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What Gary from Veep Can Teach You about the Future of Marketing

Are you a Veep fan? If not, you should be, as this is the show that will teach you everything you need to know about the next trillion-dollar idea in marketing and technology. Or something like that.

The polished, edited version is in Ad Age. My draft is below for your reading pleasure.

Why Garyoke is Marketing&;s Holy Grail

If you’re an HBO subscriber or pirate, then you may enjoy watching one show because of how it depicts one awkward nerd’s attempt to change the world with a billion-dollar idea. That show, of course, is “Veep,” and the nerd is Gary, played by Tony Hale. What, you thought it’s “Silicon Valley”?

“Veep” shows the real vision, and Gary embodies the dream of so many entrepreneurs and venture capitalists right now. Gary is the title character’s body man, the one who has everything for the Vice President the moment she needs it. What’s most impressive about him, though, is his memory. He knows at least some salient information about everyone his boss has ever met or could meet. Just as she makes eye contact with another person and needs to greet them, Gary literally whispers their name and their most important personal or professional details into the Vice President’s ear. It’s a game affectionately or mockingly dubbed “Garyoke.”

Don’t mock Garyoke. The most literal embodiment of Gary-oke today is Google. Most importantly, it’s where Google is going, not what Google has been. If Google continues to be one of the world’s successful companies into the 2020s, it’s because it will have mastered Garyoke.

For Google, search may keep bringing in revenue, but it’s a dated model. Every time someone enters a search query, it’s a technological failure. If Google and other tech and media companies were that impressive, they would deliver information before anyone has to ask for it. If I’m searching for Mother’s Day gifts, it’s because I didn’t receive any gift recommendations via email, ads, app alerts, or my friends on Snapchat. If I’m searching for information stroller-friendly museums in New York City, it’s because no one picked up on my shifts in digital behavior that give away that I’m a father on paternity leave. Most searches can be prevented.

Google gets this. That’s why Google Now proactively offers traffic conditions, sports scores, package tracking, and other relevant updates. This is also the promise of wearable displays such as Google Glass, although the technology falls short today. People already search less on mobile devices than on PCs, and Google is so open to disrupting itself that it is trying to obviate searching further.

This isn’t just about Google though. Practically every tech and media company is trying to master Garyoke. Whether the company’s buzzwords involve social, mobile, real-time, native, programmatic, or wearable, some version of Garyoke is the goal.

What determines who wins Garyoke? Here are the three areas where Gary shines, and where his corporate disciples must excel too:

  • Timing: Information received late is useless, but deliver information too soon and there’s the risk of irrelevance or creepiness. Gary knows that his boss can’t focus on anything until the moment when she is forced to deal with it, so he dishes out the Garyoke just before she’d get that deer in the headlights look.
  • Context: What kind of information matters? That’s the pitfall of big data; usually, just a few data points matter at any given moment, but it’s hard to know which ones matter unless one has access to a massive amount of data to begin with. Gary is masterful here too. If there’s a Congressman approaching who’s unhappy with proposed legislation, Gary lets her know which bill the Congressman will argue about. If it’s a dignitary approaching her on a receiving line, Gary lets her know about the dignitary’s family or hobbies. Context also shifts based on who needs information. If Gary, heaven forbid, ever quit his job and worked for the minority whip, the new boss would prioritize different kinds of data.
  • Accuracy: The quality of the information is essential. Gary has to be perfect, or his boss won’t trust him. Consumers may be more tolerant of error than the fictional Vice President, but technological Garyoke will only be ready when it’s precise. If I am at the same Internet Week event as you, and an app gives you intelligence on people there with whom you share mutual connections, then the app better be telling you about an agency executive and not a serial killer, or it will make for an awkward conversation (more awkward for you than me; I hear it all the time).

Which companies will master Gary-oke? Beyond Google, many are trying to harness enough social, geographical, personal, commercial, behavioral, and contextual data to make it possible. Foursquare wants to predict which nearby destination you’ll visit or want to visit. Buzzfeed wants to clue you in on what everyone else will soon be talking about. The most successful ad networks will need to more effectively predict your intent. Some apps take a more literal approach, such as Refresh and Tempo syncing with your phone’s calendar to deliver details about people you will soon meet with.

On “Veep,” Gary isn’t always appreciated, and it’s easy to make fun of him. But he’s the only irreplaceable member of the vice president’s staff. That dependability is invaluable, and it’s why any company that masters Garyoke will have staying power.




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