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The Five Things We Can Learn From Sharknado

July 2013 saw history happen -- and it happened with flying sharks. The Syfy Network aired what has been universally reviewed as a horrible movie about sharks caught in a tornado that then go on a flying shark rampage. The show was cheaply made and had almost no viewers (including the actors that were in it).


Yet, this movie, according to SyFy channel owners, NBC Universal, was the ‘most social program on all television…’ According to The Independent, Sharknado saw 5,000 tweets per minute with 318,232 tweets by over 100,000 tweeters; and that’s just while it aired. There are now over 14 million results on Google for Sharknado. Celebrities were joining in and people who would’ve ignored this cut-rate gorefest were clamoring for a rerun.


Man-eating flying sharks caught in a tornado are not exactly my movie genre of choice but, as an expert on Public Relations, this cultural event certainly made me ponder what lessons, if any, could be learned.


Lesson #1: You don’t need a big budget to get big results. Sharknado can’t even remotely be considered a blockbuster. In fact, it was produced for an estimated $1-$2 million, according to The Boston Globe. That left very little budget, if any for promotion. It’s more like the equivalent of photocopying flyers for your cars and placing them on the table by the front door in your dealership. The lesson to be learned is that the important thing is to take action. Whether that means you do your own social media, create your own ad campaigns, do your own press releases or hire a professional firm to do these things, just do it.


Lesson #2: The Right People Can Make A Big Difference. While you may not have the connections to get celebrities tweeting about your store, you do have influencers in your circles. You have customers and employees you interact with on a daily basis that may have influence in social media that you aren’t even aware of. The trick is identifying them. The only way to do that is to pay attention. It’s a given that you have little chance to achieve any social media exposure if your dealership doesn’t have a presence on social media. Make sure that you’re taking advantage of social media in your marketing and branding.


Lesson #3: It Doesn’t Have To Be Amazing To Be Talked About. In no way did the executives that green-lighted Sharknado ever believe they had a potential blockbuster; but they made it anyways. Why? Because it fit their demographic.  Are you creating content, ads, offers and marketing messages that fit your demographic? It’s sort of like bacon and cats on social media. For some reason, people love to talk and share about these topics on social media. In no way am I suggesting you start posting pictures of bacon and cats on your Facebook page. What I am saying is that you need to pay attention to what your customers respond to and tailor your content to what they want to see, not necessarily what you want to tell them.  

It’s implausible to think that some studio executive green-lighted this movie with the thought that this was going to be a blockbuster. This was more likely an exercise in content creation to fill their channel with original programming and, because they created that content, they got scored.


Lesson #4: You Can’t Win If You Don’t Play. Sharknado was Syfy winning the lottery. They paid the $2 and happened to win. While it doesn’t happen often, it does happen! They understood that. In the world of public relations, our job is to get your message out in a way that generates buzz and to get it in the hands of the right people. I’m certainly not saying that hiring a public relations firm is like buying a lottery ticket. What I am saying is that good public relations firms have the connections and contacts appropriate to your business that can maximize the chances of success. Even if you have made the decision to do it yourself, there are many services that, for a premium, can deliver your content into the right hands. If people don’t see it, however, you’ll never have any chance of winning.


Lesson #5: Exposure Can Equal Success. Sharknado was destined to be late-night content for a cable network that their demographic would view but fate intervened. Public relations is about getting your message heard by the right people.  There are many ways we go about accomplishing this including press releases, relevant and timely blog articles and social media. Having a comprehensive mixture to deliver your message is integral to maximizing its reach and success.


This horrible movie will become a part of our pop culture for years to come and, it will do this because someone at the Syfy Network decided to create the right content for the network’s audience no matter how bad they thought it was going to be. And, because they did, they happened to get lucky on social media. There is no better example of nothing turning into something than this…


Until Sharknado 2 comes out, that is.

Views: 553

Tags: exposure, media, public, relations, sharknado, social, syfy, twitter


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Comment by Jon Floyd on July 25, 2013 at 10:05am

I agree, I think we over worry about getting top results when just some results will make things a success, tweak later and make it better, just start something. I was talking with a client today about their website. They said, "I am just too busy today to spend that much time on it." I told them, here-do this, then let's wait till next week and do the rest. That was their a-ha moment. Do enough for now and deal with the rest later. even the best programs need adjustments.

