Experiential marketing is about offering an interactive brand experience so awesome and immersive that it becomes part of the fabric of consumers’ lives, beyond any simple transactional relationship: Plus, consumers take on part of the load, sharing the experience by word-of-mouth, and above all on social channels.
If Disney closed out 2017 with a stunning, multi-element experiential marketing campaign on behalf of Star Wars: The Last Jedi — light saber duels, treasure hunts, augmented reality — New York publishers Henry Holt & Co have kicked off 2018, perhaps inadvertently, with what might be the engagement campaign of the year, in support of Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, published today.
And they’ve done so, of course, in partnership with secret weapon President Donald J. Trump.
No, we’re not just being snarky. Just take a look at the campaign’s main elements:
This was the spark which lit the whole fuse of course. Timed to coincide with the publication of a lengthy excerpt in New York magazine, President Trump’s statement about one of the book’s leading characters — “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind” — was a publicist’s dream. It’s up there with “In space, no-one can hear you scream,” “Family isn’t a word, it’s a sentence,” and “The b*tch is back” (Alien 3).
It didn’t stop there, of course, as the president and his surrogates have thrown gas on the flames of the social media fire with tweets like, “I authorized Zero access..for author of phony book” (@realDonaldTrump); “(He) turned that opportunity into a nightmare of backstabbing, harassing, leaking, lying & undermining” (@DonaldTrumpJr); and “Steve Bannon was a lone wolf operating rogue…” (@Scaramucci).
I authorized Zero access to White House (actually turned him down many times) for author of phony book! I never spoke to him for book. Full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don’t exist. Look at this guy’s past and watch what happens to him and Sloppy Steve!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2018
It’s as if Disney had been able to produce Darth Vader, breathing like there was a fourteenth hole at the golf course, to condemn the Star Wars cycle as fake news and a hoax.
This should go without saying. On Twitter, in the U.S., #fireandfurybook and #BuyFireandFury have been doing steady business. On Facebook, at time of writing, Michael Wolff is a top trending topic. And he’s only just started making TV appearances to discuss the book: this NBC Today appearance currently has over 700,000 Facebook views.
These days, influencer marketing at the highest level can be expensive. Vendors exist to help brands identify and manage relevant influencers, and find alignments between top influencers’ unparalleled reach and brand objectives. All Henry Holt (or someone, anyway) had to do was pass some copies of the book to MSNBC.
Has anyone turned on Cable News since Wednesday (okay, not Fox) and failed to see anchors, reporters and guests brandishing their gleaming new copies of the Wolff book, as if they were presenting sponsored products on the Shopping Channel? They’re not just holding it up for the camera; they’re flicking through the pages and laughing like it’s the funniest book you’ll read in 2018. Which maybe it is.
What’s more, even before the book hit the stores, we have a genre of fan fiction taking the narrative and characters beyond the author’s wildest dreams. The best so far, a supposed excerpt from the book put together by a comic book author who tweets as @pixelatedboat.
Apparently scanned right out of the book, he brought us an account of the President’s demand to watch The Gorilla Channel on his White House television set. “‘On some days he’ll watch the gorilla channel for 17 hours straight,’ an insider told me.” This is model experiential marketing: Having consumers spontaneously extend the brand experience, and share the fact they’re doing so.
The long tail
Along similar lines, Andy Borowitz, for the New Yorker, fantasized about White House staff acting out scenes from the book for the benefit of the “non-reading President.” Not just fan fiction from an influencer, but a campaign element likely to have a long tail. One easily imagines the Saturday Night Live cast already rehearsing their own “scenes from the book.” Late night TV hosts have hardly got started. And who would bet against a movie deal: Maybe Disney?
Finally, what would an experiential marketing campaign be without a live, in-person element? That’s when real people come together off-line to celebrate their enthusiasm for a brand or project, share their experiences, and solidify the sense of themselves as an engaged community.
We weren’t in a bookstore when Wolff’s volume went on sale at midnight (it was cold out, okay?), but the customers seemed to be having a good time, just like lines for a new Harry Potter. At Kramerbooks in D.C., exactly one mile from the President’s bedroom, cheerful customers cleared the stock in just 20 minutes.
Right now? It’s number one on Amazon.