What Tina Fey Can Teach You About AdWords

A 50-year-old comedy and improv school/theater in Chicago called The Second City has produced an alumni list consisting of many of the world’s most talented and successful comics.

improv is like adwordsA short list would include Tina Fey, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carrell, Amy Poehler, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, John Candy, Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Joan Rivers, Eugene Levy, Harold Ramis, and Dan Castellaneta. Doh!

The Second City: Testing Ground and Launch Pad

Tina Fey wrote about her experiences with The Second City in her book Bossypants:

“[Second City] was like a cult. People ate, slept, and definitely drank improv. They worked at crappy jobs just to hand over their money for improv classes… In the touring company we were paid seventy-five dollars per show plus twenty-five dollars per diem…”

The touring companies play for post-high-school prom shows, drunken college audiences, charity auctions, corporate meetings devoted to telling employees that their health benefits have just been slashed, and lots of other rough crowds. After months of this, the best performers are invited to join one of the main companies and earn a living wage and get noticed.

From there, the best writers, directors and actors get snatched up by Saturday Night Live, the Daily Show, Conan, or they go to Hollywood to make funny movies. It’s understood that anyone who survives The Second City gauntlet is just THAT GOOD.

So what can The Second City teach us about AdWords?

Three things:

  1. Just as The Second City touring gigs were the hardest places to get laughs, AdWords is one of the hardest places to compete for customers.
  2. The Second City and AdWords are both the best places to develop your A game.
  3. Once you’ve made it with The Second City and AdWords, your success is virtually guaranteed in every other relevant medium.

The Second City, like AdWords, is a testing ground and launch pad. Nobody aspired to a career whose pinnacle was Second City’s Mainstage Company. For that matter, Saturday Night Live was itself considered a launching pad for movie careers and not an end in itself.

AdWords is also a Testing Ground and Launch Pad

But here’s the crazy thing: most people treat AdWords as if that’s all there is. Readers ask me all the time, “How can I make enough money with AdWords to make a million dollars a year?” Or whatever number fits their vision of having “made it.”

Yes, it’s possible to make a lot of money using AdWords. But two things are true for every business that does that successfully:

  1. They use AdWords traffic to systematically and obsessively test, refine, and improve their marketing.
  2. They can multiple their AdWords profits by 1000-100,000% by leveraging their AdWords experience into other media.

And those two things are true of many successful businesses that don’t make their fortune on AdWords, but by leveraging their AdWords tests into a marketing machine everywhere else.

In marketing and in comedy, creative improv plus rigorous testing is an unstoppable formula. In a future blog post, I’ll share how to map the improv process onto AdWords. Right now, I’ll leave you with this video of Tina Fey’s early years at The Second City. See how many correlations you can make between comedy and AdWords:


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4 Comments. Leave a comment or send a Trackback.
  1. #1 • Gemma Laming said on June 30 2011:

    Has nobody made the connection, or are they just keeping quiet?

  2. #2 • Howie Jacobson said on June 30 2011:

    Not sure. What are your thoughts, Gemma?

  3. #3 • Gemma Laming said on June 30 2011:

    Hi Howie
    there are people who make comments, like me. Then there are those who keep quiet, the sort who keep their cards close to their chests.

    Then there are those who haven’t a clue what you are on about. I am guessing 60% of those reading your article won’t get it. Then there are those who get it but don’t say because they are just too sharp …

    You do have some great stuff on your blog, thanks :-) If you keep track of my websites, you will see the difference in the coming weeks. To be quite honest I had not expected it to find the exposure it did. Now that it has, I have to up my game a little! Gem x

  4. #4 • Scott said on July 5 2011:

    I do not know if I have a clue what Howie is really talking about but, even if I am wrong I think I get more out of his thoughts than I do from alot of other blogs.

    Keep it up Howie and I will keep reading.