More on the Writers Strike
The writers are doing a great job communicating their story on the Internet. I wish them luck, and will be doing what I can as a fan to support them. If you want a good summary of the issues, watch these two videos.
And check out these sites:
- United Hollywood (sign the petition)
- Writers Guild of America West
- Writers Guild of America East
- Pencils down means pencils down
The issue is resonating particularly loudly in the fandoms I follow, chiefly the Whedonverse and Battlestar Galactica. Joss Whedon has posted on Whedonesque multiple times and Ron Moore of BSG just started his own, personal blog (versus the scifi.com one he sporadically posted to last year.) And of course writers Jane Espenson and Mark Verheiden, whose blogs I read on a regular basis anyway, have been covering the strike in their usual articulate fashion.
Epilogue: Wal-Mart and Edelman
Well, as many PR bloggers have already reported (best round-upto date is Constantin's), Edelman has emerged from the cone of silence around the Wal-Mart fiasco. On Richard Edelman's blog, an apology and acceptance of total responsibility. And on Steve Rubel's, a short comment and link to Richard's blog.
Quite frankly, I do not see how the agency could have done anything else. It could be Edelman's fault. Might not be. Probably is. Doesn't really matter. Whether it was their fault or not, the agency must fall on the sword for the client. Or lose the client.
I know a lot of folks would love to be privy to the post mortem on this disaster. To them, I say, how does it feel... to want. We know what we know and we ain't likely to know much more. And I don't really care. I'm more interested in:
- what Edelman does in the future. Will they finally learn and get it right the next time? What Richard and Steve say is all good and well, but the proof is in what they DO;
- the lessons we can all learn about honesty and grassroots marketing from this fiasco.
I've commented on a number of other blog posts about this mess, among them Kami Huyse and Peter Himler, that the real shame is that had they done this right, with honesty and clarity about the sponsorship, this RVing blog might just have worked. People with RVs do stay in Wal-Mart parking lots. That's not an invention. They might have rallied around a blog that focused on them, their lives, their culture. If it was well written, corporate sponsored or not, the public might have enjoyed it. Many do shop in Wal-Mart, image problems notwithstanding.
Bottom line, had there been truth, I would have given it a big, so what. A good idea is still a good idea even if the corporation has it. The error isn't in sponsoring a blog to advance a corporate objective. The error is the lie. People can forgive many things. But generally and pretty universally, we hate being lied to.
I'm pretty sure the folks at Edelman and Wal-Mart get this now.
There is nothing wrong with trying to spark something in the "grassroots." If you've understood the situation, and deliver a compelling message, it will take fire. That's what viral means -- the message is so compelling it propels itself through the social network. But we cannot create a grassroots effect Artificial, the campaign has no life, no community and cannot spread without more artifice and manipulation.
You must tap into something in the community for grassroots efforts to bear any fruit. Two recent examples come to mind, and I'm sure it will surprise none of my readers that both come from science fiction television, Firefly and Farscape. Momentum came from the community and the producers were smart enough to engage with, to love their communities. They treated them with respect and love, and guess what? When the franchises needed support, the communities around them sprung to action.
In both cases, the TV shows were cancelled and fan support had a great deal to do with subsequent movies. In the case of Firefly fans, strong DVD sales provided further proof for the movie studio that the decision to greenlight a feature film (Serenity) was the right one. And when it came time to promote the film, no fan base was more loyal than the Firefly fans.
Except maybe the Farscape fans, who lobbied for a resolution to their much loved and highly acclaimed series, and finally got it in 2004 with the Peacekeeper Wars miniseries. I wasn't a Farscape viewer when it was on TV but now, having seen all the episodes, I can say without hesitation that it is a damn shame the show was cancelled. Can we have some more, please?
In both cases, the grassroots communities were there, and the shows were able to tap into the love to make things happen. Fans didn't mind when Joss Whedon asked them to do something for Serenity. They knew he'd pay them back in spades. In fact, both fan groups are still going pretty strong online and to date, there are no (public) plans for more of either on TV or the big screen. [Boo Hoo]
That's how a company can tap into the grassroots. And I do not believe that it is only possible for science fiction franchises.
However, it is only possible when we understand that a grassroots campaign only works when the initial impetus comes from the community, not the corporation that benefits.
