Happy Positive Fun Update: Viral Marketing and the Reinvention of the Sale

Despite the fact I dislike large, faceless, hopelessly bureaucratic corporations like Comcast, SBC, Halliburton, the entire Health Care Industry, et al, who devote legions of troops to the cause of ripping off the consumer, I have a confession to make.
I like advertising. I like marketing.
Now, I’ll qualify that. I don’t like the majority of ads on TV, or at the movies, not because I dislike ads – it’s because most of them are so dumb, and so useless, they just take up space in between things I want to actually watch.
No, what I like is smart advertising and marketing.
For me, I enjoy seeing the rare moments in advertising when someone in the industry figures out a new way to sell something old, or someone else finds a way to get the word out about something they like – and for a rare moment the corporate battle droids don’t just step on it.
For example, while doing a Google search trying to find a Photoshop tutorial on how to convert existing photos into iPod style ads, I came across an old article in Wired Magazine about a home-brewed iPod ad that had its 15 minutes of prime time a while back. You can watch the ad at Wired or see it at a mirror site that is hosting it.
This is not the first time I’ve seen or heard of such a thing – the idea that someone Out There likes a product so much, they make their own homage to it. What’s unique is that Apple didn’t send a telegram to the Lawyer Brigade to shut the guy down.
Instead they let it go – and within weeks it was seen by thousands of people likely to buy an iPod. Best of all, they didn’t have to spend a dime to get all sorts of good press about the iPod, or pay for ad space – the consumers did all the work themselves.
True, this was a fortunate case of someone talented enough to pull such a thing off – one can imagine the consternation of Apple if someone made something that, while meaning well, sucked. When you consider just how bad most ads are, though, one has to ask – could Joe or Jane Average do any worse than some of the mindless drivel we tune out thanks to the remote, TiVo, DVR, and DVD?
A more macro-level example of this concept is that of the “fan sub” movement devoted to bringing foreign programming to the US and other countries that otherwise might not get it. It’s interesting to watch how American producers have responded to technological advances in distribution – rather than learn and adapt to a new model, they spend more time in court, and on attorney’s fees, instead of figuring out new ways to get their product to people who want it, and get both themselves, and the writers, directors, actors and others paid.
For years now, enthusiasts of Japanese animation and other foreign language programming have been taking it upon themselves to acquire the latest programs, translate and insert subtitles in English (or other languages) and distributing them on BitTorrent and other networks. What makes these folks unique in the grey area of “piracy” is that they deal almost exclusively in programming that has not yet been licensed for distribution in their own country, thus making what they are doing somewhat illegal – but somewhat not illegal, if that makes sense.
Personally, I would never have discovered Samurai Champloo, now being shown on Cartoon Network, had it not been for a fansub group’s original distribution of the series online. I now watch it on TV, and will most likely buy the DVD set once all DVDs in the series are released.
Likewise, there is no way I’d ever get to see the Japanese live-action drama GTO had a group of volunteers not started translating and posting said files. There is little to no chance this will ever see any sort of distribution in the United States, so the producers aren’t losing any money with this stuff out there. More to the point – should they ever release this series on DVD, I’d be the first to rent it. Best of all, the producers did not have to pay a dime to tell me about it – and I’m already hooked.
Now, you’d think that as more and more people started doing this, the owners of said programming would hit everyone with lots of lawsuits. But as the technology advanced, and the increase in popularity of “fan subs” grew, Japanese media companies realized what they were dealing with.
Thousands of people were spending their own money and time putting out content, making a point of inserting in said video files that they were not to be sold, and in essence acting as a test market for their products in the US.
Japanese producers took note, and started to send people to conventions and fan clubs to promote their work. All they asked that once a series was licensed by a US distributor, that groups passing along the files stop, and for the most part, they do. Rarely does anyone get sued for putting out copies of video files they should not.
The rest is history. Go to Netflix or Blockbuster and see how many Japanese DVDs now for rent. Go to any chain bookstore, and see the 100s of Japanese comic books taking up shelf space. A whole new market is now available to Japanese producers, and all they had to do was come on over and put the stuff on the shelves, and it sells. Instead of spending money on the Lawyer Brigade, they spend money on bean counters, who now have more beans to count.
It’s not perfect, and in any situation there are those who are dishonest, but let’s be realistic – dishonesty and cheating people is something all sides of the entertainment industry engage in – there are no knights in shining armor in this business anywhere.
More importantly, there’s an opportunity to hold off on the big guns of the Lawyer Brigade and think for a moment – in a world where people really want to see good quality programming, how do you find new ways to get it to them in the way they want, and do so in a way that is not ripping either a) the consumer b) the artists or c) the producers?
Surely there’s someone out there who can put the pieces together, and make money for everyone. Or have American business schools beat any sort of creativity out of our MBA squads?
Perish the thought. What are yours?
PS: For a provocative read, check out this article that discussed the case history of Battlestar Galactica and its effect on SkyOne, SciFi channel, BitTorrent, and the world of broadcasting.
It makes for an interesting read. I’ll say this – had it not been for a chance to see the show on BitTorrent, I would never have been able to see Season 1 aside from a few episodes. Now that I’ve seen it , I plan on watching it on cable this summer, and will buy the DVDs. I went from being a non-consumer, to a fan who has promoted the series here. And I’m not the only one.

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

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