Comment by sara callahan on July 24, 2013 at 6:30pm

I'm glad you enjoyed my article, Brian. :)

Comment by sara callahan on July 24, 2013 at 11:19am

Thanks everyone for the comments. You're on the money, Bill C. You have to take chances and experiment. If you don't try at all, you'll never "get lucky". Bil G, there may not be many "new" insights but publicity is publicity. People weren't necessarily talking about how BAD the movie was. Although some of the tweets talked about it, it was mostly positive, exciting and sometimes sarcastic responses. Yes, sharks are popular and, as I mentioned in the article, I'm sure the producers never expected it to be Schindlers List, as you point out. There are many campaigns that go viral that are "pure silliness". The point is that SyFy produced content that was low-budget but would appeal to their audience (or they hoped). Over the years there have been many movies that were considered horrible but managed to gain cult-like followers. As for a magic formula, Rob, if there were one or someone could figure it out, they'd be billionaires overnight.. ha. Thanks again, everyone for the comments. 

Comment by Bil Gaines on July 24, 2013 at 8:49am

I apologize in advance, but I have to be that guy in the comments who's a little disappointed. "Sharknado" was such a big deal, I was really hoping for more insight from a post boasting five lessons learned from "Sharknado." Other than the lottery reference, I don't think any of these lessons are especially new, and I would love to have seen some more specific connection to the automotive industry.

Here's something we also sort of knew but had reaffirmed: People love sharks. We know this because of the decades-long success of Discovery Channel's annual Shark Week, and because of GOOD films like "Jaws" and...well, Jaws may be the only good film about a shark. But sharks are a major symbol in our society -- card shark, pool shark, land shark, etc. -- they capture the imaginations of so many generations of us here in the US. They surprise us, they scare us, they intrigue us, they excite us. The social media storm is not a random, unexplainable phenomenon. The lesson for car dealers is: if you really want to get people talking, you must surprise, scare, intrigue, and excite. Take that approach, and try as many times in as many ways as you need. (I love Connie's reference to Edison's quote -- 10,000 ways that don't work -- perfectly applicable.)

In regards to "no such thing as bad publicity" -- Greg raised a good question, how is it good that people are using social media to talk about how bad this movie is? Well, it was good because it was engineered to be a bad movie. That's the genre. Other films in this genre include "Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus" and "Sharktopus." The plain ridiculousness of these films is where its audience takes delight, and "Sharknado" is just so absurd -- and the producers knew it -- that it happened to break through that wall and transcend its usual demographic. The tagline was something like, "Tornados. Sharks. 'Nuff said." The producers weren't trying to convince anyone that this movie is on par with "Schindler's List." It's good old-fashioned silliness.

It's not delivering a bad product. It's delivering the right product to the right audience. So the lesson here is: above all else, know your audience and work it. Every now & then, a product will reach beyond that audience.

Comment by Bill Cosgrove on July 24, 2013 at 8:46am

The lesson I come away with is a basic one of Social Marketing is taking chances and experimenting. The idea of seeing something as good or bad is subjective.

One of the biggest no-nos in Sales (and Marketing is selling) is that you don't pre-qualify. If you don't take chances and experiment in life as a whole-you will be the lesser person or business for it and probably never experience anything like SNARKNADO!!!!!!!

Comment by Alexander Lau on July 24, 2013 at 8:30am

We also have to remember that Telsa was the genius, not Edison. He just took the credit, while Telsa worked for him and then quit.

Fun, but true:

Comment by Connie Keane on July 24, 2013 at 8:22am

I agree, Sharknado very well is the Edsell of the movie biz. I do like the 5 Lessons learned that Sara illustrates for we have to remember what Thomas Edison said, some like -- I haven't failed, I just found 10,000 ways that don't work.

Comment by Alexander Lau on July 24, 2013 at 8:15am

Good point Greg!

Comment by Greg Johnson on July 24, 2013 at 8:14am

I'm not sure I agree Ralph. You seem to be subscribing to the theory that 'there is no such thing as bad publicity'. How is it good that people are using social media to talk about how bad a SyFy movie is? Isn't that hurting their reputation by delivering a bad product, isn't it similar to a manufacturer getting lots of news stories and social media mentions about a vehicle recall? Did the Edsel help Ford? Did New Coke?...

Comment by Alexander Lau on July 24, 2013 at 7:58am

Easier said than done.

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