It's grassroots marketing when the roots really are in the grass. When they are not, it is probably astroturf.
The Sci-Fi Fan's Curse
I don't watch much television. For any number of reasons. And those of you that really love the shows you watch should be really really glad.
Because just about everytime I start watching a long-running show regularly, it gets cancelled.
I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer regularly at the beginning of Season 7. Bye bye Buffy.
I followed my favorite BtVS character Spike to Angel when he shifted over in Angel Season 5. Hasta la vista, Angel.
Just this year, I started watching Stargate SG-1, mostly because it was on after Dr. Who on the Sci-Fi channel. I discovered I really liked Ben Browder and Claudia Black. Yup, you guessed it... this season (number 10) will be its last season on Sci-Fi. Announced yesterday.
I had watched all of these shows from time to time before I started watching them regularly but hadn't really gotten into them, again for a number of reasons not really relevant to this post. And as soon as I did, the party was over.
BTW, this does not seem to happen when I watch a show from the beginning, so Bones and Dr. Who, the other two shows I enjoy these days, should be fairly safe since I've watched Dr. Who off and on since Dr. Number 3 and Bones since the beginning.
So, if there are shows you really really like, and would prefer I NOT watch, please feel free to let me know in the comments. And if there is a series you'd like to see gone, I'll see what I can do. Unless it is Stargate Atlantis. Can't get into that show at all, so you are on your own. Sandy, I'll do my best to stay away from Battlestar Galactica.
Anyway, I am now TIVO'ing Farscape repeats and watching my Firefly and Remington Steele DVDs. I figure that's safe, since those shows are already cancelled. :-)
Some Serenity stuff
Well, for a slight change of pace, a couple of things I saw this week on Whedonesque that I am compelled to share.
Mattel surely won't approve of Firefly Barbies but I know at least one person who is probably assembling supplies to create her own Jayne doll.
The difference between an online poll and a statistically valid survey
Earlier this week, SciFi Wire (part of SciFi.com) launched an online poll asking fans what they though writer-director Joss Whedon's next project should be: another Serenity movie, a movie featuring Buffy/Angel character Spike, or WonderWoman. Much as I love the Serenity/Firefly 'verse, I voted for Spike. Not because I had any illusions that the poll was scientific, or prescriptive for Whedon. Just for fun, and because I know he does listen to fans. Why not let him know that fans still love Spike?
Occasionally during the week I checked the poll. At some point the various Whedon fandoms mobilized to get out the vote, and to my knowledge at least one group of fans figured out how to "beat" the poll. And of course if one group knew (and posted it), they all knew. Instantly.
Apparently it was not that hard to figure out how to vote more than once - just delete the cookie. And with pretty motivated Whedon fans, not hard to imagine that more than one fan voted more than once.
Well, SciFi.com didn't like it and replaced the poll with a new question. They had a brief explanation (no longer on the site) that the Whedon poll was pulled down because fans manipulated the vote.
Really.... isn't that taking everything just a bit too seriously? Personally, I think voting more than once is silly, but these sorts of online polls are just for fun, aren't they? So who cares? They aren't statistically valid at all. And if you really wanted to make sure that people could only vote once, wouldn't you make it a bit harder to "vote early and often." For more on this specific incident, check out this post on Whedonesque.
Okay, I hear you saying - we know you're a Whedon fan. What does this have to do with marketing?
Statistically valid surveys and polls have methodology and technology behind them to ensure accurate, valid results. Objective questions. Random samples that represent the target population. Answers that mean something. If they are conducted online, the technology prevents multiple voting. Sure, the person conducting the survey has an objective, even an agenda, but the scientific methodology prevents total bias from coloring the result.
But quickie polls on Web sites, whether about Whedon or wikis or Windows, are entertainment. Giving them any other interpretation or taking them seriously is just silly.
The marketing lesson: Don't confuse the two. If you want to do a quick poll on your Web site or blog to entertain the audience, by all means do it. But don't use it to prove anything. If you want quantifiable "proof," spend the money to do the survey right.
And the relative importance of Joss Whedon's next project and whether Patrick Stewart is too old for the next Star Trek movie (the current poll question)? Not going to end world hunger or bring world peace. Who cares if the fans fooled with the poll. As one of the commenters on Whedonesque pointed out, the traffic on SciFi Wire and the number of ad impressions probably increased exponentially by getting the Whedon fandoms riled up.
