On Viral Marketing, Promos,  and Book Trailers

Carrie Lofty forwarded me a link to a YouTube book trailer (that is OMG NSFW) for Chuck Palahniuk’s new novel, Snuff. Only the trailer, instead of being directly about the book, is a fake movie trailer for a fake porno called The Wizard of Ass, starring “Cassie Wright, star of ‘Chitty Chitty Gang Bang’ and ‘The Twilight Bone’.” Seems the “movie” “book” “porny” promo link is being passed around, though Lofty wonders, if it is going viral, whether it’s due to some curiosity or buzz, or more of a “WTF” factor. And who knows if “WTF” sells books.

In a marvelous bit of coincidence, in this week’s Crain’s New York Business, a publication I love about a subject I know nothing about, there’s an article by Tina Traster which I found hilarious for it’s unselfconscious absurdity. Of course I can’t link to it because Crain’s content online is for subscribers online but I shall give you a summary of the article, titled “7 tips for healthy viral marketing campaigns.”

Hmm, I think to myself. Perhaps the first viral marketing campaign tip I can come up with: realize that nothing is viral or even remotely organic in its exponential dissemination if it is featured in “Crain’s New York Business.” Much like the first rule of fight club is there is no fight club, viral marketing, to my understanding, hides it’s marketing so well you don’t really know you’re being used as a marketing tool—and if you do realize, you agree implicitly because the content is so strange, so amusing, so titillating, so outrageous, or even innovative and seductive that you pass it along to people you know willingly and eagerly. I’ve never passed along anything – a link, a book, a recommendation for a diaper brand or a YouTube video – because I was compelled out of a sense of marketing pressure.

Oddly, my first tip isn’t among the seven – because that would be a short and meaningless article indeed. The actual Tip 1: Build an e-Network. Citing mythological “sociologists” who say that everyone has a network of 8-12 people, the article recommends anyone looking to virally market something tap into blogs, forums, social networking sites and podcasts. Specifically the article mentions LinkedIn.

Specifically, Sarah has to go lie down with the weight of the flannel-suited well-intentioned-but-out-of-touch blitheness that has obviously missed the entire point of viral marketing. Again: emphasis on viral, hiding the marketing. Nothing comes across as more insincere when I’m reading email than a barely-hidden request for marketing. “Your readers will love this!” Or, messages from people I don’t know that read, “OMG, did you see this?” and then a link to something that clearly comes from the same URL as the sender. My reaction is usually, “OMG do you think I am dumb?”GalleyCat has another example of asking people to behave insincerely for marketing purposes: “Review my book on Amazon, and if it’s posted, I’ll give you $50.” Niiiiice.

In a nutshell: Marketing is by nature insincere. Viral publicity contains the sincerity that marketing lacks – it’s one person saying to another, “Dude, WTF, this cracked me up, awesome, check it out.” It’s a dose of personal endorsement, which in the internet age carries a lot of weight, and it’s about the message more than the product being carried by that message.

Next tip: Convert customers into marketers. Make clients an offer to incentivize their carrying your message with them. Yeah, no thanks. The only time this article comes close to actually Getting It is: “Simply offer such a good deal or exceptional service that customers will reflexively want to tell others about it.”

YES. THAT. Sincerity sells. Sincerity is often viral.

Tip 3: Go where the eyeballs are. Find sites with traffic to “generate buzz.”

Oh, for God’s sake. That’s not viral. That’s plain old everyday smart marketing.

But, but, but! The viral element in that section of the article isn’t fully highlighted in the “tip” text. The example provided is rather savvy: companies like Sweetriot Inc. use their MySpace page to link customers and invite them to submit artwork for packaging purposes. Brilliant. Imagine that for an author and publisher, where readers are invited to submit a cover design or art for a promotional postcard to publicize a book. But that’s not just going where the eyeballs are; that’s using MySpace’s strengths to allow customers a sense of ownership in a product they love. Cultivating personal investment – another dose of sincerity – through social networking.

Tips 4-7 are really not rocket science: make the message interesting, simple, and targeted towards the interests of the audience. Yeah. I’m bowled over by the brilliance. Add a few quotes from random business people about “getting their name out there” and other empty-nouned phrases of no consequence, and that’s the rest of the article. Game, set, yawn.

So why am I wanking on about this? Because one thing I’ve learned in the few years I’ve been here is that authors have a majestic uphill battle to publicize their books, and a very short window in which to do it. Thus my first thought was, “How do authors create viral marketing campaigns? Is it possible?”

