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June 11 2007

Blogsight and How Fans Overestimate Their Importance. A blogger ponders on the effectiveness of fan campaigns and uses the grassroots efforts to promote Serenity as an example.

I joined the OB around three weeks ago after watching "Done the Impossible" which in turn came about after watching "Serenity" on DVD late 2006 - which I thought was superb; but missed on the cinema because I didn't see any adverts anywhere! Now, I didn't see Firefly because it was only shown on the Sci-Fi channel in the UK so I went back and watched them in correct order so Firefly acted as a prequel to Serenity. The show was just as impressive and I'm doing my bit to try and promote the show/film to my "space sector" buddies.

"Done the Impossible" implies that it was the fans who convinced Universal to sponsor a film based on a cancelled show but one long-term fan from the OB pointed out that it was actually more to do with Ms. Mary Parent's desire to want to work with Mr. Whedon which led to the film. I was told that the advert placed in Variety was aimed to getting the series back on TV, not to get a film (although no one complained with the result). So, I tend to agree that some fans overestimate thier importance.

Doing the impossible will only really come about with networking and spreading the signal (which is what the Browncoats are doing now) but IMHO it will only have a tsunami effect if promoted via high profile individuals whose words are heard by many. This will lead to a greater audience, a larger fan base and with it the demand for action. Universal are in it to make money and the first effort (Serenity) didn't produce tangible results. I believe Mr. Whedon posted a message here a few months back to dispel rumours about Firefly/Serenity's alleged return. Both Universal and Mr. Whedon may reconsider if the Browncoat community continues to grow and evolve much in the same way Star Trek did after it was cancelled 3 years into its 5 year mission. Since then, we've seen 9 major motion pictures, 3.5 new series. So, nothing's impossible. Besides, good things take time to ferment.
IMO, it wasn't fans who overestimated their importance, it was Universal that overestimated the fans importance. Fans doing things like guerrilla marketing, passing out tickets, and pushing the movie to everyone they knew really came about at Universal's behest. I can't blame the Browncoats for trying to take the wheel and drive the car, because Universal gave us the keys. It didn't work out, but such is life.

And The Rumor That Will Not Die is that DVD sales had anything to do with Serenity being made. It was Mary Parent and Joss' effort that got the movie made.
"not to get a film (although no one complained with the result). "

I did.
Wasn't Snakes on a Plane another film the studio relied heavily on Internet hype? Didn't work out so well for them. It's a bummer Serenity had to be one of the guinea pigs to show that doesn't work.
One word, kiddies: Jericho. :-)
There are, however, cases which prove viral marketing does work. The fact Fox own Myspace (and paid hundreds of millions for it) suggests it's seen as a valuable market (not to mention the fact all studios and networks have 'new media' departments now with subdivisons of people dedicated to online viral marketing).

Here's the thing. Online marketing is cheap. And sometimes, it delivers great results. 'Browncoats' were seen as a group of people who knew the movie would have to be a financial success to get a sequel or 2. So, what kind of marketing would 'versal try? Online. 'New media'. And you can't really fault them for it, because if there were millions of fans, it couldn't have failed.

Two problems. First of all, there weren't (and still aren't) millions of Serenifly fans. That was an amazing overestimate, which had a big impact on the campaign. Also, the quality of material handed out to the fans to help them spread the word was shit. One awful PDF poster. Tshirts and such -- after the movie was out and the site closed. Loads of multistate screenings, but only a handful of newspaper articles (which were all due to the likes of regulars here phoning their newspapers press rooms, without being told to).

I think Universal had a great idea with Serenity, to empower these millions of people with tools to tell people about a major motion picture. It's a pretty good plan. The execution and surrounding factors, not so much.

[ edited by gossi on 2007-06-11 14:53 ]
He's absolutely right IMO. It's very easy to get caught up in the excitement and predict great things based on your own experience but when that experience is largely limited to a particular set of websites and people it's gonna be hopelessly skewed.

This may be an issue of marketers applying a mainstream model to a non-mainstream audience cos, though sci-fi/fantasy fans are notoriously loyal and willing to expend time and resources on their particular show, I suspect we don't tend to influence the opinion of NON-sci-fi/fantasy fans all that heavily (by the nature of genre, it's sort of fringe) which means the normal viral marketing 'rules' may not apply.

