Meet The GennY 2012 Finalists: Part 2

The GennY Award recognizes best practices of those who have applied new and innovative techniques to connect and communicate with youth. The 2012 award will be given to one exceptional marketing campaign at the Millennial Mega Mashup next week, but we want to highlight the finalists to showcase the unique ways they’ve Millennialized their marketing efforts to reach this influential generation.

Category: Social Media
Wattpad/Sony Music Group

Wattpad and Sony Music Group partnered for a "transmedia experiment" in fan fiction focused on the rising Brit boy band One Direction. One of Wattpad's star writers created a story about each of the five band members designed to coordinate with the video for the band's single, "What Makes You Beautiful." Launching on Valentine's Day, the five-chapter eBook leveraged the band's international fans on Wattpad to spread the word to new American fans by sharing the story and video. The campaign hit a fever pitch when the band members themselves posted a note on the group's Facebook page thanking their new Wattpad fans.

Ypulse: How did you select the author for the campaign telling One Direction’s backstory? When turning over a brand to an outside writer, it can make the company nervous…

Wattpad: Sony approached us about the project after noticing that fan fiction was becoming an organic trend among One Direction fans in the UK and Europe. They wanted to test the waters with an officially sanctioned story to see what kind of reaction, awareness, and affinity it could drive. They were also excited to use a writer from within the Wattpad community, someone who knew the Wattpad landscape and the ins and outs of our community, but of course it was really important to find someone they could trust with their brand.

We recommended LD Crichton because she was an established romance writer and we felt that she'd be a good fit for the project. We knew her history and that she would approach it from a really professional perspective in terms of collaborating with the Sony execs to capture the band members' personas correctly, confidentiality issues, meeting all the deadlines, etc.

It turned out really, really well and we are glad to be able to offer opportunities like this to the writers within our community. It sparked many ideas about possibilities for future adventures in collaborative storytelling.

YP:  How important was it to leverage existing UK fans of the band on the site to give the fan fiction story maximum exposure? Would branded fiction work as well without an established fan base?

WP: In general, we are seeing really strong growth in the fan fiction genre on Wattpad. The category is up 140% since the beginning of the year and it's growing faster than anything else. Historically, fan fiction trends have always mirrored what's hot on the pop culture landscape. So, over the last couple of years on Wattpad it's been Harry Potter, Twilight, Justin Bieber, and currently we have the Hunger Games and One Direction spiking.

We think fan fiction is such an interesting space because it captures everything that's awesome about the Internet. Internet culture is all about mashups, remixes, collaboration, sharing links, etc. The demographics of Wattpad users align perfectly with this "spirit."

Fans are excited about the characters and celebrities they love, and they want to interact, share, and create. Essentially that’s the zeitgeist of the digital native generation. In the case of the "What Makes You Beautiful" fan fic, the UK fans helped seed the story and the global nature of our community came together to create a perfect storm in terms of demographics, social media, and great shareable content (cute boys!).

Maybe it would have taken a little longer had it not been for the existing fans, but as 1D has become a global pop culture and social media phenomenon, we think it would have been successful either way because it fit so well in our community.

YP: This is subtle marketing that may not even seem like advertising to the reader. How do you firmly connect the entertainment aspect with the brand to drive deeper interest?

WP: Given the realities of today’s entertainment landscape i.e.: people’s consumption habits and attention spans in the digital and mobile universe, the onus is on brands to come up with creative content that resonates. No one has really cracked the nut on mobile advertising yet which is why the One Direction fan fiction project was so interesting as a completely new model.

We had people seeking it out, sharing it, and talking about it because it was really solid content that fit great within Wattpad. Most importantly many of these people were reading the story on their cell phones.

The One Direction fan fic spoke to a very specific audience on their own terms and in their language. Young girls love the One Direction guys, they seem to be looking for ways to feel closer to the band through social media, and on Wattpad they were able to do this in a truly entertaining way. The brand messaging that Sony was trying to communicate definitely struck a cord in an authentic and engaging way that was win-win for everyone. It wasn’t an overt, in-your-face thing, but it was effective and spread well beyond Wattpad.

Do a search on Twitter for “One Direction and Wattpad” and you’ll see what I mean!

YP: This campaign takes advantage of transmedia strategy — video, written word, dedications, and social components — can you tell us more about how they complimented each other?

WP: The 5-chapter story developed for Wattpad told the backstory to One Direction’s hit video “What Makes You Beautiful.” The video takes place on a beach at night: the guys and their girlfriends are sitting around a campfire having a fun time. So the Wattpad story explains what happened earlier that day, how all the guys ended up there, how each of their days played out and how they found their dates.

It worked well because the entire overarching storyline was coherent and consistent for the fans across the different mediums. It added extra insight and was an additional way to connect. This narrative made sense to the fans. Again, it made them feel like they were getting a special sneak peek behind the scenes.

Also for Sony, since each chapter focused on a specific member of the band they could build up and create personas for the individual guys that were “on message” with their branding objectives.

We launched this campaign on Valentine’s Day. So the story was positioned as a “Valentine’s Day gift” to One Direction’s Wattpad fans. This made the whole thing feel even more special and added a real world dimension to it. For example, 1D posted on the Wattpad Facebook wall encouraging fans to check out the story.

For Sony, cross pollinating things on Wattpad, YouTube, and Facebook ensured that the entire effort was living and breathing where these users normally hang out. Wattpadders told their friends about the story on Twitter and in many cases were inspired to write and share their own 1D fan fics.

YP: What other possibilities do you see for branded fiction? How can non-celebrity brands (like Coke or Apple) leverage branded fiction without having a natural character/personality to tie a story to? 

WP: This project with Sony was definitely an experiment on our end, and on theirs. All of this stuff is new, so we think it will be really fun to try and extend this across other brands and to generally make people happy by giving them new, exclusive content and touchpoints to connect with their favorite characters and storylines. There are so many possibilities for storytelling and collaboration on Wattpad.

I’m not totally sure how this can work for non-celebrity or non-entertainment properties, but I think being authentic and being entertaining are important criteria. We’re up for trying anything as long as it fits within the norms of our community which is all about sharing great stories.

YP: Finally, we like to end each interview with the same question: What is an important thing for the world to understand about Millennials?

WP: These guys are creating the future; there’s no point to fight against it. We think it’s super fun. Again, embrace the fact that “Internet culture” — remixing and mashups and social collaboration — is now mainstream culture, and it’s going in a million different directions...

People say that Facebook, Twitter, and texting are killing reading and writing. But that isn’t true. Millennials are reading long-form content on their cellphones! It’s just taking new forms and we have the stats to prove it.

Maybe to older generations, people with an affinity for printed books, that idea makes absolutely no sense, but we’re looking at ways to bring creative writing and reading habits into the future in bite-sized mobile chunks (think chapter-by-chapter uploads).

So, cool new creative ways of thinking about advertising can succeed, if you really understand the attention span and mobile habits of Millennials and look for interesting opportunities on niche social networks where users are actually extra engaged.

YP: Stay tuned for more Millennial marketing Q&As with other GennY Award finalists this week, and check out our Meet the GennY 2012 Finalists: Part 1!

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