When a Brand Enjoys a Deep Connection with Customers, Scandal Can Be Survived
Here’s a brand strategy example of when the foundational identity of a brand is called into question. The Try Guys, owners of 2nd Try LLC, faced this challenge very publicly in September 2022. While they faced backlash from legacy media players like the New York Times and Saturday Night Live, ultimately their response resonated with their young fanbase, showing an innovative approach to brand strategy for a media company.
Historical Brand Strategy Example:
Background on The Try Guys
The Try Guys (Keith Habersberger, Ned Fulmer, Zach Kornfeld, and Eugene Lee Yang) came together when they were employees at BuzzFeed, filming a video series of the same name. The series involved the mostly straight group of “guys” trying traditionally feminine or LGBT-coded activities, as well as activities that were simply zany or entertaining. This proved to be one of BuzzFeed’s most viral concepts: if you sort all BuzzFeed Youtube videos by “most popular,” three of the top 15 videos are “Try Guys” videos, with the most popular being “The Try Guys Try Drag For The First Time,” which has 38 million views.
Part of the appeal of this wildly successful group was the relatability of the “guys.” Habersberger, Fulmer, and Kornfeld focused on appearing ‘non-toxic’ and ‘generic,’ while Yang (not out as gay in the BuzzFeed era) explored his Asian identity and his more ambiguous relationship to gender. Notably, even during the BuzzFeed days, Ned Fulmer’s online persona was centered on his love and devotion to his wife and children.
Brand Strategy Example:
The Guys Branch Out
In 2018, the group decided to leverage their reputation and brand image to form a new media production company, 2nd Try LLC, which continued to film “Try Guys” videos. Needless to say, this company was made possible by the fact that the group had an existing brand image and fanbase, which would continue to follow their content. Indeed, the new content maintains a consistent brand image with the old content: you can see it even in the titles of their videos. Compare the BuzzFeed-era title “The Try Guys Try Drag For The First Time” to one of their most popular independent videos “The Try Guys Bake Pie Without A Recipe” in both instances, the articles “The” and “A” are capitalized, which is unusual. Even the way they capitalized their titles reflected a consistent brand image, and the maintenance of the BuzzFeed-era brand-image characterized the Second Try brand strategy.
Brand Strategy Example:
A Scandal and a Strategic Response
In September of 2022, it came to light that Ned Fulmer had been sexually involved with one of his employees at 2nd Try, who was also onscreen talent. While the scandal broke in late September, the other members of the company became aware of the situation in early September. The scandal posed two major problems for 2nd Try, especially in light of their relatable brand image:
- Fulmer’s choice to sleep with an employee exposed the company to lawsuits
- Fulmer’s reputation was a key part of the Try Guys brand strategy
The news of the affair was particularly shocking in the face of the image that Fulmer had been cultivating for years as a “wife-guy,” and in the face of the Try Guys’ broader image as socially liberal and progressive people. In a post Me-Too era, the scandal was not primarily problematic as an affair, but as an HR issue. Younger Millenials and Gen Z are more concerned with sexual harassment in the workplace. For the Try Guys’ core audience, HR is an important part of brand image.
In a video titled “what happened.” Kornfeld, Yang, and Habersberger (the remaining three Try Guys) responded to the scandal. Notably, their focus throughout the video was on the HR aspect of the issue, and on the way that they did not approve of employers sleeping with their subordinates in 2nd Try LLC. As mashable.com puts it:
“This isn’t an infidelity scandal. While shocking, Ned having an affair isn’t grounds for removing him from the company; but this was clear workplace violation, and in the Try Guys taking such a public stance against his conduct and swiftly severing ties professionally, they put their employees [first] and demonstrated how workplace misconduct should be handled.”
We can see this orientation in the “what happened” video. Yang notes that when they learned of the scandal, they began:
“a three-week process of engaging with employment lawyers, corporate lawyers, HR, PR, and more, in order to make sure we were taking all necessary steps. From the jump, we were acutely aware of just how contrary this was to the values of the company we’ve built and everyone who works here.”
A Brand Strategy Example of Rebranding after Scandal
As a brand strategy example, The Try Guys’ rebranding in the face of this scandal has been an attempt to maintain some continuity, while drawing a line between “now” and “then.”
Note the new punctuation style of the video: this lowercase style may be their new image going forward, though some of their most recent videos have returned to using capital letters. Kornfeld closes the video by saying,
“We look forward to introducing you to the next era of The Try Guys ahead.”
At the same time, note Yang’s insistence that Fulmer’s actions were “contrary” to “the values of the company we’ve built.” He is attempting to argue that their response to the scandal is truly reflective of their brand, which has always opposed harassment in the workplace.
Posed with a threat to their brand, The Try Guys are attempting to use a scandal to move their content in new directions creatively, while at the same time reaffirming their previous values, an important part of their brand image.
This is a brand strategy example that resonates with their fanbase: while it is hard to assess the effects of the scandal so soon, the view counts on their recent videos seem just as high as those before the scandal, and they have retained almost 4,000 supporters on Patreon (having had about 4,200 at their peak).
Backlash to the Backlash: Brand Strategy Example in the Internet Era
One aspect of the scandal that was unique to the internet era was its virality, a feature that provoked comment from institutions as various as the New York Times and Saturday Night Live.
For example, the week the scandal broke, SNL released a sketch parodying the “what happened” video. The sketch rightfully pokes fun at an internet culture obsessed with minor celebrity, but ultimately falls somewhat flat when it frames the scandal as one that is primarily about cheating. As we saw above, The Try Guys framed their choice to fire Fulmer mostly as a legal and HR matter, to protect their company from liability. It was also a savvy move in terms of brand strategy, because their audience values good corporate HR practices.
In an era of, as internet comedian Bo Burnham puts it, “backlash to the backlash to the thing that’s just begun,” the Atlantic quickly published an article criticizing the SNL sketch. The Try Guys have remained active on social media, responding to all of these twists and turns, another aspect of this brand strategy example called forth in the internet era. They must now respond to the backlash to the backlash.
Regardless, it seems that The Try Guys understand their customers much better than some of these older companies and groups. In brand strategy, it is crucial to keep customer segmentation in mind. Whether or not we agree with the values being heralded by Millenials and Gen Z, nonetheless they are a reality.
More Brand Strategy Examples from Insight to Action
The Insight to Action resources page offers more brand strategy examples, market positioning strategies, customer segmentation templates, and more. Regular updates are also available via our newsletter. Finally, you can speak to a member of our team about these topics during our office hours. If you face a scandal, a good brand strategy can turn a lemon into lemonade.