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Aziz Ansari’s Simple 30 Second Marketing Trick

Aziz Ansari wasn’t planning to stick around after his show for photos. Most of the people in the packed theater in Washington DC where I saw him perform his Buried Alive Comedy Tour last week probably weren’t expecting that anyway.

Despite social media breaking down virtual barriers to conversations with unreachable people (and Aziz has plenty of them with more than 2 million Twitter followers), in real life – most people understand a level of unapproachability in our celebrities. Aziz can’t give 20,000 people a hug.

When he took the stage last week, though, he started with an unusual request. “They said you can’t take photos or videos – but I know what you’re thinking … if I don’t take a photo – how will people believe I was here?” Sadly true for the generation of oversharers in the audience. So he offered us all a 30 second free pass – to take photos, videos, tweet, Facebook, Foursquare or whatever we wanted.

Of course, hundreds of people in the audience took the opportunity.

More than that, we all felt like we had the chance to break the rules. Giving us permission to share instead of being sneaky made it even more desirable to do – even if it was pretty clear all that sharing actually helps Aziz promote his show. That simple choice reminded me of two lessons we often forget:

1. People want to share experiences – but they feel like doing so may break the rules.

Sometimes you explicitly tell them not to (like in a theater), but more often people assume that sharing may not be allowed and so they don’t do it – or end up sharing in a sneakier and lower quality way. To solve this problem, reconsider whether you actually do need to ban sharing, or if you’re holding onto an outdated policy for tradition’s sake.

2. People love a good cop – as long as there is a bad cop close by.

The real power of Aziz giving us permission to take photos came from the fact that there was someone before him who specifically told us not to do it. Offering a sympathetic alternative to the “don’t do it guy” created a bond with us (the audience). He respected us, and we responded by respecting him back.

So the next time you have an opportunity to invite your customers to share, or ban them from doing it … consider giving them a chance to share. Even if you only have 30 seconds to spare.

9 thoughts on “Aziz Ansari’s Simple 30 Second Marketing Trick”

  1. Hi Rohit, as you mentioned there is plenty at play in Aziz’s tactics and if I may I would like to add a little to your insights and pose some questions. The contrast Aziz was able to draw by following up a command to not take photos, with an invitation to take photos would have jolted the audience. As you say this was only possible because of the command give first (no photos). Without it the contrast would have been lacking and it may have been seen more as a self serving gesture. But with the contrast established, all it would have taken was the motivated few and Social Proof would have taken care of the rest. As soon as one, then some, then more and then many were taking photos this normalised the behaviour and drew the crowd together. Yes it was clever self promotion by Aziz but I wonder if it didn’t have another effect? Did the fact Aziz allowed the crowd into his personal space, create relationship with them, one that had an impact on his comedy routine? By opening the door to take the photos and do a kind deed by the crowd, did this trigger a sense of Reciprocity and therefore make the crowd more receptive to Aziz and as a result were they more forgiving of good but not great jokes as a result? It is amazing what people do intuitively to influence others. If it was deliberate it was clever and as you have blogged about very well received.

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In addition to Non-Obvious Thinking, Rohit is the author of 10 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.

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