Maybe. Sincerity and viral marketing seems to be often spontaneous, and because it is, there are conditions under which its likely, and there are ways to make that elusive viral campaign more likely, but there is no set formula. That said, what seems to nudge the viral into blisters of popularity, aside from sincerity? In my opinion it’s a twinset of enticements:

1. Entertainment.
2. A good deal.

Private ArrangementsFirst: entertainment. Absurd & funny, silly & sexy. As I think about the book trailers I’ve seen, among the most successful and hilarious was Sherry Thomas’ video trailer for Private Arrangements. Before I’d heard about the book or even the plot, I heard about the trailer, which operated on simplicity and hilarity. I wasn’t even sure the plot was one I’d like but dude, that video cracked me up.

Rules of Gentility And viral marketing doesn’t even have to be a trailer – because damn, standing out in the sea of book trailers seems an incredibly difficult task right now. Consider Janet Mullany’s hilarious “Top ten things no one would ever say in a Regency-set historical romance” which was mentioned and teased in reviews and in non-romance blogs as being particularly hilarious – and it was a back-of-the-book Easter egg for readers who picked up a copy of The Rules of Gentility. Funny, silly, and absurd or sexy spreads faster than slick and overprocessed every time in my experience.

And second, the allure of a good deal. Jane at Dear Author has a poll up asking for the preferred promotional giveaway – ARCs, Published books, or gift certificates. Wise question – anything that’s something for little or something for nothing spreads online. Bloggers doing giveaways, big or small – and there are some big ticket givers out there, tend to attract traffic. One method of viral giveaways that seems to work, but likely because it’s new, is the method used by Jane and by Ann Aguirre in which if you win a book from them, you commit to blogging about it either there or at your own site. Granted, if you’re an author, postage get get way expensive, but asking for a word in exchange for free reading material isn’t such a stiff request. At least, I haven’t heard anyone complain.

What marketing tools work for you – or what techniques have you seen that were so great, you wish you’d thought of them yourself?

Stay tuned – as soon as my scanner and I are back on speaking terms, I have a whole collection of promo material and giveaways from the RT Gauntlet of Promo Hall that are so over the top with awesome and holyshit for your collective perusal.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    *sigh*  The fake trailer made me all nostalgic for the porn of my youth.

    My son’s a big Chuck fan.  I’ll let him read it first and tell me how it is.

  2. 2
    Walt says:

    Walt’s tip for helping to make a successful viral marketing campaign:

    1) Find a hot chick.
    2) a) Give the hot chick something to do that parades her around in a dance
    b) Make the hot chick look lonely and available
    3)Make the production amateurish enough to convince viewers they’re not being setup.
    4)Fun, unique, or exciting—Choose two.  Make it happen.

    That’s pretty much it. 

    Oh, and one last:

    5)If a hot chick isn’t available, use Stephen Colbert.

  3. 3
    PRC. says:

    Maybe this isn’t in the same category as viral marketing, but Zane’s Purple Panties sure managed to draw my attention because of the controversy.

    Book not available in stores = seems more scarce; book touches on a taboo subject = “what’s the big deal curiosity”; author feels discriminated against = a show of solidarity by buying the book?

    That’s some good marketing – whether intended or not.

  4. 4

    LOL.  Coming from Chuck Palahniuk, that does not surprise me at all.  This is the same guy who wrote a story that routinely caused readers to pass out at live readings.  He’s a master of shock.

  5. 5
    Leah says:

    A netwok of 8-12 people?  Doesn’t help if they’re preschoolers, I’ll bet!

    spaminator—quite34—try quite 3 and 4, and you’ve got my social circle!

  6. 6
    Marta Acosta says:

    Hokay, I simply don’t believe that Chuck’s writing made anyone pass out at a reading.  Throw up, maybe, especially if the reading was after-hours at a sleazy bar.  But pass out, no. 

    Here’s my plan for a viral marketing campaign.  It involves Candy and Sarah, a dozen kittens, free bookmarks with forged Robert Pattinson autographs, a box of illegal fireworks, and a video camera, all set to Tom Jones singing “What’s New, Pussycat?”

    Yes, there will be way too many Adobe Flash graphics and I will send it to Five Critical Trendsetters (Barbara Walters, the cute skater boy at Trader Joe’s, Barack Obama, Stephen Jobs, and Perez Hilton) and wait for my imminent fame.

    My code is alone37—not once this viral campaign gets going!

  7. 7
    Tawny says:

    This is actually a very interesting post.

    I can’t say I’ve seen a lot of clever viral marketing campaigns launched by authors. There were the authors wearing swan hats and manga costumes at RWA. Those created a bit of a stir :-) Other than that, I’m drawing a blank at the moment.

    I have, however, seen some things that may have unintentionally created buzz for a book—like a *really* bad review one book/author received on a major blog/site that got picked up by other blogs. Or the whole James Frey He-lied-on-Oprah! thing. Before that broke, I had no clue who he was (I admit, I live in a cave). I bought his book at a used bookstore :)

  8. 8
    DianeH says:

    Well, in a coinci-dink, Seth Godin’s blog for today (Friday May 16) is on Viral Marketing – Why word of mouth doesn’t happen.


