To no one’s surprise, Ted Lasso, nominated for 13 Emmy Awards, won 4 on Sunday night, including Best Comedy Series. Way to go. Well done. And well deserved, considering the show is a feel-good, optimistic and uncynical escape from a still-raging pandemic, an all too fragile climate, tattered race relations and unhealthy political division. With all that going on, who doesn’t need a little Ted Lasso in their lives?
We, as advertisers, are just the people to put Ted Lasso in everyone’s life. Because he will be all over ours. In our offices, on our phone calls, brainstorming sessions, documents and briefs. The tone of every campaign. The personification of every brand. I can see it now. Products wanting to be the “Ted Lasso of the ketchup category.” Ted Lasso in everything from cereal to life insurance.
“Think of us as Ted Lasso when everyone else in the category is Roy Kent.”
“Our tone is more Ted Lasso than … insert anyone who is not Ted Lasso here.”
Or maybe it’s a new audience segment: “The Ted Lassos.” Suburban. M/F. 35-55. Loves life, baking and open to new things. Ted Lasso, coming to a boardroom or Zoom near you.
Please, I beg of you, not so fast.
Let’s not jump on this trend like we did “real people, not actors,” the word “disruption” or pretty much every viral video on YouTube. Before we insert Ted Lasso into every brief, campaign, audience, tone or product, let’s think about what really makes him so admirable.
WARNING: Spoilers to come. If you must stop reading, I thank you for your time. But if you continue reading, you can now spoil it for others. So un-Ted Lasso of you.
At the end of Episode 6, Ted must abruptly leave the pitch in the middle of a match. He says it’s food poisoning, but we know it’s not. Now we must learn what’s wrong with the happy-go-lucky Ted.
It takes two episodes to find out. He’s on the couch. He’s off the couch. In the team doctor’s office. Storming out of the team doctor’s office. He’s even questioning the entire profession of psychotherapy. And like the team doctor, we all are frustratingly curious, yelling at the screen, “TELL US ALREADY. WHAT’S WRONG WITH TED?”
At the beginning of Episode 8, the team doctor says to a colleague, “He refuses to open up, and when he gets anywhere close to being vulnerable, he fires off a zinger or some obscure reference to something very specific to a 40-year-old white man from middle America.” Funny but also revealing. It peels back a very important layer to the Ted Lasso we all know and love. Ted deflects. He has mental health issues and is uncomfortable expressing them. How relevant in today’s corporate climate.
At the end of the episode, we finally hear what’s ailing Ted. He admits that his father committed suicide. At that moment, Ted is not just an optimistic, pun-loving, good guy. He’s an honest, vulnerable person with emotional baggage.
And now we go backwards, piecing together aspects of his character as the parts of Ted we had earlier glossed over now become even more present. He’s divorced. His only communication with his only child is over FaceTime. He’s alone in a sparsely decorated apartment. He drinks mostly by himself. He’s a stranger in a strange town where an entire stadium calls him a “wanker” in unison. The only thing separating this man from basically every character played by Nick Nolte is a southern accent and a cute moustache.
This is the Ted Lasso we should all be honoring, the one brands should be talking about in their briefs. The honest, authentic Ted Lasso. The vulnerable one. The one who doesn’t overpromise and isn’t one dimensional.
How refreshing would it be for a brand to admit limitation? Or to not promise perfection? How refreshing would “an emotional connection” with our consumer be if it included all emotions? Advertising is built on happiness — a better life through this or that. But what if in today’s changing culture, advertising creates relatability not by overpromising, but through depth of character? The desire to connect versus simply sell.
I’m not suggesting brands tell you they don’t work, or they’ll turn your teeth green. But maybe they find their own paths to acceptance by each finding a true connection with their consumers on multiple levels. No more “single most compelling point,” but rather a compelling personality. Not a barrage of claims, but a steady stream of truth and values.
We can’t put Ted Lasso in our briefs if we’re only using the Ted Lasso who’s convenient for us. That shortchanges the intent of the character and perhaps the principles of the brands we represent. We can relate by being funny, entertaining, optimistic, and emotional but also honest and vulnerable; showing the entire package, not just the “new and improved” side.
We know this can succeed. Ted Lasso has already proven that.
Bobby Hershfield is chief creative officer at VIA.