Business Models- ‘South Park’ Style

By Diana L. Mirakaj 

One of the finest satires of poor business planning comes from none other than South Park, the animated foul-mouth comedy series set in the high plains of suburban Denver. Created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the show mocks a full range of social, political, sexual and religious issues through the prepubescent, bathroom-humor–obsessed characters of Kyle, Stan, Kenny and Cartman.

 In one of its takeoffs on business, the South Park boys learned about corporate operations and profits from “underpants gnomes.” If you don’t recall the episode, or have never watched the show, trust me—it’s worth watching.

Struggling to complete a school assignment about business and profit, the boys are constantly distracted by a classmate, Tweak, an overcaffeinated son of a coffee shop owner. Tweak complains about gnomes sneaking into his room at night to steal his underwear.

The boys dismiss Tweak’s wild story, only later to discover that underpants gnomes are real and, surprisingly, they know about business. In fact, their stealing of little boys’ underpants is an enterprise activity.

Desperate to understand the inner workings of a corporation and how they make money, the boys ask the underpants gnomes for help. The gnomes are only too happy to reveal their secrets—a three-part plan:

Phase 1: Collect underpants.

Phase 2:

Phase 3: Profit.

The boys don’t get it and probe further. Gnomes working on a giant pile of pilfered underwear go back and forth about how phase 1 is collecting underpants and phase 3 is profit, but they never explain phase 2.

Of course, phase 2 is execution—what they do with the underpants to add value to some customer, which then leads to revenue and profit. What Parker and Stone tapped into in the episode is something business leaders encounter everyday: ideas that, without a sound business plan, are merely ideas.