TopRank Online Marketing

Fish Wavers & Bridge Namers

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How the “Greatest Living American” Reaches Unique Groups by Creating Unique Groups
by Mike Yanke – Account Manager

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It was a crisp and cool April morning that Stephen woke up and realized he could no longer live in this world such as it was. He had accomplished much in his life, having achieved iconic status as the rightful namesake to an ancient Hungarian bridge, to being honored with his own film by George Lucas. But it was just not enough. Our world’s paper of record, Google, was simply not recognizing him for what he truly was…the “Greatest Living American”.

The Stephen referred to is Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.” The process by which he officially achieved such a lofty distinction is referred to as “Google Bombing”, whereby a group of dedicated individuals can force rank a certain page on a site through creative linking strategies.

Google Bombing on its own, and the ethics behind it, could fill an entire post. A much larger lesson can be gleaned from why, rather than how, web enthusiasts force ranked Colbert with this title in the digital niche.

Each night, through a distinctive cross between viral and stealth marketing tactics, Colbert proves he can best support his objectives by providing viewers with their own.

Essentially, Colbert’s primary objective is to grow viewership of his nightly TV program, which can also be accessed through YouTube, downloaded to an iPod, or even slowly buffered onto a Verizon mobile phone. The benefit to not only Colbert, but anyone birthing their message out into this kaleidoscopic new world, is the sheer volume of recipients that can be reached through even a single broadcast.

Intelligent marketers realize, however, that the flip side of this ensures they are no longer marketing their customers’ products or services to people, rather, they are marketing them to 4 billion persons, and a staggering variety of niches, interests, talents and desires.

People as a whole will make predictable choices, but a person will be very hard to reach because he, or she, will never allow their ideas to be homogenized. It does not matter what “people” think, what matters is a “person” loves Hungarian Bridges – and will not care to hear about anything else!

Colbert expertly plays on the unique interests and talents of his fans.

For example:

  • In August of 2006, The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Transport of Hungary organized a public vote to rename Northern M0 Danube Bridge. Fans, and online bridge enthusiasts, voted for Colbert in droves, insuring a clever new moniker, regrettably, overruled by the tourism board.
  • In late 2006, The “Stephen Colbert Green Screen Challenge” challenged viewers to add their own computer-generated sci-fi effects to footage of Colbert fighting imaginary aliens. Star Wars creator George Lucas even stopped by Colbert’s program to submit his entry.
  • Early in 2007, fans of Colbert in an effort to lure Stephen’s namesake eagle back from the trenches of Canada, approached the Canadian border in Bellingham, WA to lure the raptor back by waving filets of fresh salmon.

While these tactics may be seen as viral, it could reasonably be argued the groups involved weren’t intentionally promoting anything, rather acting on an objective that played to their interests.

They may be argued to be stealth, but while there is reasonable doubt the participants were not intentionally passing along a promotion, there is equal doubt that they would fail to realize they were being promoted to, on at least a primal level.

Colbert has achieved an exceptional hybrid existing between the two, supported by the multiple communication mediums we encounter daily. In this plan, the group formed around the message, rather than the original message that created it, has become the promotional tool.

To illustrate through the salmon example above, Colbert’s original message reached the small group of people in Bellingham, WA who view fish waving as an interest. They were touched either through TV, traditional word of mouth, or popular fish waving forums. These people, comprised of both Colbert fans and fish waving enthusiasts, banded to become their own group.

On the day of the big fish wave, this brave group went out to engage in a unique activity they loved to do on a personal level, and as is often the case when unique intersects with personal, drew a share of that day’s publicity.

The publicity afforded by a newly created group running with their provided objective, finally circled back to the source himself, carrying a few curious new viewers along the way.

The successful marketers in today’s world will be those who like Colbert remember, that to achieve your messaging objectives in today’s fractured and transparent world, you must break metaphorical bread with those who wave actual fish.

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