What is the Jay Leno brand? As far as I can see, there are two versions, and they couldn’t be more polarized.
First, there’s what I would call “Edgy Jay.” This is the Jay of the late 1970s and 1980s, when he was a refreshing, inventive stand-up comic. A few years ago, I saw this Jay emcee an awards ceremony honoring entrepreneurial companies (including my employer at the time), and he was hysterical. (The big winner that night was the octogenarian ultra-entrepreneur, Jeno Paulucci, who brought his attractive 20-something granddaughters with him. Just before closing the show, Jay said something like, “And girls, don’t forget–After Granddad falls asleep, give my room a call!”) And the other night I saw him on “Real Time with Bill Maher” on HBO, and I found him to be every bit as quick, biting and provocative as Maher.
But then there’s what I’d call “Dull Jay.” This is the dumbed-down Jay Leno who hosted “The Tonight Show” for 18 years, and based on the uninspiring, derivative TV commercials I’ve been seeing lately, this is the Jay who will be hosting “The Jay Leno Show” starting in September. Clearly, this Jay has a very different target audience than “Edgy Jay,” and based on the solid ratings “The Tonight Show” received throughout his tenure, a much larger audience as well.
As you might have guessed, as an audience member–as a consumer–I much prefer “Edgy Jay.” However, as a business person, I understand that “Edgy Jay” is not for everyone, and that there’s a bigger market for “Dull Jay.” Thus, I can’t fault Jay Leno for embracing “Dull Jay” as his primary branding strategy–although I’m pretty sure he doesn’t refer to it using that phrase!
(For what it’s worth, I also suspect that deep down he much prefers being “Edgy Jay” to “Dull Jay,” which may be why he still emcees awards ceremonies or appears on Bill Maher’s show. He just needs to be sure he doesn’t overexpose “Edgy Jay” to his primary target audience, or he could damage his brand equity.)
Your business might have to choose from similar options: Do you pursue a niche strategy that allows you to delight a relatively small segment of the market, or do you go after the mass market with a product or service that is less likely to delight but also less likely to turn people off? The latter might seem like the obvious choice because of the bigger scale, but it also likely means that you’ll face much more competition and need much deeper pockets.
When I worked as a marketing director for the E. & J. Gallo Winery, each year we hired the top graduates of the top school of oenology in the country (UC Davis), and most wine industry observers would tell you that Gallo’s winemakers were unmatched in their expertise. However, Gallo’s goal at the time was to be the biggest winery in the world, which it achieved by formulating and producing wines that appealed to the palates of millions of everyday consumers rather than thousands of wine snobs. Had Gallo wanted to, it could have produced exceptional $300 and $400 bottles of wine, but the market for good-tasting $10 jugs of wine was much more lucrative.
The mass market strategy has proven to be the way to go for Gallo, and for Jay Leno. However, Gallo had tremendous financial resources, and Leno had access to the massive clout of NBC. Without those advantages, you’ll likely find that targeting a niche with an “edgy” approach will have much better odds of success than going after the mass market with a “dull” offering.
So what’s your preference: mass, or class?