25 Things I Learned About Business from “South Park”

Written by Amber Conrad

What the comedic cartoon can teach you about navigating the business world.

Over the last 12 years, the cartoon residents of South Park, Colo. have taught us about life, love, Canada, Saddam Hussein and yes … business. Here are 25 things that “South Park” has taught the world about making a buck.

  1. Use the Internet to go viral.

    In season 12’s “Canada on Strike” episode, the boys try to end the strike to get Terrance and Phillip back on the air. They decide to raise “Internet money” by posting a video on “YouToob” of Butters singing “What What in the Butt.” The video is a huge hit, and the boys are soon on their way to collecting their “Internet money.” The kids use the Internet and the resulting media coverage to get their cause out there, and by using these same resources, you too can introduce your business and its services to the world.

  2. Money is the cure for all that ails your business.
    The point of being in business is to make money. Sometimes, capitalism can also help advance the human race or make life better for everyone. In season 12’s “Tonsil Trouble,” Cartman gets HIV when he has his tonsils removed. He and Kyle go on a quest for the cure, and discover that fellow AIDS survivor Magic Johnson sleeps with stacks of money in his room. Believing that his constant proximity to cold, hard cash is the cure for AIDS., the boys learn that money really can cure everything. Maybe your business isn’t turning a profit because it needs more money.
  3. Get a ringer for the win.
    A ringer is a contestant who is entered in a competition under false pretenses — usually someone who looks like they are terrible at a sport or game they actually excel at. In the “Conjoined Fetus Lady” episode in season 2, Pip, normally picked on for his assumed French heritage and feminine ways, turns out to be the best player on South Park’s dodgeball team, helping the team earn a spot in the national championship.
    It goes to show that even sensitive-looking little boys can throw a mean ball. What does it all mean for your company? Go out and hire a mild-mannered star worker and start winning.
  4. Have a reliable work force and a stable customer base.
    In the season 2 epdisode “Roger Ebert Should Lay Off the Fatty Foods,” the planetarium owner brainwashes kids to work at the learning center and also convinces the town’s people that they must go back to the center again and again. This episode teaches that it’s not important how a business secures employee and customer loyalty as log as it gets done.
  5. Protect the local wildlife for good PR.

    When the boys find the last two jackovasaurses in the “Jackovasaurs” episode from season 3, the town is visited by representatives of the Office of the Interior, who set up the pair with mating accommodations. Even though the jackovasaurses prove to be horribly annoying and largely useless to society, the episode teaches us that your business should go out of its way to appease the sensitivities of others — even if it’s inconvenient to do so.

  6. Provide neat stuff to people who need to validate themselves through consumerism.
    It’s a well-known fact that people with money want to spend it. Get them to give that expendable income to you and your business by providing them with cheap but trendy items for their collecting pleasure. It is important to stay ahead of the trends here, and that’s difficult when people still have free will. To get around this, the “Chinpokomon” episode from season 3 teaches us to market to children, who have their parents’ purse strings around their little fingers and cannot resist the latest must-haves.
  7. If what your business sells is scarce, people will pay more for it.
    In season 4’s quaintly named “Cherokee Hair Tampon” episode, Kyle finds out that he needs a kidney transplant, but the only donor is Cartman. Cartman offers his extra kidney to Kyle … for $10 million. Also in this episode, the town’s people are duped by a holistic woman who claims that her products are mystical and rare and that by buying them, the people will be able to help cure Kyle. So if your business provides items that are scarce, like a lifesaving organs or spiritual-healing trinkets, people will gladly pay large sums of money for them.
  8. Identify the competition.
    In “Helen Keller! The Musical” episode from season 4, the kids learn the importance of competition. The South Park kids are in fourth grade now and are putting on a play. They find out from Butters that the kindergartners have a better production, so they work hard to trick out their show to make it better. They even hire a specialist, a thespian from sophisticated Denver, who turns the whole production into a “Les Misérables” spoof. Their production is grand, and they beat the kindergartners. And even though it turns out not to matter, the kids still learn to work hard to beat out the competition … and to teach a mentally challenged turkey to jump through a fiery hoop.
  9. Create a buzz.
    Everyone in South Park tunes in to watch a television show that allegedly says a curse word during prime time. When the show gets press coverage, Kyle calls it for what it is — a marketing ploy designed to boost ratings. This season 5 episode, “It Hits The Fan,” teaches us that people will endure things that they do not normally enjoy just so that they can say they saw or did something controversial.
  10. Investors can help your startup dreams come true.
    Cartman’s grandmother leaves him $1 million dollars, which he promptly uses to buy his own amusement park in the “Cartmanland” episode from season five. At first, Cartman is convinced that his money has bought him happiness, but he soon sees that it isn’t the only thing that he needs to emotionally survive. That warm, fuzzy sentiment aside, Cartman shows us that with a big chunk of someone else’s money, you can buy property for your business and hire people to help run it.
  11. Never underestimate the little guys.
    In “The Entity” episode from season 5, Mr. Garrison gets tired of airline check-in lines and invents his own vehicle that is so amazing it soon becomes the preferred mode of travel for certain demographics. The airline companies start to go under, but the government steps in to save them. This episode also teaches another important lesson for those who are venturing into the business world: Sometimes, you can turn to the government for help and undeserved cash.
  12. Sponsorships and partnerships mean that people are giving you money.
    The boys discover that Jared from the Subway commercials has assistants — including a personal trainer and a dietitian — that helped him lose the weight. This prompts the boys to try to dupe the American public by doing the same thing with a local Chinese-food restaurant. In the episode “Jared Has Aides” from season 6, the boys make Butters gain weight so that they can get the restaurant to sponsor his weight loss by eating only their food. Basically, the lesson here is that sometimes you have to do uncomfortable things like stuff yourself with food then starve yourself to get money. But it’s still money.
  13. It is important to honor your contractual agreements.
    A very not “Lord of the Rings” movie gets delivered to Butters, and the boys are enlisted to get it back. The South Park characters all act out characters in this episode from season 6, titled “The Return of the Fellowship of the Rings to the Two Towers.” Stan’s parents told the kids to bring back the movie, and being of noble mind frames, the boys embark on their quest to return it. This episode teaches the value of honoring agreements and going above and beyond to fulfill obligations in business partnerships.
  14. Take risks.
    When the local Native American casino tries to buy the town of South Park in “Red Man’s Greed” from season 7, the kids come up with a plot to take their parents’ money and have them gamble it away to come up with the extra funding. The kids take their parents’ savings and bet on a long shot — just like you should sometimes do in business. Remember: to win big, you have to play big.
  15. Edge out the competition to get what you want.
    It’s Kyle’s birthday in “Casa Bonita” from season 7, and everyone is going to an awesome restaurant to celebrate. The problem is that Cartman isn’t invited. He takes issue with Kyle inviting Butters instead of him and decides to trick Butters into thinking that a meteor has hit Earth. He then gets Butters shipped off to the city dump, which Butters thinks is the post-destruction reality of the world. Meanwhile, Cartman goes to the restaurant while Butters freaks out among the trash.
  16. Research is the key to knowing your customers.
    In “AWESOM-O” from season 8, Cartman decides that he will dress up as a robot to learn Butters’ secrets so he can better make fun of him at school. He asks Butters to tell him his deepest darkest secrets, and Butters complies. By going undercover, Cartman learns more about his bullying target and can adjust his cruelty accordingly.
  17. Learn PR-management skills.
    South Park ’s mascot, the cow, has been called into question by a local PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) grou, in one episode from season 8. This prompts the school to change its mascot. Special-interest groups like PETA can sometimes challenge the ways in which a company does business. A lot. For instance, a special-interest could shut your company down because it feel like your business is doing something wrong — like misspelling a word in your sign or killing babies. But if your company properly manages these groups’ issues, it can come off looking like a community supporter without incurring a lot of business damage. The trick is to appeal to the middle ground, as the town does when it decides to take the mascot-change decision to a city vote, which makes the decision a public one without laying blame on the school district.
  18. It is good to embrace change.

