Building Buzz

Oct 25, 2010

By Tom Ryan

While traditional advertising has focused on reaching individual
consumers, a new study examining what creates "buzz" underscores
the effectiveness of getting consumers to spread the message themselves.

for The Wall Street Journal, Jonah Lehrer, the author of the
best-seller, How
We Decide
, said the study from Northwestern University analyzed a survey
of more than 180,000 people who were interviewed about 338 movies between March
1999 and August 2001.

Brian Uzzi, a sociologist who spearheaded the study,
particularly focused on "pre-release
buzz" — when people speculate
on a movie’s promise based on factors such as a brief trailer or the presence
of lead actor.

The study found at least for Hollywood movies, a tipping point
occurs when 21 percent of Americans are buzzing about the film. Once that level
is reached, pre-release buzz directly predicts box-office performance in the
opening weekend and afterward.

"Because this buzz isn’t based on actual experience, it takes a lot of
it to influence our behavior," Mr. Uzzi said. "It only works when
the buzz is everywhere."

But Mr. Lehrer believes the more interesting
finding was that pre-release buzz had nothing to do with the ad budget of the
movie or the presence of movie stars, no matter how high the budget or big
the star.

"The data suggest that pre-release buzz is mostly unpredictable, driven
by intangible factors like the originality of the premise, the title of the
film, or even a throwaway line in the trailer," wrote Mr. Lehrer.

poster child example was "The Sixth Sense," a sleeper hit in
1999 on a minimal ad campaign early on. Mr. Uzzi said the trailer featuring
a boy uttering the line, "I see dead people," captivated teenagers
and led to dizzying word-of-mouth prior to the launch.

"Thanks to social-networking sites, kids today are more connected than
ever," added
Mr. Uzzi. "They’re also much better at ignoring conventional ads, which
means that the only way to reach them is with buzz."

While "the science
is short on practical recommendations" for step-by-step
buzz drivers, Mr. Uzzi does point to Apple’s ability to continually build buzz
through innovative product and clever marketing.

"They really know how to get people talking," he said. "In
part, it’s the secrecy and showmanship. But Apple also benefits from the fact
that a lot of people liked their previous products."

Mr. Lehrer concludes, "For
too long, we’ve tried to understand ourselves in isolation, as we test people
one at a time in the psychology lab or rely on their past preferences to predict
behavior. But these conditions and algorithms are artificial. In the real world,
we are deeply intertwined with each other, dependent on our social networks
for all sorts of advice. If it weren’t for the buzz of strangers, we wouldn’t
even know what movie to pick at the multiplex."

Discussion Questions: How good a job do brand marketers and retailers do
in building buzz around new product launches? What could they be doing
(or stop doing) to improve in this area?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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11 Comments on "Building Buzz"

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Lisa Bradner
Lisa Bradner
11 years 7 months ago

It’s somewhat tough to compare movies to products–movies are a discrete event with something new to reveal and an entertainment focus. Most retailers and brand marketers deal with many lines and products that are more mundane and less engaging than the average Hollywood release (or new Apple product, for that matter).

Experience brands like Apple have made buzz an art form but even they have stumbled on occasion (for example lowering the iPhone price to the point where early adopters felt duped).

For brands and retailers with more pedestrian products and stores, it’s less about building buzz with everyone and more about identifying influencers (brand loyal, vocal online, connected) and building an ongoing relationship with them. P&G has pioneered this with its Vocal Point moms. It may not make the nightly news but it’s helping the company build long standing relationships and creating buzz that lasts over the long term.

Joan Treistman
11 years 7 months ago

Movies are a totally different product than those promoted by retailers. The movie industry is able to predict total ticket sales for a movie by what it achieves the first Friday night it is out there. This has been true for over twenty years.

I’m not saying that marketers couldn’t do a better job in building buzz. Other studies have shown consumers are more likely to be influenced by word of mouth than advertising. So there is something to be said for the value of creating WOM.

But to equate the results of movie buzz and the process of establishing awareness for consumer goods distributed in stores is not justifiable.

Shilpa Rao
11 years 7 months ago

As correctly pointed out in the article, building buzz is not easy. Many times a combination of media types are necessary to invoke such a buzz.

