Authenticity in Branding: John Green

Photo Credit: Facebook.com/JohnGreenfans

Photo Credit: Facebook.com/JohnGreenfans

You might know John Green’s name because of his novel-turned-movie, The Fault in Our Stars, but I know his name because my husband and I sometimes watch his nerdtastic YouTube channel CrashCourse.

Fast Company ran a story on Green in its June 2014 issue, and one thing stood out to more than anything else in the story: John Green is hella authentic.

I’ve long held that well-developed brands are much like kickass people: They have many different attributes (dimensions) that are woven together into their identity.

Some of the most interesting people and brands are the ones that have seemingly contradictory attributes. John Green, for instance, is a history nerd who’s now famous for the movie based on his book (which, as far as I know, has nothing to do with world history).

When they’re authentic, those near-contradictions have a depth and a surprise factor that audiences appreciate — especially when they’re smart audiences who are looking for something with some layers to peel back.

When those near-contradictions are forced, though, audiences see right through them. Nobody wants to be manipulated by a big brand, corporate or personal.

The thing (okay, one of the many things) that John Green does right is that he’s incredibly real. The FastCo interview, which I recommend you check out here, is fundamentally about audience development. Green’s comfort in his own witty, crazy-smart skin is endearing, and all of his brand metrics reflect that his genuineness is part of his success building a true, dedicated following.*

From his Crash Course videos to The Fault in Our Stars to the new PBS.com art show he’s made with his wife, to his relationship with his fan club of Nerdfighters, John Green is brilliant without alienating average viewers/readers. He’s honest about who he is, and people like that about him.

Can you relate? Of course. That’s why more than 1.5 billion people have watched CrashCourse videos.

Is there a time and place for fakeness in branding? Sure. A lot of people enjoy the escape of watching reality T.V. or of following pop stars in tabloids. But those brands (and those people) are flashes in the frying pan.

Brands that have lasting value, like Green’s personal brand, are, above all else, authentic.

*CrashCourse has had more than 1.5 billion views; The Fault in Our Stars (the book) was #1 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and USA Today; The Fault in Our Stars (the movie) earned more than $48 million in opening weekend box office sales; and the movie set a new record for most advanced ticket sales for a love story on 14-year-old Fandango.com.

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