Posted by Jane Copland
I don’t watch much television. It’s silly really. I bought a big flat screen HDTV DVR OMG WTF television before I could really afford such things and I only regularly watch two shows. Tonight, one of my two shows will go off air for the last time, leaving me with only American Idol, which I encourage you all to link to from now on as American Idle (and also to check out American Idol’s SEO lookalike).
My other favourite show was afforded a stay of execution last year when a grassroots online campaign saved Jericho from SciFi channel repeats for a good six months. Nuts Online, which has nothing to do with a fictional programme about a small town in Kansas and its strangely good-looking inhabitants, found itself in the middle of a campaign to rescue the show from CBS’s chopping board. Along with other similar campaigns, they ended up successfully extending the show’s lifespan through a second season.
Unfortunately, my adoration for the show wasn’t shared by the U.S. population at large, despite an impressive number of guns, explosions, tense stand-offs and shots of Brad Beyer and Skeet Ulrich looking hot. After the critically-praised yet barely watched second season, Jericho won’t be returning to the network.
People whose taste in TV is as impeccable as mine have launched protestsandcampaigns, but it’s highly unlikely that CBS will buy into a third season. And besides, making an online petition is not nearly as effective as Nuts Online’s approach, which basically amounted to spamming CBS’s headquarters with twenty tons of their product, a reference to a scene in season one’s finale.
There’s a nice lesson to be learned from Nuts Online’s approach. A skeptic might label this lesson as, "be aggravating and make yourself hard to ignore;" however, this particular instance of the "annoying" advertising model paid off. CBS apparently enjoyed the gag. In a letter to Nuts Online, CBS’s Entertainment President Nina Tassler is quoted as saying, "Your protest was creative, sustained and very thoughtful and respectful in tone. You made a difference. PS: Please stop sending us nuts :-)"
It takes a savvy campaign to be enough of a pain to get noticed but not be annoying enough to alienate the target audience. I have no idea if Nuts Online sized up their audience before they began sending nuts to CBS (I wonder if they didn’t, since I personally wouldn’t have credited CBS with a sense of humour) but they hit the balance between offensive and amusing. Whilst the execution of this campaign took place offline, two aspects of the exercise can be applied to the wider realm of online marketing.
- Attracting a user-base online is significantly easier than offline. You knew this, but it bears repeating. What offline nut store would be able to help convince one of the United States’ dominant television networks to pick up a television show for a second season? A television show whose concept as an ongoing series was probably grossly misjudged: most of us rabid Jericho fans agree that it should have been a mini-series or a film.
Jericho’s producers have probably noticed the power of Internet communities, too. Their show comes as close to having developed a cult following as any show on a mainstream television network. Countless forums, groups, discussion boards and the like deal with shows like Lost, but Lost sits at the popular table in the cafeteria. It has been Jericho’s rough ride that has brought people together online in its defense.
- Social media, as opposed to regular media, packs more punch per pound. It takes so much money to organise and distribute a round of advertising on television, and the prices are high for other forms of advertising and campaigning too. However, cost aside, it’s the interaction that makes social media advertising great. What if someone had created a fantastic television commercial to rally fans in the quest to save Jericho? You can’t interact with an ad on TV, aside from finding its corresponding website or, at the least, finding out if it’s been uploaded to YouTube.
Millions of people like me are sitting on their sofas right now watching a mind-numbing ad for State Farm Insurance, soon to turn into an equally sickening Brooke Shields-hosted ad for Colgate. None of us care. Not only is there nothing original about these commercials, but even if there were, we couldn’t express our empathy with an idea, company or brand if we wanted to. This isn’t to say that television advertising is ineffective, but the online, interactive marketing of a campaign or brand needs to reach fewer people and requires that you part with less money in order to make an impact.
Interaction is what keeps people around. I’ve never voted on the grandiose singing contest that I’m watching right now, but tens of millions of people don’t watch this show every week just because they like Simon Cowell. The idea that they’re contributing is a big part of why people get involved in shows like American Idol.
On a somewhat unrelated note, I thought I had lost one of my primary forms of online interaction this weekend. Unable to log in to my beloved Facebook on Friday night, I happened to be talking to Rebecca on chat at the same time. I’d been presented with this screen, and they weren’t kidding: I couldn’t log in.
According to Rebecca, every trace of me on the site was gone. I’d written on her wall earlier that day, and the wall post was gone. In her news feed, a strange message informed her that " has commented on a photo of you." My name was missing. I’d been Bullocked! I duly freaked out, convinced that the "temporarily unavailable message was a big lie and that I’d been inexplicably kicked off Facebook. You hear about that happening every once in a while, and although most people receive an email explaining why their accounts have been disabled, you also hear about people who receive no such explanation. The last message they see from Facebook is similar to that depicted above.
I emailed friends and demanded to know if I’d disappeared from their walls, inboxes and newsfeeds as well. As far as I knew, I hadn’t violated Facebook’s Terms of Service and didn’t know of any other reason why my account should be removed, aside from the incredible amount of room I’m taking up on their servers. Two hours later, my Facebook account came back to life (and, amusingly, Rebecca’s appeared to go offline). I celebrated. I laughed. I looked at my pictures.
Aside from convincing me never to violate the Terms of Service, as the consequences are unthinkable, the experience highlighted the reliance people like me (and you, probably), have on various online outlets. It may not be Facebook, but most of us have places we’d really miss if we lost access to them. How on earth would I remember to fly to Australia in two weeks if Facebook didn’t remind me that SMX Sydney was coming up?
Sadly, none of our online meeting places or passionate internet causes matter much for Jericho tonight. Another network might pick up a new season (the ever-easy-to-please SciFi is running repeats), but until then, my TV is going to get about half the use it does currently. However, it’s nice to know that it’s thanks to the Internet that I’ve been able to enjoy a second season at all.