In mid November, Oprah kicked off the final episodes of her "Favorite Things" series by tricking the audience into thinking the show would be focused on "giving back." Standing on the stage in a long, black dress paired with a mustard-colored belt, she says:
"Today our audience is filled with ultimate viewers and people who have given back in some way…I believe giving is one of the most important things you can do, and one of the best ways you can prepare for giving is meditation…I will say that…when you mediate, it allows you to clear a channel for giving to others. So how about we meditate on this…"
Then Christmas music fills the air, Oprah rips her dress off revealing a sparkly red number underneath and begins bellowing, "it's our favorite things! Oh yeah! Oh yeah!" Cut to the audience going apeshit while fake snow falls on them. One woman mouths: "I'm going to drop dead."
The Oprah Winfrey Show launched its Favorite Things Series in 2002 and the impact on the companies highlighted was immediate and incredibly profitable. Inc. Magazine interviewed several company heads about the "Oprah Effect"—particularly in relation to a product being selected as a "Favorite Thing"—and the translation into instant revenue is staggering: up to 1,000% growth over the short-term immediately following the episode and sustained higher revenues for months or years afterward. Getting that coveted slot also presents an opportunity to market a product using the Oprah brand.
And the Oprah Effect extends to people as well as products. She's responsible for turbo-charging or redefining the careers of several individuals: Dr. Phil, Suze Orman, Rachel Ray and Barack Obama to name a few. Two economists from the University of Maryland were able to determine that Oprah's endorsement of Obama translated into over one million votes during the 2008 Democratic primary. No doubt…the woman has influence.
In late 2008, she used that influence to temper the "shop, shop, shop" message into one that matched the swift economic downturn. That year's Favorite Things episode became "How to Have the Thriftiest Holiday Ever!" (described as Oprah's Favorite Things…with a twist!), where each piece presented was either inexpensive or homemade. In 2009, the show was canceled altogether, presumably because the economy hadn't improved though the show's producers weren't explicit. In 2010, things haven't improved significantly, but Oprah's on her way out and she is going out with a BANG! This year is the ULTIMATE Favorite Things year and the gift packages given to audience members rounds out at nearly $47,000 and includes the redesigned Volkswagen Beetle and a Caribbean cruise.
I'd like to think that I'd turn around and re-gift that haul to charities, but I don't know. I'd probably keep the iPad. And the Mac & cheese.
Next up this week…more Ultimate Favorite Things audience freak outs and the fine line between giving back and giving in... to consumerism.