2 min read

The First Reality Show About Corporate Compliance

Typically, I deal with the future of technology, but what about the future of content? Where are our entertainment consumption habits headed? My take on that question is that we’re headed toward more reality TV. Case in point:

Microsoft's compliance training videos have gained a cult following since launching in 2017. 'Trust Code' has inspired watch parties, viral memes, and T-shirts. It was initially planned to run for only two or three years, but the show is now headed into its seventh season. While new employees are not mandated to watch previous seasons, the show's popularity has led to group binge-watching to catch up on early episodes. – Wall Street Journal

Turn training videos into reality TV. What started as Rashelle Tanner’s crazy idea then became the most effective way to teach new hires at Microsoft about corporate compliance.

The fact that people actually care to watch these compliance videos is fascinating. Instead of speaking at the employees, they suck them into storylines with relatable drama and teach through entertainment. Each season is even complete with cliffhangers.

Employees buy into the characters. Specifically, one named Nelson, who faces dilemmas like training an algorithm on sensitive customer information.

The fallibility of Nelson, part of his charm, was a challenge to the show’s writers: Given all the egregious behavior, should Microsoft fire him? Rather than decide, they created confidential employee polls on Yammer, the company’s messaging system.

Once-friendly workers joined warring camps, roughly divided between “#TeamNelson” and “#NelsonMustGo!” said Scott Hanselman, a developer community manager at Microsoft. “You would meet your co-workers and have an argument: ‘You think Nelson should stay? We can’t be friends now,’” he said. – Wall Street Journal

Trust Code is so effective that Rashelle is now doing the same thing at Meta.

Reality TV in Marketing

Beyond training videos, there’s so much potential to be had with reality TV in marketing. That statement may be concerning for you to hear. But it’s such an effective format for creating addictive viewing habits. And marketers show up where there are eyeballs.

When looking for marketing inspiration, I always revisit a case study called The Real Housewives of Tech Marketing. It looks into the nontraditional marketing strategy of Drift, a company that sells conversational marketing technology.

Back in 2018, Drift started producing a formless “reality series” where the subject matter ran parallel to their product, but focused more on everyday life. Through videos, podcasts, and posts, they opened a window into the lives of their employees, customers, and extended community members.

As a result, you might learn what their salespeople ate or how their engineers spent their weekends before hearing about the Drift product.

Their CEO David Gerhard shared his sound reasoning for this risky approach as:

Every sales rep is going to tell me that their thing is faster, it’s better, it’s easier to use, so I don’t know who to trust. So as a company you really only have one choice to compete today. That’s to be real, it’s to be authentic, to be human. – Medium

It may be an old case study, but it’s still very futuristic today.

Marketers haven’t tapped into this interest. They haven’t committed to the reality TV behavior as a real channel. Companies may show up on reality TV in the form of product placement, but they’re not producing their own shows. Yet.

With ad prices rising and ad tracking getting more difficult, it may be cheaper and more effective to create reality shows related to products. The cost to produce content is only decreasing. And reality-esque content is low-effort to produce with high results.

That’s why I believe we’re just seeing the start of reality TV.