I’ve been preaching that virtual communities and internet hype are driving consumer intention to purchase, and certainly intention is in evidence in research results. The difficult aspect of the equation is whether intention to purchase/consume goods converts to actual purchases. In the case of media consumption, the Serenity phenomenon demonstrated that online audiences can be driven to consume offline products. The film was made on the basis of the fact that the television series (called Firefly) was cancelled after only 15 episodes, and Joss Whedon fans banded together, distributing copies of the series via Bit Torrent, and campaigning to get the series back on air. The television networks were unmoved by the display of fan-based action, but Whedon himself decided to make the film as a means of satisfying the appetite of his loyal fan base. Even so, Serenity made just above average box office returns, and without the ‘free’ distribution of pirated copies of the series, it is doubtful that the film would have attracted such audiences (or indeed have been made at all).
Similarly the enormous internet hype surrounding the joke concept film, Snakes on a Plane, has shown slow returns at the box office, in spite of the widespread internet comic and viral marketing tactics deployed to promote the idea. The film still reached the number one slot in box office takings, but at US$15.3 million the returns are at least US$5 million less than New Line Cinema were expecting. And if reviews are anything to go by, a lot of the problem seems to be associated with good old quality. Snakes on a Plane is based on one fairly silly idea anyway and doesn’t really have the thrill nor the jokes it needs to redeem itself. All the hype in the world won’t overcome crappy content.
If the explosion of user-led content has taught us anything it is that in a diverse media environment, quality will always win. Internet marketing strategies will raise awareness and drive traffic for a short period of time, but frankly, if you haven’t got quality products to back the hype, then much like those poor snakes on that dismal plane, your audience is going to die very quickly.