Friday, October 19, 2007

Word of Mouth Buzz = Winning the Lottery

About a month ago, this little film called Across the Universe opened in a small amount of theaters to limited audiences.

Most critics hated the musical, directed by Lion King Broadway visionary Julie Taymor and set to popular Beatles tunes. In fact, according to popular movie critic web site, only 53% of critics out there gave it passing marks.

Many adults I know who saw it said it was a piece of crap. On a personal note, I may rent it because Taymor directed it. But, I can honestly say that most of my thirtysomething friends have not uttered one single word about this movie. And I would be willing to bet that half of my friends know nothing about it.

Yet, according to an article I came across on, Across the Universe is gaining steam and more and more people are going to see this musical event. The web site boldy claims that it could very well be “the next cult sensation" a' la Grease, Star Wars or even The Wizard of Oz.

In fact, after five weeks in theaters, the PG-13 movie finally penetrated the top 10 and is sitting pretty at No. 8.

"How can that be?"

Well, in addition to opening in more theaters this week (954 to be exact), according to an article in the Los Angeles Times , Across the Universe connects "with a zealous core constituency: teenage girls, who, anecdotal evidence suggests, are going to see the movie in packs, bonding with one another (and the film) through repeated viewings and popularizing it with their school chums via word-of-mouth.”

You know all those kids who tuned into High School Musical 2 on the Disney Channel last month? Yep, they're going to see this movie. And chances are they're taking their friends and their parents with them as well.

On there are more than 1,800 blog entries talking about Across the Universe. I can only imagine the buzz going around on Facebook, MySpace and whatever other portals teenagers use to keep in touch.


Which brings me to Tyler Perry, whose movie Why Did I Get Married topped the North American box-office last weekend. It earned an estimated 21.4 million dollars and beat out new films featuring Oscar-winners George Clooney (Michael Clayton) and Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: The Golden Age).

For the record, I'm probably never going to see Why Did I Get Married - which received a 50% not-so-fresh rating on I haven't seen Perry's other successful films Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Madea's Family Reunion either. It's probably the same reason why I never cared to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Grease or even High School Musical. It just doesn't seem to be my cup of tea. Plus, it looks like it sucks.

But, do you really think Perry is actually sitting back and wondering what this 35-year old white male from the Midwest is thinking? HELL NO. Simply put, the studios and Perry are not marketing the film to me. They're marketing it toward his #1 core fan-base, which happens to be (surprise, surprise) African Americans.

To be honest, I didn't even know this movie was opening until I saw the box-office results on Monday morning. That's how well they marketed this movie to my demographic. I would also venture to say that word-of-mouth within the African American community also helped catapult Perry's movie to the top last week.

"Tyler Perry is a mogul," Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media By Numbers told AFP news. "There is a built-in audience base for Tyler Perry's movies, no matter what time of year, no matter what the subject matter."

I can think of two films back in the 90's that gained steam in the theaters by an over-zealous fan base spreading word-of-mouth buzz: Pulp Fiction and Titantic. Both movies opened well at the box office. But, as positive word started to spread (in Pulp Fiction's case, college-aged adults, and in Titanic's case, teenage girls and twenty-something women who swooned over Leo) people attended repeated viewings in droves. In some cases, the box office numbers were higher than the previous week which is virtually unheard of in the movie industry. Each film went on to earn box-office and critical success not to mention win some key awards, including a few Oscars.

Was all the box-office success due to word-of-mouth buzz? I would venture to say yes.

That said, I stumbled upon this excerpt on Seth Godin's blog concerning word-of-mouth buzz...

"Viral marketing equals word of mouth. A marketer does something and then a consumer tells five or ten people. Then then they tell five or ten people. And it repeats. And grows and grows. Like a virus spreading through a population. The marketer doesn't have to actually do anything else. (They can help by making it easier for the word to spread, but in the classic examples, the marketer is out of the loop.)"

And then he went on to add that "most of all, that viral marketing is like winning the lottery."

I agree with Godin. If you can garner that viral, word-of-mouth buzz, you've got a fairly good chance of success regardless of what type of product or service you're trying to sell.

Hell, you just may even win the lottery.

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