Hey marshmallows. A long time ago, we used to be friends. But I haven’t thought of you lately at all … At least not until that awesome $5.7 million Kickstarter FINALLY promised to bring Veronica Mars to the big screen.
It happened to break a few Kickstarter records, too:
- Most backers on a single project (sorry, Double Fine Adventure)
- Highest goal ever achieved
- Fastest project to reach its first $1 million, then $2 million
- Largest successful film project to date
- Third highest money-maker behind Pebble’s E-Paper Watch for iPhone and Android and Ouya’s A New Kind of Video Game Console
Quick recap. Veronica Mars was a smartly written and brilliantly acted TV series starring Kristen Bell as teen sleuth Veronica Mars. Despite a passionate cult following—fans call themselves “marshmallows”—the show never scored big ratings. It ended its three-season run with a bittersweet ending and lots of loose ends that left fans hungry for more. That was in 2007.
Fast forward to March 13, 2013 and the now-historic Kickstarter by Bell and Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas. I first heard of it on Facebook. (Surprisingly, not from the friend who still calls actor Amanda Seyfried by her VM character name, Lilly Kane.) Three hours later, and less than 11 hours into the campaign, the project’s $2 million goal was met. By the next day, it had $3 million in pledges.
Entertainment news about the white-hot success was suddenly everywhere. But the press was a double-edged sword that built awareness while making many people feel there was no longer a need to donate. With 29 of 30 days left in the Kickstarter, new funding slowed to a trickle.
10 paths to $5,702,153
Bell and Thomas had met their goal. They could’ve rested on their laurels. But with more money, they could make an even better movie. Excited to see just how far the fundraising could go, they used careful planning and listened to their audience to reach new backers and reenergize the fan base.
Below are 10 business and marketing strategies they used throughout the campaign to drive awareness and get to $5,702,153.
Great products and services rarely sell themselves. It’s important to try different tactics and always come to the negotiating table with a positive attitude. You won’t walk away with a win every time, but you will learn from each experience.
When Veronica Mars was cancelled six years ago, Thomas immediately started pitching the idea of a movie. It went nowhere. In 2010 Bell volunteered to finance a movie herself. But Warner Bros. wouldn’t give up the rights, believing there wasn’t a big enough audience for box-office success. Kickstarter was the game changer.
Tenacious Bell and Thomas once again approached the studio, this time with the idea of crowdfunding a modest film budget, which would point to a viable audience at the same time. Warner Bros. agreed to foot the bill for distribution and marketing IF the persistent duo raised the dough for production. Challenge accepted.
2. Social graces
According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers trust their friends’ opinions. When your content is widely shared on social networks, you’ve hit marketing gold.
Netflix took Veronica Mars off its streaming service a while ago, so there’s no simple, free way to get new viewers hooked on the show. Traction for The Veronica Mars Movie Project was entirely dependent on fan evangelism fueled by word of mouth. Facebook shares, tweets and retweets, paired with the “friend trust factor,” made it successful in record time.
It doesn’t hurt that Bell has over a million Twitter followers @IMKristenBell.
3. Channel surfing
Before launching any content project, it’s essential to understand your target audience. The best personas go beyond demographic data to describe where various segments hang out online. For example, YouTube is an especially relevant way to reach TV viewers. It’s really a no-brainer for promoting a Kickstarter campaign to fund a movie based on a TV show.
Of more than a dozen videos promoting The Veronica Mars Movie Project, my absolute favorite is the hilarious director’s cut of the original Kickstarter video. Shot at Bell’s house in 2012, this wasn’t a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants move. (Remember that note about careful planning?) To generate optimal press, extended footage was released with a week left in the campaign.
The video is full of nods to the show that make viewers feel like insiders. Dohring smoldering. An internal monologue by Bell. Robe-clad Ryan Hansen (Dick Casablancas) eating cereal on Bell’s couch like a spoiled rich kid. Enrico Colantoni (Keith Mars) never, ever breaking character as Veronica’s dad. Then there’s Thomas, as puppeteer, musing on whether he can get Seyfried back. After all, there’s dead, dead and there’s TV dead.
