During a time of civil uprising, global pandemic and financial downturn, Louis Theroux, like many of us, turned to the internet seeking assurance.
Looking for answers, distraction, connection or sometimes simply to Google himself, Theroux has discovered just how imperfect the internet is.
Speaking this week at an event hosted by online brand specialist Yext, he said that, in some ways, he feels as though he’s spent his whole career preparing for this crisis. “A world of danger and irrationality and food shortages…it isn’t just COVID world, it’s Louis Theroux weird weekends series 1-3.”
One of the most enduring and consistent voices in TV journalism, Theroux has built a lasting career deeply vested in both the trust of his subjects and his viewers. During the current crisis he has found that some people are looking to him for reliable advice and insight.
“Fake news, conspiracies, true believers of different stripes, false information swirling around,” he muses. “Whether it’s on epistles sent by St Paul in the Roman empire or coming up as search results on a Google search engine, none of this is new.
“The story of human folly is a story as old as time. For thousands of years people have been predicting the end of the world, space ships landing, heaven on Earth or spreading false stories about malefactors who might be lizards. Here we still are, the same humans doing the best we can, making the same mistake, just at 59 million bits per second. It’s up to all of us to tell the truth, and to get it out there.”
In combatting misinformation he believes that human connection is just as important as recognising trusted sources of knowledge.
“Facts and information are nothing if they aren’t shared, if people don’t have access to them, if they aren’t disseminated,” he explains. “The ability to connect with audiences to tell stories is key, in a way, to get the point across. And they will enjoy them.”
He went on to say that, in uncertain times, he finds strength in the constancy of human nature. “It has to do with relatability – a lot of it is humour. I rely a lot on making jokes, even gallows humour in the darkest times. I genuinely believe there’s no situation so dark that you can’t use humour to get through it in some way.”
Forming quick and meaningful human connections has been vital for Theroux’s success. When asked what advice he might give to businesses trying to reach out in a similar way to customers, he says: “I wish I could pretend it was a dark art. People used to say ‘oh he’s so clever at opening people up, or establishing rapport’.
“Traits that I had struggled with growing up, to do with insecurity, to do with a feeling of not quite fitting in, almost a quality of vulnerability tended to be quite winning. When rightly considered they became assets. Perfection can be off-putting to people. Weakness in some ways is a relatable quality”
With distinctly on-brand honesty he goes on to say that he owes much of his success, compared to his contemporaries, simply to creating an easily identifiable trademark. His face.
By choosing to put himself in the stories he tells, Theroux has become a recognisable icon, to the point that fans now permanently ink renderings of his face on their bodies. He seems both proud and perplexed by this phenomena, questioning out loud if he deserves to be a tattoo. A friend told him once that buying stock in Harley Davidson is a safe bet because any brand that many men have tattooed on their bodies is bound to be a sound investment. “It’s nice to be in the club,” he concedes.
When building a successful brand voice, Theroux values connection, authenticity and sincerity. His ubiquitous ‘Hello, I’m Louis’ introduction has served to make him synonymous with earnestness. “One of the reasons I’m able to convince people to participate in my documentaries or to feel as though what I do is valid is a sense that I genuinely think that what I have to share with people is a win-win”
For businesses, he thinks having fun with customers is vital. In true Theroux form, he then goes on to quote an Innocent smoothie bottle to reinforce his point: “Three apples, four oranges and no trombones.
“It’s something humanising, so it’s not just verbiage. You actually say ‘there’s a person behind that and I’m connecting with this product, this place, this restaurant, this brand’.”
Theroux credits his longevity as a trusted voice in the media to avoiding tropes and clichés. “Nothing ages less well than inauthenticity or phoniness.”
And how does he think those tattoos will age?
“If I’m ever outed as a deviant or just caught shoplifting a Michael Bublé calendar, it will be awkward for those who have a tattoo of me, but I guess they rely upon the fact that I’ve got a track record they can believe in.”