Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, October 21, 2013

Sharknado and why substance matters more than flash


We live in an era of flashes in the pan. Something pops up one day, we all go haha wow look at that, and then we wait for the next interesting thing to come along.

In fact, you probably haven't thought about Sharknado in a while. Remember Sharknado? How innocent we were three months ago.

In case you lived under a social media rock, Sharknado was all the rage on Twitter in July, the eminently mockable tongue-in-cheek ultimate disaster movie title. Lots of people made Sharknado jokes, there was a vote conducted for the title Sharknado sequel (Sharknado 2: The Second One), and it was pretty much the definition of virality.

But here's the thing: Despite all the hype, no one actually watched Sharknado.

Well, some people did. About as many people as watched the un-Twitter-hyped Chupacabra vs. the Alamo a few months prior. (Update: An anon points out that subsequent airings received more viewers, peaking at 2.1 million. That's not nothing, but it's still not as much as, say, re-runs of the Family Guy.)

Eliza Kern wrote that this shows the extent to which reach on Twitter is a misleading gauge of popularity. And that's true, but I think this goes deeper.

There are things you people can do to get a lot of attention in the social media era. You can start a massive flame war, for instance, and gain a lot of notoriety for saying unpopular things and all of a sudden you may have a ton of pageviews and Twitter followers and it feels like you're famous. People will absolutely tune in for a train wreck.

That works for a little while. But you lose people's respect in the long run, and when the next shiny thing comes along people will leave. There's no long term value in it.

Substance still matters. If there's not something people genuinely like underneath the hype, you may as well get eaten by the Sharknado.






24 comments:

JeffreyPennMay said...

Excellent points and Sharknado is a near perfect metaphor. Only heard about it as a joke but have no desire to watch it.

Anonymous said...

"That works for a little while. But you lose people's respect in the long run, and when the next shiny thing comes along people will leave. There's no long term value in it."

You also lose credibility in the long term. I've seen this happen and it never ends well. People like to know they can trust you, as an author, a blogger, or whatever you do. And if you build a reputation around controversy, you'd better be doing it for something you feel passionate about or don't do it at all.

Mary said...

I have to disagree. I watched Sharknado when it first aired, before I knew how popular it would be. I love bad horror movies, and I will probably never forget Sharknado (or Sharktopus!). I don't even think the people who make these movies realized they would catch on. Just because a movie isn't still being talked about three months after it comes out doesn't mean it doesn't have value. If anything, Sharknado is a perfect example of word of mouth marketing.

Kastie Pavlik said...

So basically, we're all just fish collecting shiny things...

^_^

Two Flights Down said...

The thing with Sharknado, though, is that it really didn't have any credibility to begin with, at least not the type of credibility Hollywood generally goes for. These types of movies aren't publicity stunts--there's actually an audience that enjoys them, and there's been one for years. With social media and the rise of popularity of "nerdom" there's more people throwing it out there: "Hey, it's unconventional...but I love it!" When you have someone such as Wil Wheaton leading the way, well, it catches on. I doubt these types of horror films will become a huge thing, but that's not the goal--there's those of us who just have an odd sense of humor and a fascination with these films, and that's who they're trying to appeal to. We just had a fun time having others join our small party.

If you have even the smallest audience that enjoys your illegitimate art, well, for some, that hype doesn't matter. When the majority of the crowd finishes off the wine, wishes you well, and goes on their way, you're left with those that are fine with drinking water just so they can stay a little bit longer. For some, this is enough.

Two Flights Down said...

I realize, upon further thinking, that your point is more hype doesn't mean more viewers/readers, which I completely agree with. I just don't think SyFy lost credibility with its core audience with the hype. Perhaps with those who aren't into bad horror or SyFy movies, but they weren't trying to please those people in the first place. We know what we're getting into when we turn SyFy on, yet there's those that still turn it on and have no regrets.

Nathan Bransford said...

Yeah, I'm definitely not looking down on people who enjoyed the movie (I've never even seen it), just that hype isn't always commensurate with success. Hype for hype's sake doesn't work.

Melanie Schulz said...

You're right- we tend to be a flavor of the month type of people.

Christine Monson said...

I think people want to be part of the hype to feel like they belong to something. I actually watched Sharknado when it aired, just because I clicked over it and couldn't believe how stupid it was. I was laughing so hard at it, my family joined me. Two hours later, we felt stupid for watching it. Anyway, it raised enough hype people stopped to watch it afterwards.

This happens with books also. There are many books people hype up on social media then I read them, and say "These books suck!"

birdinabowler said...