    Sometimes in business, you have to shake up long-standing practices to make way for the new. In an episode from season 9, Mr. Garrison gets a sex change and feels like a new woman. Meanwhile, Kyle gets a race change so that he can play basketball. Both characters get what they want until the end of the episode, but the point is that by changing things up in their lives, they were able to step into a new persona (or in your business’s case, a new market).

  19. Recognize a good business opportunity.

    Hippies have infested South Park in “Die Hippie Die” from season 9, and Cartman sees this as an opportunity to help exterminate them for the good of the citizens — and a profit. You can relate Cartman’s business sense to your livelihood, except not literally, because spraying hippies with insecticide is kind of illegal.

  20. Stand up and fight for good employees who are going through hard times.
    It is important in the business world to have strong professional relationships with your employees. It is also important to remember that your employees are people too and that you should sometimes cut them some slack — especially when they decide to go on a sabbatical like Chef does in season 10. But in the time it takes to have a fake flashback, he’s returned to South Park in the episode “The Return of Chef.” However, Chef starts saying really odd things, and the boys find out that he’s been brainwashed. Instead of giving up on him, they get to the bottom of his troubles and eventually cure him. The boys didn’t give up on their favorite school employee, just like you shouldn’t give up on one of your hardworking team members.
  21. Sometimes you need outside experts to get things working properly.
    In season 10’s “Tsst,” (also known as “the dog-whisperer” episode), Cartman gets so out of hand that his mom hires a special nanny, who fails to correct his behavior. So Ms. Cartman hires another nanny, who also fails and ends up in a mental institution. Success occurs when Cartman’s mom brings in the dog whisperer, who treats Cartman so terribly that he runs away. So if you don’t know how to deal with a business obstacle, it might be time to call in an expert.
  22. Fight hostile takeovers to the bitter end if you want to keep your company intact.
    Mrs. Garrison’s favorite bar is being threatened to be shut down by a Persian group who wants to turn it into a dance club in “D-Yikes!” from season 11. The bar patrons appeal to the mayor and also look to blackmail as a means to their ends. The customers fight to keep their group together, just like you should fight to keep your company intact when faced with dance-club owners or corporate pirates — whichever comes first.
  23. The government can help you stick it to your competitors.

    During the “Imaginationland” episodes in season 11, Cartman goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to settle a bet between him and Kyle. By using the legal system to settle their differences, the boys avoid unprofessional behavior, which teaches us all to opt for costly lawyers — not hit men — to resolve issues.

  24. Get big names in on your venture to attract starstruck customers.
    Season 1 also gave us “Damien,” in which the son of Satan comes back as a fourth grader, causing Jesus and Satan to duke it out in the ultimate pay-per-view event. Lots of money comes in when people want to see the stars of good and evil go at it on live TV for only $49.95. After all, no one can miss the “final apocalyptic battle between good and evil.” What would they talk about the next week at the watercooler?
  25. Impress your audience.
    In season 1’s “Weight Gain 4000,” Kathie Lee Gifford comes to town to give Cartman an award for writing an environmental essay. Mr. Garrison has a flashback about how Kathie Lee ruined his life by winning over the judges at an elementary-school talent show. After Mr. Garrison’s little grade-school self looses to Kathie Lee, he sulks “It wasn’t fair; she had choreography.”

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