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:
2. A good deal.
First: 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.
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.