
4) She makes frequent and effective use of her social media platforms
Ellen is fully versed in the social media platforms and all relevant trends of the current day. She has leveraged them for all they’re worth to further the reach and strengthen the messages of her personal brand. As of creating this post, Ellen has:
77.7 million followers on Twitter with 16.5K tweets since August 2008
29.6 million likes on Facebook
52.3 million followers on Instagram with 6069 posts
24.5 million subscribers on YouTube with many videos averaging over a million views
Ellen’s digital popularity also allowed her to launch her own online platform in partnership with Warner Brothers entitled “The Ellen Network” in 2016. This includes her own website: ellentube
Her twitter is filled with a mix of sarcastic comments, genuine conversational tweets to (or @) celebrities, and meme/video content that often links over to the other platforms she’s on. By doing this, she capitalizes on the reach she gets on twitter and hopes to encourage people to engage with her content on multiple platforms, capitalizing on their curious clicks. Her Facebook follows a similar pattern, with YouTube and ellentube videos taking precedence over other content.
Ellen’s Instagram is particularly unique, with a mix of content related to her show as well as a plethora of memes and other comedic/relatable content that helps enhance her image. It’s much more like a personal newsfeed than other celebrities of her kind.
This brings me to her digital network. When it launched, Ellen announced she wished for it to focus on “snack-sized entertainment”. It would (and has been) run by user-generated, sponsored, and short-video gaming types of content that fits the comedic and fun loving image Ellen has cultivated for herself over the years. It has become an increasingly wide reaching platform over the years.
In 2014, Ellen achieved a whopping 103 million total interactions on Facebook. Her 2015, totally not planned (*cough cough*), Samsung Oscar Twitter selfie broke the internet yet again (Sorry Kim!) with over 2.4 million retweets by the following Monday morning and over 3.3 million today. I propose her marketing success has been a result of her effective use of momentum, unbiased and uplifting content, and her effective digital strategy.
Ellen remains a household name and will continue to do so if she continues to strengthen her digital presence and innovate her brand. Her branding strategy offers comprehensive insight to new influencers who wish to develop a wholesome online persona. Be on the lookout for her future-predicting cues; She definitely knows what she’s doing!!
For more information on Ellen’s brand strategy, please view the following references: