Marketing Tips I Learned from My Little Pony

Marketing Tips I Learned from My Little Pony

I’ve written before that cartoons aren’t always exclusively for kids. Sometimes adults can get a lot out of them, even if they were written for a specific age group. For example, My Little Pony; Friendship is Magic is a well-rounded family show. There’s actually a lot for adults to appreciate, if they give it half a chance. I gave it a shot because it sounded cute and, while I don’t consider myself a super fan, I stuck around because the characters are compelling and their antics are entertaining. And it isn’t all just geek references to Doctor Who and The Shining either. Sometimes there are life lessons we can appreciate even in our thirties.

Today I want to talk about the realest episode of My Little Pony I’ve ever seen. It comes from season six and it’s called Spice Up Your Life.

For those that haven’t seen it…

For anyone unfamiliar with the show, the later seasons feature a map which sends the show’s main characters to various locations throughout the world to solve friendship problems that would otherwise go unnoticed. In this case Rarity and Pinkiepie are sent to the pony capital of Canterlot to help a struggling chef get her restaurant off the ground.

It turns out that every restaurant in Canterlot considered worth visiting has become a carbon copy of the others. They all have the same basic decor. They all serve the same tasteless mush. And they all have the same fabulous star rating from the city’s most renowned critic. I’ll bet you see where this is going.

Our struggling young chef hasn’t been able to attract the attention of the food critic, so no one will eat in her restaurant. After some back and forth, Pinkie and Rarity manage to get the critic to visit long enough to taste our up-and-coming chef’s food, but she hates it because it isn’t exactly the food she likes to eat. She goes on a rampage about how only food critics can tell people what to eat, even going so far as to say that Rarity, who is something of a fashionista, is out of her league because she only knows about clothing.

In the end the ponies get people to come and taste the food anyway. Everyone loves it and the restaurant thrives even without the coveted star rating from the prissy critic. Sticking to your guns wins the day and a young pony’s dream comes true.

If only real life worked that way.

This is a common theme throughout the show.

A similar scenario reinforces this message during the episode Canterlot Boutique in which Rarity resists the urge to take her dresses into mass-production. She prefers each dress to be both handmade and unique, qualities that are rarely cherished in a world where everyone wants the same ‘special’ item.

As a self-published author struggling to sell stories she treasures for their unique qualities, these episodes strike heartbreakingly close to home.

The most common piece of advice I receive is write to market. Write what’s popular. Follow the trends. And in a broader sense, look at what everyone else is doing and try to copy it.

I should stress that this isn’t bad advice. It’s a good idea to look at market trends, and even cater to them, especially if you can write fast enough to take advantage of them. The infamous Chuck Tingle carves his niche on this principle. This is why every publisher put out a million vampire romance novels in the wake of Twilight‘s success. And why distopia blew up in the wake of The Hunger Games.

And yet all the famous authors I admire buck this trend. Their advice is to write what you love. To write what you want and find a market for it later. We all have categories we love and follow because they’re familiar and comfortable. But the things we love most stand out specifically because they’re trend-breaking.

So who’s advice should we listen to?

Pony Marketing Tips to Keep in your Pocket

I’ve come to believe the answer is whichever advice works best for you. Maybe it sounds wishy-washy, but it makes sense. Here are my takeaways:

Stay true to yourself.
My hard and fast rule is that any marketing advice which interferes with my ability to tell a story the way I think it should best be told is off the table. If this makes my target market smaller, so be it. If it takes me longer to figure out how to sell my work, so be it. It doesn’t mean that I’m only writing for myself, or that I’m writing as a hobby (as many people like to snarkily suggest). It might mean I’m making my job harder. I can live with that. There are people out there who will love my work, I just might have to work harder to find them. You might take a different path than I did; that’s cool too. As long as you’re staying true to you, that’s what matters.

Don’t let gatekeepers convince you your approach is wrong.
We all know industry gatekeepers. In the show it was a food critic. In real life it might be agents, publishers, reviewers or even other writers who think their approach is best. There are plenty of people ready and willing to reject your work for all kinds of reasons. Thankfully we live in a world where you can share your work directly with an audience and allow them to decide how they feel about it. There are plenty of people eager to read what you’re offering, the trick is finding and connecting with them. If you find yourself swimming in a sea of no, you probably haven’t found the proper pond yet. Keep looking; your people are out there and they’re going to love your stories when they find them!

Success often involves team work. Find your team and trust their skills.
In the show, Rarity and Pinkie first try to stick to what they know. Pinkie tries to bring people into the restaurant while Rarity tries to redecorate. But their first attempt results in disaster when Rarity changes the entire atmosphere of the restaurant and Pinkie can’t convince anyone to visit. Eventually they realize they were serving the wrong roles; the chef already knows how to present her product, she just needs Pinkie’s encouragement to be herself. Meanwhile, Rarity has the clout to draw a crowd. Because of their dedication, they eventually find the successful marketing strategy.

It might seem like you’re wandering lost and alone in a dark forest. But there are people with flashlights who are ready and willing to show you the way. As soon as you meet one, it changes your whole perspective. This is why it’s important to get out there, talk with other authors, learn their strategies and find the one that works best for you. Even something as simple as having someone to help you pick yourself up and dust yourself off makes a world of difference. If someone offers to help you, let them! And in return, pass on what you’ve learned to the next struggling newbie you encounter.

And most importantly: never give up.
Not everyone takes the same path to success; that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. Just because your efforts don’t look like everyone else’s doesn’t mean you’re not going to get there in the end. Keep trying. You will get there – I believe in you!

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