Or “How NOT to alienate your core fans by marketing media”

FanaticsImagine you’re a marketing and media manager of a popular television show with a loyal (dare I say ‘fanatical’) following. The fans of this show eagerly await each new piece of media you deign to drop their way the way a pack of hungry dogs awaits a dangling morsel. These are the fans that you see posting thousands of posts on the show’s official boards and traveling thousands of miles to score a single autograph: saying they’re “engaged” doesn’t even begin to capture the level of loyalty they possess that is just waiting for confirmation and recognition.

Imagine now all of the amazing things you, as a savvy marketer, could accomplish with these loyal fans on your side. Whether you create a detailed, crowd-sourced, social network that persists between seasons; an army of user-generated videos on sites like YouTube, Metacafe and Break.com; or a word of mouth marketing effort to spread the show’s message virally, the options for marketing media powerfully over the long term are endless when you have such an congregation ready to preach the show’s evangel.

Facepalm! (image credit cosford)Now imagine one final scenario: you’re the person in charge of marketing with media’s most loyal fans. Imagine that, due to a shortsighted outlook, hasty decision or pressure from your superiors, you made a decision that backfired. A decision that, no matter how much you tried reverse, spin or explain, alienated a significant portion of these perfect evangelists. More specifically, imagine that you put a lot of investment and effort into giving your fans high quality, exclusive media to enjoy between seasons and something you did in the process not only turned away some of your fans, but also made it hard for the rest of your fans to access and experience this exclusive media.

This would be a terrible use of these loyal fans by our imaginary media marketing manager, no? If I were that manager, I would call up Monster.com and begin marketing my resume the very next day.

The reason I’ve taken you down this imagination rabbit hole for so long is to remove branding associations and other distractions from a very recent, real-life scenario from which I derived the above story. As an open and unrepentant (dare I say “fanatical”) Battlestar Galactica fan, it is particularly disappointing for me to say that this egregious error of marketing media was committed against me and my fellow BSG fans by the Sci-fi Channel.

After taking almost a year off in the middle of the final season of the show, the Sci-fi Channel released 20 BSG webisodes titled “The Face of the Enemy” designed to satiate the hunger for more BSG media and to combat the negative effect they had already caused with the needless hiatus (10 webisodes and 10 “enhanced” versions of the webisodes with writer commentary).

The webisodes clearly required a lot of care and investment as they are as intricate, emotional and CG-heavy as the series that spawned them. Totaling approximately 60 minutes of perfectly-crafted content, the webisodes were pitched as “a series of revelations you won’t see on the show”. This is the kind of content that makes a fan like myself go crazy and immediately begin the armchair quarterbacking that often goes with being a disciple of such a mysterious and multi-faceted show. In short, I’m the target audience for this type of content.

Enter the marketing error so egregious that it has spawned it’s own ‘media marketing fail’ blog post: marketing other media, before the desired media with pre-roll advertising. Nothing makes a loyal fan feel less important than having to watch the same 30-second trailer before each of the 20 four-minute webisodes. To remove the math from your day, that means watching 10 minutes worth of the same commercial in an hour. That’s watching the same commercial every four minutes for 20 iterations.

To put it another way: Would you have an anniversary ring made specifically for your wife/husband and require that they sang 30 seconds of the Barney the Dinosaur theme song before they put the ring on each day? If you’re answering ‘no’ (and for your spouse’s sake I hope you are), why would you create expensive, specialized, micro-targeted content, then impede the exact group you spent such care catering to from enjoying that content 110%?

Is the Sci-fi channel so in need of dollars that they can risk alienating the best fans of one of their two successful shows? Can anyone in any creative or marketing position justify taking that risk?

This is indicative of a larger issue that I touched last year at the bottom of a post with a seemingly irrelevant title: Viral Marketing in the Fabric Industry? Then, the idea was crystalized as “pre-roll ads are dead”. Now I’m expanding the conclusion to “marketing media by interrupting other (desired) media is dying.” It’s not elegant, but it’s a point that needs to be made.

In an on-demand platform (the internet), if I’m trying to watch something specific and have to sit through other media first (irrelevant media of your choosing), you’ve already lost me. If you have the audacity to make me watch the same piece of media over and over before the media I’m looking for, I don’t care how awesome your content is purported to be, I’ll pass or wait and find that content elsewhere.

Not only is this marketing tactic offensive to your best customers, it’s lazy. “Cram more advertisements in” shouldn’t pass the wise marketing decision bar anymore. The internet has evolved passed its first iteration and now has sufficient variability to allow for brain cells to be expended in the form of creativity when attempting to win the business of your fans.

Or as Seth Godin puts it to Verizon in regards to Verizon’s mobile advertising strategy in late 2006, “Do you really want to alienate millions of users [fans] by giving us something we don’t need and don’t want?”

While nothing short of force majeure will stop me from watching the final episodes of BSG starting 1/16/09, nothing will get me to sit in front of Sci-fi’s botched effort to make a few extra bucks at the expense of their best fans. The sooner companies abandon this half-baked strategy of marketing media, the sooner they will be able to fully leverage their evangelists and completely monetize their content.

Written by Brennan White