Which in my opinion is what they wanted in the first place, so they shouldn't have gotten their knickers in a twist when they succeeded.
Big damn auction, big damn movie
I realized yesterday that if you weren't interested in charity auctions or Joss Whedon's Serenity, there wasn't much on the Roadmap for you this week.
And there still isn't... although I promise to move onto other topics soon. Maybe next week.
The HP Charity Auction ended last night, and by all accounts a success. The auction itself raised a little less than $10,000, and with HP's matching funds, each charity (DATA and the American Red Cross) got more than $9,000. HP will be publishing a webpage with all the details, and when I get the link, I'll post it.
Everyone involved learned a lot in the process, from both our mistakes and the things that went well. One thing that is absolutely critical is to allow enough time for viral marketing to work. It takes time for messages to spread into an audience of any size, even if you do billboards and primetime TV ads. You need even more time for a grassroots message. The good news, though, is once it takes hold, it *does* snowball. Our example without a doubt is how fast the word spread in Elijah Wood's fanbase about the auction.
And speaking of grassroots marketing .... the Big Damn Movie is in general release today. I'm going tonight, more on it tomorrow, but I promise, no spoilers.
And then maybe I'll write about something else :-)
Serenity and grassroots marketing
About a week or so ago, I posted about the Joss Whedon movie Serenity as an example of how customers can effect change, when they care enough AND somebody is actually listening. The post also was my submission to this week’s Carnival of the Capitalists.
As a fan of Firefly, I have been impatiently waiting for the film that continues the story just like any other fan. And as a marketer, I have been observing the grassroots and viral marketing efforts with great interest over the past year. I’ve even done my share of fan conversions. For the uninitiated, that’s when you loan your Firefly DVDs to a “virgin.”
Shortly after I wrote my post, as we got ever closer to this Friday’s general US release, the media – both mainstream and blogosphere – effectively exploded. The LA premiere generated a great deal of press, as did the rounds of interviews director Whedon and the cast are doing to promote the movie. I won’t list it all here, but you can find most of the coverage on the site Whedonesque.
Not surprisingly, given the grassroots and viral campaigns already in play, the studio (Universal) decided to approach bloggers directly. Among the bloggers they contacted with their offer for a free advance screening provided they agreed to blog about the movie, good or bad, was the Instapundit . Definitely the way to spread the word fast..
In fact, three marketing blogs that I read on a fairly regular basis wrote about the offer, each with a slightly different take and what it means longer term. I’ve commented at all three, and won’t rehash all the discussion here, other than to recommend you read the posts, and all the comments.
As one of the commenters on the gapingvoid post pointed out, planned or merely unintended consequence, the free advanced screenings reached well beyond the fanbase.
The best post about the whole thing however was from a blog I hadn’t read before, New Persuasion (again I tip my hat to Whedonesque for the link). The author of the post Nellie Lide actually was “confirmed” for one of the blogger screenings but chose not to go because she didn’t like the way the publicity firm handled the whole thing. Reading some of the language they used in their emails, I can definitely see why bloggers might be put off by it (notably too much use of the word MUST). And perhaps the PR firm didn’t handle it as well as they could have.
But I still stand by my opinion that no one was forced to do anything. It was a choice whether to accept the terms of the offer: get into a free advance screening of a much-anticipated movie in exchange for blogging about it. Or not.
Yes, the language the PR firm used was a bit strong and controlling. But, if you didn’t like the terms, don’t accept. Nellie Lide didn’t accept. Others did. (Although I do imagine it was easier to resist if you’d already seen the film than if you hadn’t.)
We will make mistakes … all of us … as we try to integrate new media into existing models. It is inevitable. But I’d rather try something new and perhaps make a mistake than never be willing to try. For that alone, I commend the team behind the blogger screenings –they tried something new. And hopefully, they learned from whatever mistakes they made. As I hope to when I make mine.
By Friday, this will all be moot anyway, as Serenity will be in general release. According to Whedonesque this morning, tickets are now available on movietickets.com.
See you at the movies. And "aim to misbehave."
Serenity, HP Charity Auction
Just a couple of housekeeping things.
