Jerry Lewis: The World's First Social Media Icon
by Josh Amidon
This past week, we lost Jerry Lewis. The man was a comic legend, yes, but what we don’t give him credit for is being the world’s first social media marketer. Sounds odd, but for 44 years, this man mastered social media before it was technically created. That’s right, every social media marketer (including myself) is just copying what Jerry trademarked about a half century ago.
The only difference? We’re doing it on a computer screen and Jerry did it on the “original” social media venue – TV.
Consider these five lessons.
- Create Own-able, Original Content. Jerry was NOT the first person in history to think about doing a telethon, but he branded his Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon and put his own lovingly cheesy spin on it. Jerry consistently used original content to claim significant year-round mind space and to drive his brand messaging. There were thousands of charities and thousands of celebrity do-gooders, but for decades Jerry Lewis had top-of-mind exposure as the best.
- Make a Personal Connection. We all genuinely knew Jerry. He was a part of every American’s life since the 1950s. But even before Facebook or Twitter Jerry was engaging us by leveraging his comedy antics and by singing those signature songs – “Smile”, “What the World Needs Now” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Jerry understood, maybe better than anyone, people buy people. He used emotion, humor, shtick, flattery and frank talk to connect with different audience segments.
- Persistent Positioning. Jerry staked out a position (Labor Day) and for 44 years delivered on it and raised more than $2.4 billion to fight muscular diseases. Jerry owned Labor Day. He positioned himself, planted his flag and stuck to it. Marketing fads come and go but audiences crave the familiar.
- When You Screw Up, Apologize. Jerry was an edgy comedian. Every once and a while he stepped over the line and went too far in efforts to evoke that human emotion we talked about before. In 2007, he made a joke during his telethon that many people found to be mean spirited, a slur and just too far over the line. Jerry came out, offered a heart-felt apology live on-air and the world moved on.
- Network Your Networks. Jerry and MDA put together an incredibly potent series of partnerships and alliances that consistently deliver results. The lesson is – connect the dots. Use your networks to extend your reach, frequency and engage with your customer base. Don’t be bashful about mashing things together or cross-pollinating ideas among your allies.
So there you have it, that’s my argument on how Jerry Lewis became the worlds first social media marketer (even before Mark Zuckerberg was born). Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org if you think it holds water or doesn’t.