We’re happy to have Gennefer Snowfield as a regular contributor on Tubefilter News, sharing her insights on new media. For a complete bio, see the bottom of this article.
When it comes to getting exposure for your web series, you don’t need a six-figure distribution deal (although that certainly wouldn’t hurt)… what you need is a strong hook. And for Jeremy Redleaf, creator of Odd Job Nation, that hook was literally odd jobs. The concept of the series was loosely based on a friend of his who odd jobbed his way to a 5-bedroom suburban home doing everything from walking neighborhood dogs to renting out his driveway. In the pilot of Odd Jobs, we see Jeremy’s character, Nate, get fired from his high-paying job with a big investment firm, and his roommate extolling the moneymaking wonders of Craiglist’s Odd Jobs as a viable source of income. Though somewhat skeptical of making a living from random side gigs, to support his high maintenance fiancée, Nate begrudgingly agrees to try his hand at odd jobbing. And so was born a series that only 2 episodes in has already garnered some high profile press from the likes of Newsweek, CNN, CNBC and the Washington Times. (And of course Tubefilter.)
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But… the coverage wasn’t about the show.
It was about the online community of odd job seekers that Jeremy built around the site, aggregating the Craigslist ‘Odd Jobs’ listings from every major city across the country, and allowing users to post – and apply to – odd jobs of their own. In fact, with only 2 episodes available, the lure of the site to date has been the job board, not the series. But with the volume of regular traffic the site’s been getting, it’s expanded the exposure for the show to a more mainstream audience than most web series typically attract, giving Jeremy that coveted hook to reel viewers in. And reeling them in, he is.
In addition to the slew of emails he receives thanking him for making the service available, he’s also creating deep, emotional connections with users who are out of work and could use a hearty dose of relatable comedy entertainment. Not to mention tapping into an audience who may not have otherwise found the show. And who wouldn’t be loyal to a brand that helped them get some solid footing, a paycheck and some much-needed laughs?
So, Jeremy decided to expand the Odd Job Nation brand even further by launching ResumeShirts.com, a seemingly natural segue for extending his employment services, where consumers can have their resume printed on the back of a tee. Novel. Timely. And living, breathing advertising for the show. Resume Shirts also comes with the added bonus of funding production of the series. Jeremy also plans to write the company into the plot lines, creating more levels to engage fans by offering them the opportunity to possess tangible items from the show.
Tiki Bar TV has also had much success with merchandising through their Tiki Store, carrying brand-related items and exclusive membership for access to discounts and secret happy hours that bring the experience to life for viewers, and through which they can feed those profits back into the series.
Since most of my own job involves creating digital entertainment that extends the brand experience, I started to think about how to apply some of these more traditional strategies to promoting web series. There’s something to be said for top-of-mind brand awareness, and Odd Job Nation is living proof that if you can create a reason to visit, users will stay to watch.
“Think of ideas that expand the show but still make sense,” recommends Jeremy, “There was an obvious employment tie in [with Odd Job Nation] so I could build something valuable around that.” But he cautions that you need to stay focused and not veer off in too many directions “or you’ll spend all of that time running the other businesses instead of investing it in the show.” The point is to create synergies that ultimately benefit the series.
Here are some creative avenues you can pursue to open new gateways to your content:
Scratch that Niche
Everyone chases the mainstream, but the masses tend to be fickle, latching onto the latest hype and quickly getting bored until the next flavor-of-the-month comes along. So, much like the Adult Swim cult comedy, The Venture Brothers, has, it’s OK to embrace your niche audience, which are often the most loyal fans who will be brand ambassadors to your show and consume whatever content they can get their hands on. But you need to cultivate that community, and know what makes them tick so that you can reach – and attract – them in relevant ways.
If you have a sci-fi series, for example, you could aggregate the best sci-fi content on the web and serve it up on your site, becoming a portal that meets the larger needs of your audience outside of just your show. That will also help boost your search rankings with users searching for content that is now available on your site, and simple plugins like Autoblogged and others are available for WordPress to make this a simple, no-cost solution for generating increased traffic and viewers. You could also create companion pieces around your genre such as a text narrative that explores the concept further or weekly Q&As to have fresh, ongoing content for stickiness value and return visits. This also helps build a presence and thought leadership in your category that spurs targeted traffic among those most pre-disposed to your content.
