It was a beautiful fall Saturday. The University of Northern Iowa football team was playing in the dome, crowds were gathered to watch the Iowa vs. Iowa State rivalry game, and children were eating cotton candy and getting their faces painted during the annual Cedar Falls Artapalooza event on Main Street. Truly Iowa life at its fullest.
What we aren’t used to seeing is Jay Leno taking a stroll along Main Street Cedar Falls, soaking in the starving artist vibe and grabbing a hamburger at Toad’s. In fact, he almost went unnoticed, as he was all by himself. No entourage. No body guards. Word got out and eventually Instagram and Facebook were blowing up with celeb selfies and “Look, Jay Leno’s just like us… he eats HAMBURGERS!!” captions.
Leno was in town for a performance at UNI’s performing arts center that evening. Quite of few of us from CBE were part of the sold-out crowd. He was great and had the place roaring with laughter. I loved watching my parent’s faces and hearing their laughter while seeing a Tonight Show host in person they watched throughout his entire career…it would be like me getting to see Jimmy Fallon in 20 years!
I noticed right away how ‘real’ he seemed. He talked about his parents a lot – about how proud he was when he started out on the Tonight Show to fly his parents to LA and give them a tour of the set, backstage and eat at a fancy restaurant where his mom was a little star-crazy.
He also told a story about one of his favorite cars he ever purchased. It wasn’t because it was the fastest or most expensive. It was because the car had a touching story behind it. He fixed it up and took the 94-year-old widow (one of the original owners) for a ride once it was done.
At the end he opened it up for questions from the audience. To me, this showed a very authentic Jay Leno who is willing to get real with his fans. He answered every single question and once again had the place roaring with laughter.
As I stood and saw the entire crowd give a standing ovation, I realized that no matter what business you are in, fans (customers) just want you to be authentic. They want to know that your brand understands people. Because at the end of the day we really are more alike than we are different, whether we are Jay Leno or just another Iowan walking down Main Street.