Forced to compete with countless mediums for attention, brand marketers are increasingly turning to the unusual approach of creating Facebook pages for fictional characters.
Kathy Beth Terry is an impossibly awkward nerd who just happened to have one crazy Friday night. And she has over half a million Facebook friends to prove it.
If you missed Kathy Beth's debut a couple of months ago, here's what you need to know: she's the alter ego of pop singer Katy Perry, the star of the music video "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" (played, of course, by Perry herself), and the fictional niece of saxophonist Kenny G. She's also one of the latest examples of fiction-based social media promotion. Aside from her Facebook page, which operates independent of Katy Perry's, Kathy Beth has over 180,000 followers on Twitter and has starred in a series of web videos on YouTube. One need only consider Perry's song sales to determine whether the publicity stunt was a success; "Last Friday Night" has sold 2.4 million copies in the U.S. to date.
Forced to compete with countless mediums for attention, brand marketers are increasingly turning to this unusual approach. Producing an interesting music video - or a web video or ad creative - is no longer enough. It's the unique way in which that promotional content is presented that remains in the minds of consumers and incites a sale.
Sony Pictures demonstrated this two years ago as it prepared to release its motion picture "2012." The entertainment company's marketing efforts included an official film website, a microsite, several blogs, a YouTube channel, a Facebook fan page, and a Twitter account, but other than the film site, every initiative was based on fictional characters and organizations from the movie. A similar approach was taken earlier this year by Danish company SF Films A/S as it endeavored to promote its family film "Max Pinlig." Rather than run Facebook ads, SF Films elected to create Facebook pages for six of its fictional characters and link them to the primary Facebook page for the movie.
We've all witnessed the degree to which consumers can manipulate branded media through Facebook. There's a Facebook page for everyone and everything, from formerly friendless "South Park" character Kip Drordy to "Entourage" character Ari Gold's fictional wife's behind. And you're sure to remember those user-generated "Mad Men" Twitter feeds. Many of these efforts are created by consumers and evolve organically. Those launched by brands, however, stand to be equally well received. Quite simply, the key is to sound authentic.
This is more difficult than it looks. I recently read a blog post from a classroom technology integration specialist that outlined his experience helping seventh grade students to create a Facebook-like page for characters from "To Kill a Mockingbird." In the interest of safety, the pages were built on My Fake Wall rather than Facebook proper, but this didn't interfere with the objective. The kids were forced to dig deep into the minds of their chosen literary characters, and as a result produced detailed personas that offered greater insight into the characters' fictional lives and spoke to the author's vision for the book.
When creating a page for a branded character, digital marketers must do the same. The idea isn't just to familiarize consumers with a persona but to paint a rich picture of that character's life. It might be humorous, it might be sublime, but it certainly must be relevant to the brand. In this way, marketers can link advertising with entertainment while also creating an appropriate divide between social media as a form of leisure and its role in selling to the masses.
A character's Facebook presence must be thoroughly infused with the brand's personality. Consistency across mediums is always important, but on Facebook it's an outright requirement. To invite a campaign to play out in the social media space rather than limiting it to a traditional placement is to recognize that it's more likely to be distributed, transmuted…and prolonged. So you'd better be happy with its bones and know with certainty that it's a concise representation of the brand you're hoping to promote before you go live.
This kind of digital marketing won't replace media buying as we know it, but it already enjoys a comfortable position as a supplement to our campaigns and it isn't in jeopardy of fading away.
That's the interesting thing about fact and fiction: one needs the other in order to survive.
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Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.
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