Not all products can generate a big pre-launch buzz; there are few factors that influence this:
– A high degree of involvement in the purchasing process (like buying an Apple product, choosing whether to watch a television serial or a new movie, apparel (maybe), cosmetics, and others. If it’s a low -involvement product, unless there is something really very path breaking about it, people won’t buzz about it.
– Past experience with the brand: customers trust Apple to bring in innovative products and hence are curious to know more about it.
– Uniqueness of the campaign: though the product is another run-of-the-mill product, a catchy advertising campaign can get people buzzing about it.

Brand managers/marketers are trying to get there. Some have succeeded and some haven’t. They need to understand their media mix dynamics to make this a success.

Gene Detroyer
11 years 7 months ago

Somehow I don’t imagine much buzz being generated for the next variation of Cheerios. No matter how hard the brand marketer tries, the excitement just isn’t going to be there.

There is plenty of buzz in anticipation of various product’s introduction. In addition to movies, there is buzz about video games and books. Electronic products generate buzz, the next OS, the next TV improvement, the next smart phone.

Most simply, it is the product that generates the buzz. Unfortunately, marketers often see their products as being considerably more interesting and earth shaking than they really are. Not every communication venue is right for every product, no matter how “hot” or effective it may be.

Max Goldberg
11 years 7 months ago

As the article states, buzz is not something that can be built by design. It most frequently happens by accident. Most brands that try to build buzz don’t succeed. Brands should be authentic. While a film might open well if 21% of the potential audience is buzzing about it, it will die in its first weekend of release if the audience feels that they’ve been mislead. In the age of Twitter, Facebook, and instant communication, nothing falls faster than a brand with a misleading ad campaign.

David Biernbaum
11 years 7 months ago

Creating meaningful “buzz” for a product takes a lot of knowledge, skill, and experience. Unfortunately, many small brands try to accomplish this without the right level of skill or energy to make it work. This is no longer something you can accomplish too well working from your kitchen table.

Much like conventional advertising, the competition for attention and impact is overwhelming. Viral marketing is clever and fun, and if you make a good video you will get lots of attention and chuckles from your neighbors, relatives, and Facebook friends, but it’s not going to move product off the shelves at retail until you know how to work the magic with a comprehensive online viral infrastructure.

Joel Rubinson
11 years 7 months ago

Most seem to feel that generating significant buzz is like catching lightening in a bottle. On the other hand, Carl Marci from Innerscope shows that biometrics can at least tell when the response to a YouTube video will lead to that video going viral and perhaps help to at least position the bottle in the right general vicinity.

Anne Bieler
Anne Bieler
11 years 7 months ago

What an interesting time for brand marketers! It does seem that we want to know what is cool and good and coming soon but developing this into a marketing process, it may be early days. Within the right categories, with products built on true consumer insights (unmet needs), developing new frames of reference and great execution, we may move closer to “building buzz.”

Predicting which campaigns may go viral is an interesting concept. Watching how a new line of Old Spice body wash for young men took off was a lesson on when it works, it is terrific! But going viral doesn’t always turn out as intended. Things like pop up stores seem to work–e.g. the Kraft Digiorno rising crust pizza intro in Chicago was an excellent move–likely more ideas will be on the horizon as “building buzz” becomes part of the toolkit.

Kai Clarke
11 years 7 months ago

Movies, along with the stars which support them, have a totally different marketing approach, and appeal than other products. Using this as a stalwart to determine definitions of marketing buzz is a poor example considering what other products are trying, and succeeding with, that defies everything that this article is discussing. There is no star appeal when we market and sell everything from carrots to eggs to gasoline to hot dogs. The grocery and HBC industry does little along these lines, yet defines quite well how their products should be marketed and the cost and benefits expected from this more traditional marketing.

Odonna Mathews
Odonna Mathews
11 years 7 months ago

It seems to me that retailers have a real opportunity to create more “buzz” around store openings, sponsored special events/community activities, and store brand introductions. Make it fun, informative and beneficial for the customer. We have seen where involving consumers in naming products or developing TV ads creates “buzz” that can last a long time.

steven mazur
steven mazur
11 years 6 months ago

“Buzz” can be created for products but it certainly is a different effort then with movies. Most of you have pointed out the issue of star-power not available to retailers, but with the right planned and consistent approach to building content that is valued by the market, followed by several months of building numerous, targeted profiles to develop truly engaged network participants, a trusted retailer and/or most other products can create a reliable and effective buzz network.


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