Friday, June 09, 2006

The Anatomy of Buzz

Where does buzz start? Is it when an advertisement makes people take notice? When an interview captivates? When something wholly unexpected happens?

Three days ago, The Class of 2007 didn't exist. Then, in a comment on a totally unrelated post, J.T. Ellison struck flint to steel. And something clicked. Soon J.T., Brett Battles, Sandra Ruttan and I began corresponding.

Hey, this isn't a bad idea! We can found a forum to spread the word about debut crime novels! This is going to be great!

Sarah Weinman made a very complimentary post about the "Class of 2007," how they were building buzz well in advance of their book releases. This further fueled the fire. And before we knew it, was registered, we began devising logos and designing t-shirts to pass out at ThrillerFest. We had the concept, had the man and woman power, and buzz was starting to build.

All because of one seemingly innocent comment. And trust me, I don't think J.T. had this in mind when she made it.

This is a perfect example of "buzz." It seems to me that when an idea takes shape, when a concept or product reaches its (pardon my lingo) tipping point, it's because of many factors that were more spur of the moment than spur of the marketing meeting. Nobody thought J.T.'s comment would lead to this, but it did.

I think of Anderson Cooper, the Silver Fox, whose book DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE will be #1 on next week's New York Times bestseller list. Five years ago, Anderson was hosting "The Mole," and was known for little other than being Gloria Vanderbilt's son. Now he's a worldwide "celebrity with integrity," and has a #1 bestselling memoir to boot. How did this happen?

During the horrors of Hurricane Katrina, Anderson interviewed Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. He chided Landrieu and other smarmy politicians who were gladhanding each other while people were dying in the streets. And right there, a fuse was lit. An "unbiased" reporter had thrown off the cloak of neutrality and said what we all were feeling, that we were sick of politicians and their platitudes, because we all knew what was really going on. And in one unmprompted moment, a fire began to burn.

Video of Anderson's interview was forwarded around the Internet faster than a great "Onion" article. Within weeks, Anderson had gone from CNN reporter to The Voice of the People.

In entertainment, you can buy your way to the top. It's true. If a movie studio wants its film to hit #1, they can do it. If a publisher wants their book to hit the bestseller list, they can do it. But the price it comes at is rarely worth it. If a publisher decides to commit a $500,000 marketing campaign to a debut novel, I'd be willing to bet my next year's rent that the book at least scrapes the bestseller list. But what ultimately decides whether the book is successful is buzz. Can it sustain that level of "enthusiasm"? Or once the initial wave of publicity dies down, does the audience die with it?

Look at the recently released "Mission Impossible 3." The studio spent upwards of $100 million on promotion. That baby was going to hit #1 no matter what. But once that opening week of buzz ended, the fire smoldered. Audiences abandoned it. The movie will end up making around $130 million, but considering the $280 million it took to make and promote, that's a pretty big failure. "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" cost under $5 million to make, and less than that to promote. And it grossed well over $250 million. And something tells me the marketing team at Warner Bros didn't plan on that.

Many books have tried to catch "Buzz in a bottle." Offering consumers tried and true techniques to create and maintain buzz. The truth is, though, even if you follow those instructions to a 't', it's all up in the air. We never know when buzz is going to hit. We can't be fooled into believing "fake buzz," the buzz perpetrated by the creator or distributor of a product. There's a famous phrase in advertising, that the worst thing that can happen to a mediocre product is a great advertisement. When that happens, there's a backlash. It creates anti-buzz.

We don't know how to create buzz. But we sure do know when it's out there.

In other news, check out J.T. Ellison's post at Murderati today, about a chilling cold case.

And authors, make sure to join the Class of 2007. It's gonna be a Killer Year.

And have you picked up your copy of THRILLER yet? You have? You're lying, I can tell. What's wrong with you? Don't you have a soul? Buy it, or you'll end up with Kenny McCormick and Stan Marsh's grandpa in limbo.


Blogger Stacia said...

How can you talk about buzz and not even mention Snakes on a Plane?! Or do you have to read a lot of movie magazines and Ain't It Cool News to know that one?

Yes, buzz just happens, but we all try to do what we can to help it along. I've thought sometimes that just getting 10 or 20 people in different parts of the country to tell people about (whatever it is, book, movie) would spread buzz fatser than anything else, if they were the right people.

10:06 AM  
Blogger JT Ellison said...

Great post, Jason, and not just because of Killer Year. Every new writer needs to be reading your blog. Very valuable information here! So many new writers, and established ones, for that matter, expect that the buzz will come to them. Not so.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Jason Pinter said...

Great point December. this is a movie that cost nothing to make, but buzz began to build solely because of the chutzpah of the title. And now it'll make 10x more money than anyone ever thought, just because of that. And they're being smart about it to, capitalizing on the buzz before the movie comes out.

And thanks so much J.T., now my official partner in crime with Killer Year!

10:46 AM  
Blogger Brett Battles said...

Nicely done, Jason. Sometimes you just have to grab the buzz bull by the horns and go, go, go, not let it just pass you by. The only thing that comes to people who wait is a lot of time to read.

3:02 PM  

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