In following Jeremy’s lead, a series like Exit Stage Left could provide resources to link actors with auditions and other services. You just need to figure out where your viewers are hanging out and forge a compatible connection.
Thread the Needle
The best campaigns are intricately woven to work synergistically across tactics, and create a fully immersive experience for the viewer. The blurring of reality and fiction is a powerful combination that compels users to dig deeper, and get more involved. By doing so, you become an integral part of the viewer’s life and cultivate a meaningful, one-to-one relationship vs. a passive, transient experience that ends when the 3-minute webisode is over.
Risese the Series is building a compelling storyworld to promote the launch of their new series through tactics like www.thesectishere.com that explores more of the backstory and adds depth to the show and characters. It also helps in creating buzz and demand for the series as users get drawn into the premise and want to see how it unfolds.
Another way to generate demand and reach consumers at a local level is through viral approaches like the design agency, Plaid, is doing with PlaidNation, where they travel around the country meeting people and connecting memorable offline experiences to their work. It’s branded entertainment at its best because it’s not an infomercial touting their services, but rather, a fun vehicle for users to get to know the team on a personal level so they will want to learn more about them. Plaid has gotten on the radar screens of thousands of consumers who would definitely not have otherwise known about them, and an ‘On the Road with Show X’-type effort could easily work in promoting a web series and cast to new viewers and fans.
And let’s not forget the tremendous success that AMC has had utilizing Twitter and social networks to create rich character interactions for Mad Men that bring the story to life and help viewers feel a greater sense of involvement and ownership of the show by defining those interactions on their terms within their own personal context. The relationship your series’ Twitter characters build with fans ultimately translates back to the show, so it’s a worthwhile investment. Plus, a great way to test new storylines and gauge response for your developing story.
Hook and Buy
While I am emphatically against diluting the integrity of the creative content with overt product placements, there are ways to make it work organically by including relevant items in the storyline that you know your core audience would buy, like or use and that authentically represents your characters.
One of the tenets of marketing is: Go where your audience is. So, if you feature a product within the show, consider approaching online retailers to include links to your site or a clip of the scene in which the product was used. Not only will it help the retailer through increased purchases by spotlighting the product in use in an engaging, entertaining way, the cross-promotion will also help to increase awareness of your show and click through to watch more. It’s a win-win.
For Jeremy, much of his traffic comes from reciprocal linking on other job boards so this method can be significant in penetrating untapped markets. Integrating an applicable brand is also a viable way to get sponsorships. Sometimes you need to demonstrate the concept in action before a brand will take a leap into funding a web series. By showing the synergies with the brand and your show, they may be willing to take a more active role in building out a promotion that takes your series to the next level. And don’t be afraid to ask for them to link to your show or place an “as seen on” clip within their site. Half the battle when it comes to web series is just making people aware that your show exists, so unorthodox placements can help bring your show out of obscurity and into the spotlight. Again, Odd Job Nation is living proof of that.
Lastly, like TikiBar TV, you can also try creating unique show-branded items. The web has made development of everything from mugs to bobble heads readily accessible (and cost-effective) and with the advent of turnkey ecommerce platforms, you can easily integrate a buying option on your site. Then you can feed all of those profits back into show production. For a show like the upcoming sci-fi musical series, The Cabonauts, making music videos or ringtones available for a nominal fee via iTunes or other downloadable music sites is an effective way to build brand equity and give viewers access to added value entertainment.
The bottom line is that your series isn’t bound by set distribution channels or templates for promoting it – or, even to the web itself just because that’s where your content happens to reside. You’re trying to reach people, and they exist in cars and coffee shops and behind desks, bored at the office. And much as we wish they were, most consumers aren’t spending their time surfing for new web series or video content (like we are on a daily hourly basis!). Let’s face it, most of them don’t even know what digital entertainment is beyond that viral YouTube video a hundred of their friends sent them or the bland online porridge the networks feed them. So, you need to go where they are, where they may not be looking for your series and make them glad they found you.
Gennefer is a writer, producer and CEO of Space Truffles Entertainment, a boutique digital strategy shop specializing in branded entertainment, web series promotion and immersive transmedia narratives that extend the brand experience through custom multi-platform content. A new media strategist and advisor, Gennefer is considered a thought leader in branded entertainment and speaks on topics ranging from digital storytelling to augmented reality. With over a decade in traditional and web marketing, Gennefer develops compelling brand encounters and multimedia experiences that are changing the face of interactive entertainment.