A Chicken. Then Snakes. What next?

It ain’t over for Snakes on a Plane.  Although media coverage calls the film a financial disappointment, we’ve only been through one weekend.  Calculating the P&L of a film can be tricky and isn’t as straightforward as revenue less expense – see this example of how crazy things can get.

So now marketers will take these snakes back to their white collar labs and dissect them, in the same spot they autopsied a subservient chicken.  What will they find?

Some will mistake correlation for causation and make one of the remaining ten animals of the Chinese zodiac the star of their next viral marketing campaign.  Actually, narrow that down to eight – Crispin is making the Rabbit into a star and and someone trots out monkeys every year.

Others will go back to basics – "you have to start with a good product."  True, but the success of SoaP isn’t about how seminal the film’s content was – it’s about the overwhelming consumer involvement in its marketing.

I believe that advertising has to do more than drive site traffic – otherwise we’d consider the Carl’s Jr. + Paris Hilton ads on par with 1984.  Great advertising drives sales.  So the stage is set for the biggest viral hit of 2007, which will:

  • Sync up with current memes – rising cultural trends.  This is tougher than it sounds; if you’ve ever produced a commercial (and I’m not talking SpotRunner here), you know how difficult timing can be.  You’ve got to be smart, in the loop, and a little bit lucky to succeed.
  • Involve consumers early on, but not from the very beginning.  People are much better at critiquing something that already exists than creating something on their own.  Why are there so many more readers and commenters than actual bloggers?  Inventing is tough, innovation is how you make it your own.
  • Come from a small to medium sized business.  Might be a smaller part of a whole – but marketers with fewer resources and less to lose tend to be much more creative.
  • Be part of a new entry in an established category.  Derivative of the point above – less baggage to deal with.
  • Use material from cultural and social edge that is comically acceptable, but would be uncomfortable or inappropriate with a slight twist.  Subservient chicken wouldn’t be funny if it were a real person.  Snakes on a Plane could have easily been just another horror movie.  It’s material that just approaches the line but doesn’t cross it for an unexpected reason.  Cross the line and it’s over.

So what’s it going to be?  Depends on the brand and product – but next year does happen to be year of the pig…

UPDATE:  See my SoaP commentary on CNBC, below.