    Seth has a lot of blogs and a main site: http://www.sethgodin.com/sg/

    Who is Seth, well, he is one of the guys who changed how marketing experts understand marketing itself.  His book Permission Marketing encapsulated the idea of moving away from”Wait! I’m advertising! And you must stop! what! you! are! doing! and be my victim!!!!”  (What is called “interruption marketing,” which is how marketing worked for decades, and still does in a lot of areas like TV commercials.)

    But even more stunning (and I mean stop in your tracks for-I-am-stunned-speechless), in 1999 came the Cluetrain Manifesto.

    This manifesto is #1 The best example I know of (in other words it worked for me) of Viral Marketing and #2 changed how marketers not only did their jobs but actually thought about US, the consumers.

    If you are interested in Viral Marketing or just effective marketing, this is something that will make your heart sing.


    In the world of marketing (or management or politics or information technology or ….) valued humans (who are clients or employees or voters or… ) are often called “seats” (as in people in chairs… “Look, we can ignore the people and talk about the seats for we are sophisticated”).  Same with eyeballs and users.  And let us not forget the delightful “head count.” 

    Anyway, when you click on the cluetrain link, keep scrolling down as it is a long opening page. Try to imagine what it was like to read, for the first time, “We are not seats or eyeballs or endusers or consumers.  We are human beings – and our reach exceeds your grasp. Deal with it.”

    So… viral marketing… lots of people talk about it as if it is a magic spell to cast over people and MAKE THEM BUY.  Yes, they will have no choice but do your bidding.  But it is really about the human element, about doing something so interesting or different or astounding or helpful or loving or WHATEVER that you-as-a-human turn to another human and make a comment.

    So the real question in my brain is… how can I be astounding?  How can I be helpful?  How can I make a difference to another human being?  How can I be a laugh-riot or deeply compelling?  How can I participate in something grand/sizzling/cool/whatever-enough to create a human link?  As a human, *this* is how I was born.  I was not born to think about seats.

    Because if I haven’t done that compelling thing, I haven’t done my part as a human… and other humans (not viruses, not blogs, not dollars, not site counts, not…) won’t… market?  No.  The goal isn’t to market, is it?  (If that is our ONLY goal, why not sell boxes of marketing instead of books?) The goal is for the human to interact with something of value (however that is defined).

    Create meaning first. 

    That’s what I found when I read the Cluetrain manifesto, and I couldn’t stop myself from telling others about it.  We call that viral marketing now (as if this term is more powerful than word-of-mouth), but what it really is, is one human being saying WOW real-honking-loud.  So loud another human hears it, even in a forest.

  9. 9

    I don’t think hats, candy, keychains, pens or t-shirts sell books. (Although I can think of a few ways Marta could leverage those kittens into some sales.) I think books sell books. Everything else—ads, blogging, interviews, videos—has only one purpose: to lure the reader onto the author’s website to check out the excerpt or to persude her to pick up the book in the store and crack it open and read the first few pages.

    I’m trying a different marketing tack this year, since my publisher isn’t touring me. I’ve offered 100 free copies from my backlist (advertised on my website) and 25 ARCs of the upcoming release to readers who engage to review the book somewhere (advertised to my newsletter subscribers.) The goal being, as SB Sarah writes, to have someone who already loves my work to tell others, “Dude, you’ve got to read this.”

    The mailing costs aren’t insignificant, but the response has been amazing, and I’ve been impressed with the ingenuity with which readers are networking to get the word out.

    To me, that’s the way viral marketing works—give consumers (to use a general term) motive, means or method to reach out to others and share their love for the product. It’s not about chalking AT&T;ads all over the sidewalks and making the city clean it up.

  10. 10
    Marta Acosta says:

    Although, I’ve got to say that Julia’s old-fashioned “write totally kick-ass books with unforgettable characters and expert plotting so that readers are salivating for more” is also an effective technique of getting book sales.

    I’m so hooked that I constantly check the bookstore for her books even though I know a new one isn’t coming out for months.  (Sometimes the new covers fool me for a second.)

  11. 11

    Marta! We just did viral marketing!

  12. 12
    Marta Acosta says:

    Julia, we did it without the one dozen kittens or the illegal fireworks!

    You know I’m totally of a fan of yours, but you kill me by making me wait so long to see what happens with Russ Van Alstyne and Claire Ferguson. 

    Maybe I better enter your contest for one of those ARCs.  Would you take a tabby for it?  I’d even be willing to in a “genuine” bookmark autographed by Robert Pattinson.

  13. 13
  14. 14
    RfP says:

    I knew I had seen the picture from “rules of gentility” before!

    It’s also on the new reprint of Heyer’s Cotillion.  It’s a Marcus Stone.

  15. 15
    Matthew says:

    I am huge Palahniuk fan! Read all his work, even his two non-fiction works..

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