Monday 25 February 2019 2:24 pm

This time with Alan Partridge: Lessons from the great man

Follow Katherine Denham
I'm fairly certain that whatever the creators of Alan Partridge intended for him, it wasn’t to provide guidance for businesses.

He has, however, become an unlikely icon, and when he eventually passes to the tiny studio in the sky, he’ll be granted a period of national re-runs.

Many brands also aspire to becoming “iconic”, so Partridge could teach them a thing or two. He may not have planned it that way but, as with so many things, he just can’t help it.

Getting noticed

Watching Partridge is like watching a car crash – uncomfortable but compulsive. He’s a risk, both as a character and a production.

But his success demonstrates that being interesting is better than trying to please everyone.

Brands today face challenges in getting noticed. They exist in our peripheral vision, and now they’re competing for our limited disposable time with Netflix, Fortnite, and Instagram.

So when you’re thinking how to share your new “brand purpose”, remember that the competition includes not just other brands, but a strangely energetic man with flat hair and driving gloves.

Get with the times

Played by Steve Coogan, Partridge has come such a long way since his first appearance in Radio 4’s On The Hour in 1991. But he never stands still, and different writers have been deployed over the years to help the character evolve.

Partridge isn’t Basil Fawlty, who is permanently marooned in the late 70s. Partridge struggles to connect with the times, but the ways in which he struggles are constantly updated.

He’s masterfully multi-format, appearing in every guise from autobiography to Desert Island Discs.


Like a great business, he stays fresh while remaining true to the essential aspects of his personality – insensitivity, self-importance, blaming others, and stating the blindingly obvious.

Are you serious?

This is as much a comment on the BBC, the spiritual home of Partridge, as on the great man himself. In general the British can’t stand people who take themselves too seriously.

So maybe it’s not that surprising that our national broadcaster is unusually willing to create content that brilliantly mocks the conventions of broadcasting.

It’s hard to imagine other broadcasters doing this with such aplomb. And the implication for British brands is to remember the value of being able to laugh at yourself occasionally. This was demonstrated last year when KFC ran adverts branded with “FCK” as an apology for running out of its own key ingredient.

Sweat the small stuff

Business moves fast and there’s pressure on brands to produce timely content which does the job, rather than epic films which take many months to create. Speed often wins over craft.

And yet one of the reasons Partridge works so well is that it’s acutely observed and fabulously crafted. Getting something to look that natural takes a lot of hard work.

So brand owners should remember that there’s also still value in agonising over the precise shade of a pastel polo neck, or the exact degree of wrongness in a slightly offensive metaphor.

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