First, a reminder that the Joss Whedon film "Serenity" goes into general release this coming Friday September 30th. Whedon did an interview in today's NY Times (tip of the hat to Whedonesque and warning, spoilers). You can find many links to other articles on Whedonesque.
Second, the HP charity auction that I did a fast viral campaign for ends this Thursday, September 29th. While some fan bases have bid certain photos into the stratosphere (Bono at the Super Bowl and Elijah Wood), there are some bargains still to be had, especially if you were thinking of buying an HP Photo Printer anyway.
The power of the customer: Fans & Firefly
As many of you know, especially if we’ve met, or you regularly read the blog, I am a huge proponent of customer marketing. And not just marketing TO your customers with promotions designed to increase the lifetime value of the customer. By all means, do that, but don’t stop there. Make products that your customers will love and then harness that passion in your marketing efforts. Market WITH your customers, because they love your products, respect your company and want to help you succeed.
There ain’t nothing like a passionate customer. Here’s a little story that proves the point.
Once upon a time there was a little television show called Firefly. Firefly was created by Joss Whedon, the talented writer/director who brought Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel to the little screen.
Firefly was a bit different though. It didn’t follow the Buffy/Angel formula of supernatural beings and monsters among us in contemporary society. Instead, Firefly was a “space opera,” described by some as a cross between Battlestar Galactica and The Outlaw Josey Wales. The setting was far in the future, 500 years from Earth as we know it, but the people in the Firefly verse were “normal” people. At least to the extent that the context didn’t include magic, vampires and otherwordly beings. Everyone is pretty gorram** human, with a fair dose of the “cowboy” ethos, and maybe just a little bit Chinese.
Firefly was on the Fox network and Firefly never had a chance. I won’t rehash all the details, but suffice it to say, Fox didn’t get it, and the series was cancelled before all the original 13 episodes were aired.
But Whedon’s fans are a devoted bunch. In the first pass, many came to Firefly from Buffy and Angel, and realized that this new show was even better. When it was cancelled, they started to mobilize – letters, fan sites, conventions, etc. etc.
Some, like me, never got a chance to watch it the first time around because Fox jerked it around so much, but bought the DVD as soon as it was released. Because we just knew it had to be good (perhaps in part because Fox didn’t get it). In fact A LOT of people bought it as a pre-order on Amazon before it was released. A whole lot.
And a funny thing happened. Another studio, Universal, saw all this fan activity, watched the show, and decided that this Firefly thing was pretty good. Good enough for a feature film. And so we have Serenity… a feature film due in US cinemas on September 30th.
Lesson One: the fans were in large part responsible for Firefly’s second chance. Joss Whedon and the rest of the cast have more than once given them the credit. Smart man, that Joss Whedon. He creates brilliant television (and now movies), which creates loyal loyal fans, and he has the grace and smarts to give the fans their share of the credit.
But that’s not the end of the story. The Firefly fans are so devoted that they have mobilized to ensure the film’s success with guerilla marketing efforts in support of the planned campaigns by Universal. I couldn’t even tell you everything the fans have created in support of this movie, but it includes a podcast called the Signal that is in iTunes top 100, artwork, music, video and fan fiction, a campaign to get the DVDs rated highly on NetFlix, fan websites, blogs and forums, not to mention an extraordinarily active fan base on the official website for the movie.
All this fan activity geared to ensuring a boffo box office for Serenity in its first few weeks. Because that’s what ensures the second film. And these fans want more. Trust me, I know this personally.
And Whedon, his cast and Universal are encouraging and enabling all this fan activity with viral marketing efforts and their active participation in the fan activity – not just the Universal sponsored sites.
Because they get it, and that’s Lesson Two: when you have passionate fans, DO NOT get in their way. They will do as good, or better, job converting new customers than you could ever do. Support them as much as you can, but don’t try to co-opt them. Let your product continue to speak for itself. That’s what Whedon does – he’s said it in interviews: he’s not trying to make shows that people will like, he wants to create stories and characters that people will love.
Now in the spirit of full disclosure, this article is, of course, guerrilla marketing for Serenity as much as it is an analysis of the value of the customer in your marketing efforts. Think of it as a two-fer.
I’ll see you at the movies. On September 30th.
** god-damn for those of you who aren’t … yet … addicted to Firefly.