Be yourself and stay true
‘This is not going to be one of those thoughtful panels,” CNN anchor Chris Cuomo informed the packed auditorium at the top of yesterday’s hotly anticipated Turner conference, Conan & Shaq: Jacks Of All Trades, Masters Of Some.
He was not wrong — but not entirely right either.
For all the banter, laughter and jokes — and there were a lot, many of them unrepeatable in print — comedian Conan O’Brien and basketball icon Shaquille O’Neal delivered many thoughtful insights into how to create, manage and nurture a personal brand.
“My brand to me is a way to describe myself to people,” said O’Neal, the 7’11” NBA Hall of Famer and Turner basketball analyst, who has sold more than $150m Dunkman sneakers, is an investor in Google and has numerous brand deals. “My brand is 70% humour and 10% inspiration, and the rest is about the products I’m selling. I try to make people laugh as much as possible, but I always try to say and do the right thing.”
Conan was “thrust into social media” in 2010, when he moved from NBC to host his hit talk show Conan, now in its eighth season on TBS. “Being myself and being as honest as possible with my viewers and fans is what works the best on the internet and seems to resonate the most,” he said. With branded content, he added, it’s always about being funny and never about the money: “Making money at the expenses of our fans would hurt us badly.”
It is clearly a formula that works: Universal Picture’s Conan Remote branded online clips, Ride Along 1 and Ride Along 2 With Kevin Hart And Ice Cube, generated a total of 100 million views across all platforms.
As to what makes a clip go viral, O’Neal said it was totally unpredictable. “And some things go viral that really shouldn’t,” he observed.
Conan agreed: “I never set out to make something go viral. I have the Field Of Dreams philosophy, which is to build it and hope they’ll come. If they do, they do, but you can’t go chasing them. You just have make stuff you think is funny and then you may be pleasantly surprised.”
In terms of message, O’Neal said he avoids politics and keeps his jokes “light and tasteful”. He added: “There are lots of positive and negatives that come out of being a celebrity. I describe myself as a ‘real model’ rather than ‘role model’ because, if you look in the dictionary, role means playing a part. I don’t want to play a part for people. I want to be myself and stay true. The one thing people can always sniff out is if you’re not being authentic.”