9 things every online brand could learn from The Wire

Did you know that there are a number of prescient parallels between the world of online marketing and the bloody streets of David Simon's Baltimore?
 
I’ve listed some of them. Some are more tenuous than others. 
 
WARNING: May contain (starred-out) F-bombs, spoilers and Baltimore vernacular: 

"Pawns, they get capped quick. They're out of the game early. Unless they some smart-ass pawns” – D’angelo Barksdale / Bodie 

 
The beauty of the internet is that smaller businesses can compete with the big boys. With a little knowhow and the right strategy, you can steal some market share off those with more established brands and more substantial budgets.   
 
But you’ve got to be a smart-ass pawn. 

“Deserve ain’t got nothing to do with it” – Snoop 

 
Online marketing can be a changeable, sometimes unfair, game. Sometimes, you put all the work in, build your links the right way, grow your brand organically and you’re still outranked for an important keyword by an undeserving rival. 
 
Sometimes, life isn’t fair. Happily, this isn’t Baltimore and you haven’t just been shot dead and boarded up in a derelict home in the projects. Pick yourself up and start again. 

"No offense, son, but that's some weak-ass thinking. You equivocating like a motherf*****"- Bubbles

 
equivocate (ɪˈkwɪvəˌkeɪt) – verb 
1. (intr) to use vague or ambiguous language, esp in order to avoid speaking directly or honestly. 
 
Poor smack-addled Bubbz had it right, bless his heart. Users value honesty. They don’t like vague semantics or corporate buzzwords – or when you just talk about yourself all the time.

Don't equivocate, for Pete's sake. Use your copy to speak to them honestly in a way that they understand.  
 

“All the pieces matter” – Lester Freamon 

 
Detective Lester Freamon, with his “brash, tweedy impertinence”, knew his way around a murder case – and also proved adept at building tiny furniture for doll houses.

Furthermore, he could be an advocate for a multi-channel approach to online marketing.
 
Investing in content? You need tried and tested- conversion optimisation methods. Aiming to improve organic results? They’ll be more effective paired with PPC. Ramping up your online PR? It won’t hit home without social. 
 
All the pieces matter. 
 

“If I hear the music, I’m gon’ dance” – Kima Greggs 

 
I know, as you do, that a lot’s changed in digital over 10 years. In this industry, nothing’s the same for very long. 
 
The decade’s most successful agencies have been the most flexible agencies. If customers’ behaviours adapt, we adapt to them. Or if Google changes its tune, we just have to change the way we’re dancing. It’s what we do. 
 

“The thing about the old days, they the old days” – Slim Charles

 
And if you don’t adapt with the times, you’ll be left behind.  Your techniques may have got you results 6, 12 or 24 months ago, but are they working today?

“This sentimental motherf***** just cost us money.” – Clinton ‘Shorty’ Buise



On a similar note, just like Baltimore, digital marketing has no place for sentimentality.

Only forward-thinking brands, thinking analytically with the best strategies will bring home the bacon.  
 

“The world is a smaller place now” – The Greek 

 
This small old moustached man was an unlikely head of a multinational criminal organisation. And although he wasn’t talking about the internet, he might well have been. 
 
There are more relevant customers and communities available to businesses than ever before. 

“The Gods will not save you” – Ervin Burrell 

The Wire is classic Greek Tragedy. By the end of its final season, 99% of its characters end up (at best) powerlessly trapped in straightened circumstances or (at worst) dead, incarcerated or disgraced. 
 
Drug dealers, policemen, politicians, schoolchildren and journalists must play along with The Gods, or end up the worse for wear. 
 
Thankfully, working in an online agency isn’t that depressing. But our Falling Foul of Google series shows that, regardless of your brand’s size and renown, there are rules that every brand must abide by. And if you don’t you’ll be punished. 

All images courtesy of HBO. 
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