Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Why Viral Marketing Fails

Recently, I participated in an experiment by Dear Author, which was meant to investigate the viability of "viral blogging," where one person blogs something, and it expands to 100 (or 152, in this case), other blogs. The experiment was deemed a success because more people knew about the book than before. The verdict is still out if it has any impact on sales (and may never actually be in, given the small scale and the inability to track direct results of any marketing effort).

A slight bit less recently, the movie Snakes on a Plane was a huge informal (I assume) viral marketing experiment. Everyone from geeks on the Internet to Entertainment Weekly were talking about the movie. It had HUGE buzz. It was also a huge failure (in case you ignore the link, it had a modest $33 million production budget and made $31 million domestically). It didn't matter that everyone was talking about it, because most didn't go see it.

A year ago, Serenity suffered a similar fate. A short-lived TV show, Firefly, was beloved by its fans and treated badly by its network so that there weren't enough of them. One of the fans was a producer for Universal, who gave the creator, Joss Whedon, the ability to make the movie Serenity out of his original idea for Firefly. Marketing was mostly done on the Internet, catering to the existing fan base. Which was great, except I believe it had the effect of making people say, "I never saw Firefly so there's no point in seeing the movie." A fabulous, smart, funny, suspenseful, intriguing movie didn't get the audience it deserved.

On the other side, we have My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The Da Vinci Code. Harry Potter. What makes those successes when the others were failures? What's the difference between word-of-mouth and viral marketing?

I think the difference is timing and intent.

Viral marketing generally happens BEFORE the product is available, and is done with motivation. Usually, it's started to try to make something sell bigger, and perpetuated on a large scale because there's a reward for those who perpetuate it.

Word of mouth happens AFTER the product is out there, and is done because people really liked it. The product itself is the selling point, and it sells because, in some way, it's done well.

I'm no marketing expert, and I have no education, training, or background in the topic. I'm just saying what I see.

And I have this book that was just released...


Erica Orloff said...

Hi Natalie:
Wow . . . really interesting comparison and analysis. And . . . good, salient points. I LOVED Serenity (as you know) and was very bummed it failed. I also really enjoyed My Big Fat Greek Wedding (one sister converted to Greek Orthodox--we're Russian Orthodox by blood anyway, wasn't much of a skip over--and I laughed at a lot of the movie!). I think you're right on both counts.

There's the sort of breathless enthusiasm when someone loves a new book or movie, and blabs to everyone they just HAVE to read it--and something that is more a matter of getting it out there on the 'net. I have to tell you, too, in terms of marketing books, while self-promotion is a big key, some of it, though no one really says this aloud--is a crap shoot. I've been in US Weekly (twice), Cosmopolitan (who raved about Spanish Disco), American Girl, Woman's World, FIRST for Women, Romantic Times (in profiles) . . . and I'll have to think about where else--it's 5:45 or something in the a.m. . . . for books that did "okay." US Weekly! Twice! And I didn't see a blip (and for the record, my agent got me those placements, NOT anyone associated with my publishing house--so sometimes it's who you know and who THEY know and whether the magazine, simply put, loves the book). Yet Do They Wear High Heels in Heaven, which came out at a completely glutted chick lit time, AND was very edgy, AND was even criticized on a blog or two for depicting hardcore gay violence and sex in addition to a straight romance (and was, believe it or not, one of Amazon's TOP gay romance books--top ten--when that was just a subplot) . . . anyway, that got NO "big" publicity but I had this astounding amount of fan mail--still get it weekly--and . . . had the best numbers of my career. A crap shoot. What resonates, what's "hot" at the time, how's the cover (THE ROOFER was my worst cover ever but my best-written, most loved by me book; MAFIA CHIC, my least edgy book had my BEST cover ever--and was just optioned by Warner Brothers for TV . . . can't announce it on my blog until it's countersigned). So . . . again, really great points on what gets that word-of-mouth ball rolling.

Natalie Damschroder said...

Congratulations, Erica! I wondered which book. That's awesome.

It helps to hear the "crapshoot" evidence. It's not that I don't want to do any marketing or promotion for my books, but it's really hard to justify when it shows no results. It all goes back to the bottom line:

Write really good books.