What Brands Can Learn from Shark Week

Shark Week might have come to and end, but don’t think for a second it’s safe to go back in the water…

Twenty-seven years since Discovery Channel launched its summertime programming schedule dedicated to the king of the sea, Shark Week has evolved into a pop culture phenomenon which we just can’t stop digging our teeth into. Now being broadcast in 72 countries as well as holding the title of longest-running programming event in history, Discovery’s serving of documentaries, B-movies and cinema classics is testament to Shark Week’s achievement of longevity and relevance that brands are always striving for (and that some have already).

So what is the secret behind Shark Week’s success? The answers might be obvious but are ultimately proof that if they can make the world’s most feared animal loved by millions once a year, they can work for anyone..


Everyone loves a bit of an unusual backstory behind their favourite product, especially when they involve bar props…although it’s still unclear exactly how Shark Week came to life, Michael Sorensen, VP of development and production at Discovery, tells us this one: A trio of executives were in a conference room looking at ratings data from the natural history programmess the channel had been running. (Another version of this story places the executives in a, ahem, bar.) “As I heard it, a napkin was passed across a conference table, and there it was… Shark Week.”


What do McDonald’s, Frosties and Churchill Car Insurance have in common? All are fronted by a friendly mascot that helps the consumer relate to the brand (although those with a clown phobia might disagree…).  After enjoying strong ratings for a few years, Shark Week had a similar idea by using its first-ever host in 1994: “Jaws” author Peter Benchley. Though not as cute as talking animals, reputable names in the entertainment industry – such as Mike Rowe, Craig Ferguson and Andy Samberg – have since served as middlemen between the ‘brand’ and the consumer, as well as turning Shark Week into a real event (think awards show) rather than just a column in the TV guide.


Aside from its creamy deliciousness, there is a reason as to why we keep reaching for the Mini Milks when summertime comes rolling… After all, who doesn’t associate the icy treats with family trips to the seaside, hours spent paddling in the pool and neighbourhood BBQs from years ago?

Whatever childhood memory we hold close to our hearts (and taste buds), our association of Mini Milks with childhood British summers has ensured a lifetime of longevity (and profit!) for the Walls product.

According to Sorensen, the one factor that has helped propel Shark Week into its third decade is that the “younger demographic now feels a sense of nostalgia.. Our team at Discovery has two people under 25 who watched the shows with their parents when they were younger.” Some pretty fearless kids they must have been..


Like every brand should be doing to market their product, Discovery Channel has embraced social media and has found “new ways” to make Shark Week even more jaws-ome.. This year it live-tweeted every night from 8 p.m. until midnight, as well as having launched a new SharkWeek.com homepage – a “multi-platform experience” that features 20 live “shark cams” attached to the dorsal fin of a great white shark in the wild.  Now more than ever, innovative use of social media and the web is key for brands to stay relevant with modern-day consumers (more cams please), and it seems that Discovery have got that covered…


Everyone knows that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. And if you still need proof that Shark Week is so big it may have itself already jumped the shark, look no further than Shart Week, Comedy Central’s own weeklong scatological homage, which aired earlier this month.

“That’s when you know you’ve made it,” said Andy Pearson, who has worked on Volkswagen’s sponsorship for Shark Week. So brands, listen up – if you’re considering filing a lawsuit when blatant knock-off versions of your product start hitting the shelves, maybe you should see it as an accomplishment rather than a threat. (Although a few million extra pounds never hurt anyone…)


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