Cue eager hipsters who want to jump on any content they think few people have seen but many have talked about so they can say they've "actually seen the movie". Hipsterism is the only savior of hype without content that I can tell.
(Dear hipsters: I apologize if you find this offensive. I'm a hipster too, sometimes.)

Stephsco said...

I saw the Sharknado twitter frenzy after the fact, the movie literally just ended. Had it been on while I saw the tweets I might have watched it. I ended up recording the next viewing, but a month later I deleted it. Who wants to watch that without the added social media experience? Also, we were out of beer.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

I'm not on Twitter, but I WATCHED SHARKNADO! And I'm proud to say it! It was – ahem – amazing. Yeah, that's the right word. Not good, oh no, but amazing. And the final scene, the C-Section Rescue from the Belly of the Beast – simply nothing else even close to it in cinema history. It's one of those things I treat myself to so that I can say, "Hey, somebody got paid to write this. There's hope for me yet!" There hasn't been anything good on SyFy since they changed the name, but there's lots of affirmation from writers. If THAT got made, there's always a chance a well-written hnovel could sell.

Bruce Bonafede said...

I think this post touches on a dilemma in the industry. I like Twitter, but going viral on Twitter is no guarantee of anything. Neither is exposure on Facebook, Google+, or any other social media channel. Marketers know that exposure doesn't automatically lead to sales conversions. The problem is without exposure, you're left with a great product nobody knows about.

So what is a writer to do when we're told (by every "expert" out there) that we should spend time building up our "platform" in order to find self-publishing success or attract a publisher? Well, obviously you have to do both: you have to write a terrific book AND you have to create the audience for it. See? Simple.

Jack Handey, the comedian, had a great line when he was interviewed earlier this year about his first novel The Stench of Honolulu. "Hey, I wrote the thing. You mean I'm supposed to sell it too? What do I have to do next year, pulp the returns?"

Anonymous said...

The problem with this post is that it's factually wrong. As a result of the Twitter explosion, several unplanned rebroadcasts of Sharknado were added in the weeks following, and the ratings for each subsequent broadcast went up, eventually reaching 2.5 million, which was a record for a Thursday night Syfy movie.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

That's not quite right, it was the highest-rated encore in Syfy history, not the highest show/movie. I updated the post but I feel like my point still stands.

Mira said...

Interesting post, Nathan. I agree with your underlying point.

First, though, I will say that things like Sharknado always make me very happy. I just marvel at people's creativity. How do people think of things like a tornado full of sharks???? It's too funny. :D

As for Twitter picking it up,
that's just a really large group of people having fun together. It's community, and I always find that rather heart-warming.

But your point about substance is very well taken. If you want to gain credibility as an artist, your work needs some consistent heft to it.

As for storming around the internet trying to get attention, not only will it backfire, I think it probably feels a bit empty underneath. The exchanges are not real or meaningful, and they won't really be about YOU.

This is a bit of a side point, but someday, they'll study social media, and the pressures it puts on people to be popular, to get attention, to be liked or disliked. It's fascinating what the internet evokes, it's a whole new social medium.

dljohnstone.com said...

It's a mistake to dismiss the art of grabbing attention in the first place. Sharknado was a joke, but it was clever as hell in grabbing eyeballs. Like Snakes on a Plane a few years back. See link to Goleman's How to capture attention article below. In some way shape or form, you need to have some flash or people won't find the substance.

http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20131021135407-117825785-how-to-capture-and-hold-anyone-s-attention

Belinda Frisch said...

I actually watched Sharknado twice, and I'd take its flash in the pan success if I could get it.

Matthew MacNish said...

Hype is never all good, IMHO. If it boosts the sales of something cool, then that's great, of course, but personally, I'm going to have expectations that are probably too high if I discover a thing because of hype.

spytower said...

There's something about an artistic statement that, when it's not intended to be bad but is, makes it appealing. I watched about a quarter of Sharknado and when it started feeling intentionally bad, I shut it off. If you want to watch something that's great because it wasn't supposed to be bad try "The thing with two heads."

Drew Turney said...

All very true, but in entertainment/Hollywood/publishing/TV, buzz can be more powerful than actual numbers. I won't outline my whole argument in this post, but if you're interested in the point of view, read it here;
http://filmism.net/2013/09/filmism-net-dispatch-80/

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JusB said...

This actually gives me comfort. Being a bit of an introverted writer, I've never been that aggressive with social media. I'd much rather work on the quality of my books than online hypefests.

That being said...every time I read or hear the term Sharknado, I have a ridiculously hearty belly laugh inside.

Mark Terry said...

I wrote a blog post on Monday in celebration of my 9-year anniversary of being a full-time freelance writer. I provided writing advice. Which essentially is: don't sell shit wrapped in tin foil.

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