From what I gather (and trying to shake bits of 'The Tipping Point' out of that quagmire I laughingly call a ... whaddyamacallit ... storage thingy for experiences ... starts with 'm' ... ;) viral marketing depends on 'connectors' and 'mavens' i.e. people that are at the hubs of social networks (or highly connective between networks) and people who are (or become) experts on their particular area. Not to harp on the old sci-fi nerd stereotype but I reckon a) by the nature of friendship and possibly a slight social stigma, people into sci-fi tend to hang-out with other people into sci-fi (so there're fewer 'cross-market' vectors for the 'virus') and b) by the nature of genre, people not into the genre tend to not listen to people who are, partly because they're used to not usually liking the same stuff and maybe partly because genre 'experts' often tend to be very, err, enthusiastic (read 'scary' ;) about their 'thing' (whatever it may be).

None of which is exactly conducive to spreading the word far and wide outside a particular fandom (sci-fi/cheesy schlock horror/whatever).

(that said, there's no way it can hurt when you're drumming up funds for e.g. D2DVD projects to be able to point to a petition - even an online 'zero effort' one - with hundreds of thousands of signatories who are all at least on paper willing to pay for their show to continue)
I agree Universal overestimated fan importance and didnt advertise enough. I saw very few commercials for Serenity (only twice on television) and expecting word of mouth to ever promote a theatrical release sufficiently is setting up for failure. Had they not tried to save a few bucks letting us do all the work, perhaps more people would have seen it.
There are, however, cases which prove viral marketing does work. The fact Fox own Myspace (and paid hundreds of millions for it) suggests it's seen as a valuable market...

This is not viral marketing. It's regular broadcast marketing, because what they're doing with it is pushing ads about their film properties at every single MySpace member. That's broadcast, not viral.
Yes, but the reason Myspace is one of the top websites on the internet is people. It spread person to person. Which makes it a valuable marketing (and market research) property.

[ edited by gossi on 2007-06-11 17:05 ]
Universal did advertise Serenity fairly well the week it came out. It had ads on both the Simpsons and Lost (and it was Lost's second season premiere, so that was big). It was in the second week that the ads dropped off, when it didn't preform as well as expected.

I can't fault Universal for trying something new. I was disappointed that they didn't give us decent tools, and even in the weeks leading up to the release, there were concerns from the fans that they were relying on us too much. But it was a new idea, and in the end, a failed experiment.

Jericho is an anomaly. Fans can resurrect shows on the bubble, but it only happens when execs think there is enough audience to justify it. There were never enough Browncoats to make Serenity a hit, or to revive Firefly. Without non-fans coming into the fold, neither had a chance at success. As gossi says, there have never been many of us.

That's not to say there is no future for the 'Verse; at my college library, the Firefly set goes out constantly. New fans are born all the time. Even if fans drop off (and they will), if something starts to happen, many will come back. Joss is still in love. So am I. I can wait.

[ edited by Dizzy on 2007-06-11 17:44 ]
One of the things, to me, about Serenifly I find curious is the timelessness of it. I don't need to know exactly what happened after the end of Serenity. I want to know what happens to the characters, and the ship. So if a sequel appears 20 years from now, I'm there (as long as there's no Jar Jar).
Yeah, I don't think Universal actually did that bad a job of advertising. I saw lots of commercials for Serenity the two weeks or so leading up to the premiere and then maybe a week after. I believe they also had an ad on AIM, which is a great spot.

Let's face it, there just isn't a huge market for sci-fi movies with relatively unknown actors in them. I know if I hadn't been a fan of Joss and Firefly, I wouldn't have gone to see it.
I agree that both our numbers and our impact were overestimated and undersupported, gossi, and that we are, er, nerds, Saje. Also, it seems like Jericho was pretty close to getting renewed, and the sets and cast and creators were all still either available or under contract or something since it was so close to the time of cancellation, so I don't think it's the best comparison. But, OTOH, we still have enough numbers and impact to get a little of the 'Verse, because we are getting more comics (because Joss will never leave a man behind, and we're that man -- er, you know what I mean), and Universal is throwing us the Special Edition DVD. So, we may not yet have 9 movies and 3.5 TV series, but at least we don't have Jar Jar either. Or complete silence (which is preferable to Jar Jar -- that's all I'm sayin'). ;-)
Yes, but the reason Myspace is one of the top websites on the internet is people. It spread person to person. Which makes it a valuable marketing (and market research) property.