4. Realistic expectations
Always be honest about what your product or service can deliver. When you exceed expectations, clients are thrilled. Overpromising only leads to disappointment, especially if you grossly under-deliver, and trust is difficult and expensive to recover.
Thomas told fans what to expect from the get-go. “A $2 million dollar fundraising total probably means cross words are exchanged at the class reunion,” he wrote on the Kickstarter page. “$3 million? We can afford a full-on brawl. $10 million?…For some reason the Neptune High class reunion takes place on a nuclear submarine! A Hobbit shows up! There’s a Bollywood end-credit dance number! I’ve always wanted to direct Bill Murray. We’ll figure out something cool.”
5. Incredible content
Phenomenal writing, well-developed characters, compelling plotlines and solid acting were the crux of what made Veronica Mars so much fun to watch. That’s what would’ve made this movie possible if the Kickstarter had ended at its initial $2 million goal. When you build on great content, you don’t need a lot of flashy special effects.
Your audience will have an opinion, so listen to what they have to say. Be prepared to pivot to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.
Fans around the world asked to contribute to The Veronica Mars Movie Project. No problem. On March 27 and 28, after working through the legalities, the Kickstarter opened to a number of new countries.
7. Staggered announcements
Great timing doesn’t mean releasing all your best stuff at once. Think strategically about how and when to release your content. Where does it fit in with the decision cycle? How will it overcome an obstacle? How will it move the campaign forward?
With 10 days to go, Jason Dohring (aka Logan Echolls) officially signed to the project. I had a feeling he would. The entire cast was notoriously close and he was in the Kickstarter video. News of the bad boy’s return was enough to convince holdouts, and Logan/Veronica shippers, to donate.
Having reported that Dohring would not be part of the project, the press ate up the story, too. Instant publicity.
8. Emotional value
Great content works because customers want to consume it. The key is to tap into topics they care about, focusing on their interests and a desired emotional response rather than what the business wants to say.
Marshmallows didn’t logically evaluate a business proposal. They proudly backed TheVeronica Mars Movie Project to resurrect characters they love. Plenty of Debbie Downers popped out of the woodwork, saying, “You still have to pay to see it.” “Wouldn’t it be better to donate to a worthy charity?” They missed the point. Fans felt a genuine desire to contribute and be part of the project. They’d waited six years and there was huge emotional payoff.
For more goal-oriented backers, Thomas kept things fun through friendly competition. Certain rewards were limited in quantity. For example, 100 lucky fans could pledge $500 for Bell to record a short outgoing voicemail message. Once the initial $2 million goal was met, Thomas set a very-public new goal to break the Kickstarter record for most backers, and rode a new wave of enthusiasm into the history books.
9. Offer free, exclusive content
There’s give and take in every customer relationship. The trick is to make customers feel like they’re always getting the better end of the deal, whether it’s through exclusive content or loyalty rewards.
Don’t have $10? Be cool, soda pop. Thomas introduced a $1 pledge tier to attract new backers who would likely become moviegoers. The reward: Complete access to backers-only project updates. Strategically, it’s the same concept as offering free white papers and eBooks in exchange for some basic personal info.
Of course, a buck doesn’t go too far these days. So, limited-edition movie stickers were added to the $10 pledge level, along with a previously promised PDF of the shooting script.
10. Just ask
Sometimes all you have to do is be authentic and ask nicely. With 24 hours to go, Dohring and Bell each implored fans to donate through YouTube videos. Bell did hers from bed a couple weeks after giving birth—something most new moms would never do. She was charming and funny, blithely recommending that holdout fans collect debts from anyone they’d ever given $1 (or a stick of gum).
The best is yet to come
Filming on the Veronica Mars movie begins this summer and we’ll be back in Neptune in 2014. If I were Thomas or Bell, I’d be elated. Seeing this ad probably feels pretty darn good, too: