Viral’s milestone moment was a Hollywood remake


A new-media guru wrongly suggests that small businesses can market as a effectively as an entertainment industry giant.

Media and hype are inseparable. They are like flowers and bees. The flower always attracts the bee, which needs it to produce food.  The bee returns the favor by helping the flower reproduce.  The hype-bee has no appetite for a media-flower unless it is wildly different from every flower that has ever existed.  This is especially true today for the new media flower, as its early blossoms are not so self pollinating.

That is why it is valuable (and fun) to look through and beyond the amazement spewed by experts about how new media has changed the world forever.  Author, consultant and viral marketing evangelist David Meerman Scott pontificates that “you and I are living in a time when we can reach the world directly, without having to spend enormous amounts of money on advertising, without investing in huge public relations . . . and without a huge sales force knocking on doors.”  I bet that motivated a few people to buy Scott’s book before renewing their agency contracts.

Scott’s poster child for his New Rules of Marketing & PRis Cindy Gordon. As marketing VP at

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Universal Studios used new media to announce Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Universal Orlando Studios, she engineered a truly brilliant announcement of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction.  In 2007, Gordon bypassed the expensive, hackneyed theme park galas of the last 30 years to introduce Wizarding World via an exclusive web cast for seven influential Harry Potter fan-group leaders.  These seven people created a viral buzz that spread throughout the Internet and into the mainstream media.  It also provided Scott with fodder for his theory that we all can mimic Universal’s strategy to build our businesses.  I would suggest that a classic Hollywood (and Orlando) warning applies: Do not try this at home without proper supervision!

Companies should use every new trick and tool available to get an edge on their competition and avoid wasting money. They should move quickly to find out which new media are best to promote their products to their unique customers.  But Universal’s situation is not typical of the real world.  To boot, Gordon actually revived a well-worn entertainment industry strategy, rather than discover the secret for eliminating advertising and sales budgets.

From the early days of movies, studio promoters relied on a few influential columnists, supported by “fan clubs,” to communicate with the public.  Reporters like Hedda Hopper, Walter Winchell, Louella Parsons and others could make or break projects in Hollywood and on Broadway. They were able to do this because local newspapers, and radio and TV stations were isolated and depended on them.  More importantly, people had intrinsic urges to know about movies and movie stars.  The studios meted out information, audiences waited impatiently to get fed, and news spread rapidly in media and through word of mouth.  Then as today, movie promoters did not have to prove the benefit so cost of advertising was limited.

In recent years, movie companies and their theme-park children have excessively advertised and publicized premieres and new attractions.  Gordon’s Internet strategy was refreshing and gutsy because it defied convention.  If it had not worked it would have been her ass.  But it did, because it was a tried and true formula for extending the value of a raging hot property.   If Scott were lecturing on why companies should reevaluate conventional wisdom to outflank the competition and maximize profits, he would be right on.   But, just like in the movies, he and other new media evangelists cannot put people in seats with a story about how to manage successfully, they have to tell you that the world is shaking apart and offer the dramatic rescue scene for your business.

In the real world, deciding how to use and budget for new media is a complicated and important task.  The notion that marketing and sales departments will be radically altered suggests that CEOs become intimately involved.  That means they need to commit serious study time, inside and outside their own organizations, not just sit through dog and pony shows.   The best formula for each company will involve a special mix of tactics appropriate for its industry, customers and culture.

Rachel Happe, founder of the Community Roundtable, a peer network for social media practitioners, confirms that viral communities take time to develop.  “A marketing or support organization cannot switch overnight – there would be a huge drop in performance while the community is in its incubation stage,”  she writes in Social Media Today.  She suggests that companies invest in social labs for testing hypotheses and developing new ways to measure results.


In old Hollywood, Dean Martin (left), Jerry Lewis and other stars depended on the good words of columnist Louella Parsons to create buzz.

“Today, too many groups are trying to either add on ‘social’ to existing processes or expect the same performance out of social initiatives – often trying to skip the critical incubation phase of community development ensuring they will never reach the performance needed to replace traditional practices,” Happe says.

Small companies cannot invest in social labs but they can and should experiment with social media.   Experimenting always means trying several methods and continually refining them.  Unlike traditional media, the costs for testing social media are minimal.

The social media movie-theme-park-adventure-ride has just begun.  No one involved has emerged from the jungle to tell the complete story, lived happily ever after or ridden off into the sunset.   For the best chance at a perfect Hollywood ending, start by recognizing the difference between hype and sound business practice.

Leave a Comment

David Meerman Scott July 11, 2009, 9:57 am

Hey John. Obviously, I just love what Cindy Gordon did. Thanks for writing about it here. Your analysis goes deeper than I ever did and I thank you for opening my eyes to some new aspects to this story. Best, David