Yes, but not a viral one. Logging into MySpace and having Fantastic Four backgrounds, Fantastic Four ads, and Fantastic Four videos all over the main page isn't viral. It's broadcast.
I agree, Bix, but there's many examples of people using Myspace as a viral marketing (or word of mouth) tool, some very successfully. The site sold to News Corp for $558 million and is still growing at a rate of around 10,000 new user profiles per hour. Additionally, 57 Million of the users are teens (12-17) and most of the rest the 18-34 demographic. It's pretty much proof it's possible to build huge social networks online, much based on bands, movies and TV shows.
You're right, billz- I hadn't thought of it that way, but the comparison isn't really valid for JUST that reason.

You so smaht. :-)
Hopefully fans of 'Veronica Mars' will manage to pull out a Jericho (copyright on the expression), there is a similar campaign to send mars bars to the execs at the CW going on here
gossi: "Yes, but the reason Myspace is one of the top websites on the internet is people. It spread person to person. Which makes it a valuable marketing (and market research) property."

theonetruebix: "Yes, but not a viral one. Logging into MySpace and having Fantastic Four backgrounds, Fantastic Four ads, and Fantastic Four videos all over the main page isn't viral. It's broadcast."


What I don't know about marketing would fill an encyclopaedia - but I've been on MySpace for a few years and gotta say that in my experience, the main way stuff gets spread and "sold" to me there is viral - via bulletins and blogs and groups and other such one-to-one or one-to-some infectious ways. I first heard of the R. Tam sessions and whedonesque itself via MySpace bulletins, youtube marketing stuff spreads via bulletin, political and social campaigns spread thusly like wildfire, & so on...
Well, Veronica fans only have four more days to do anything, and I ain't optimistic. Things like this almost never work; my good twin billz (unintentionally, that implies I'm an evil twin, but it works out) was very right in saying that Jericho was an anomaly because the network ALMOST wanted it back...they were very very close to renewing it. Plus, everyone and everything is still available.

I really do wish people would stop saying that Firefly DVD sales were why Serenity got greenlit (Firefly: The Official Companion - Vol. 2 almost says so, but instead says it got Serenity to be taken more seriously, and I guess I'd agree with that). That had absolutely nothing to do with it...Mary Parent loved Firefly, she loved Joss, she believed in him.

Let's all hope she still believes in him when it comes to Goners. ;-)

At the end of the day, fans don't really make an impact as to whether or not a dead franchise can be revived.
Fans do make an impact though. One fan lead me to Serenity. He was my doctor! He told me all about Firefly and the movie coming out called Serenity. I found what he had to say to be very interesting. At the time, my boyfriend and I used to pretty much live at the cinema too. We saw the trailer for Serenity before a movie. We were speechless. The trailer had reinstated what my doctor had said - we want to see this movie! My boyfriend ended up seeing the movie twice and I saw it three times. The third time I took my friend. She's not a sci-fi/fantasy freak and neither am I. My friend is now an extreme Serenifly fan...my boyfriend and I are not far behind her.

Certainly, it's safe to say that there are a hundred more people like me, him and her all over the world. Both fans and Universal showed what the rest of us were missing out on. The movie may not have perfomed well at the box office but there are more fans now thanks to word of mouth and DVDs. That pretty much tells me no one is at fault here because it was still a success in raising awareness. Let's see what the future brings. We all may be in for a suprise when it comes to the word 'enthusiasm'.
Let me just thank OzLady and UnpluggedCrazy for making me not only smaht (not just smart, but smaht, yo) and the good twin (though I suspect, Unplugged, that you as the evil twin have more fun, bwah hah hah!). You are two fans whose importance cannot possibly be overestimated, it's so rockingly important. ;-)
Archaeopteryx, that is just common everyday word of mouth. It is not crazy fanaticy stuff. Word of mouth is a good thing that almost all entertainment relies on. The folks who enjoy Law and Order do not sign petitions and send legal briefs to NBC. They just tell their friends, calmly, that it's enjoyable (and it was, many, many, many years ago).
The folks who enjoy Law and Order do not sign petitions and send legal briefs to NBC.


Which is ironic, because you think that fans of a legal show would be the most likely to send legal briefs. ;)

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