Executive Insights: Michael Engleman of Syfy and Chiller

Elisabeth A. Sullivan
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways
  • The summer 2013 launch of the first Sharknado earned cable network Syfy the kind of Twitter mentions and mainstream press that most marketers can only dream of attaining. This July, Syfy aired Sharknado 2: The Second One, this time feeding the social-media-based fan frenzy in advance of the premiere with playful digital offerings and cross-promotions.
  • Michael Engleman stands at the vortex of the Sharknado success. As executive vice president of marketing, digital and global brand strategy of Syfy and Chiller, both networks owned by New York-based NBCUniversal Inc., Engleman spearheaded both Sharknado promotional efforts. He’s also credited with leading Syfy’s rebrand in 2008-2009, working as creative director to drive the network’s name change from Sci Fi to Syfy. 
  • "From an overall brand perspective, the Sharknado franchise works because it is one component of a much larger portfolio of programming. Like anything, too much won’t be good for anybody. The Super Bowl would be far less super if we had one every Sunday."

Q: The first Sharknado aired with little fanfare, but then you guys made a splash (no pun intended) in social media by participating in the rampant Twitter discussions. This time around, you got out ahead of Sharknado 2 with some playful digital offerings, such as a ‘Go Shark Yourself’ app. How did you strike the balance between feeding the fan frenzy a bit with your official campaign offerings and stepping back enough to allow for authentic conversations to drive the movie’s online buzz?

A: For Sharknado 2, we truly put the consumer at the center of our campaign and created a war chest of social assets that fans could customize. We seeded these assets over time, paid attention to what people liked and what they didn’t, and constantly adjusted. One example was our ‘Go Shark Yourself’ app, which was hugely successful. We also were super thoughtful about tone, never taking ourselves too seriously and always trying to have as much fun as the fans.

We knew we could reach our audience more effectively through social media than traditional advertising. It was a strategy that resulted in our most-watched Syfy movie ever. We dominated the social landscape, crossing 1 billion Twitter impressions and, at one point in the evening, [owning] all 10 trending topics on Twitter.

We also hand-selected a few national partnerships that we felt enhanced the tongue-in-cheek nature of the movie. Subway was a 360 partnership that included signage in their 26,000 stores, and a comprehensive online and social campaign, which leveraged their 40 million Facebook, Twitter and Vine followers with exclusive content, and promoted their spokesman, Jared, and his appearance in the movie. The result was that Subway ended up being a top 10 trending topic.

Fandango was our exclusive partner for the release of the trailer and in exchange, we received an enormous amount of media support with home page placement, newsletters and custom content that reached their millions of followers.

 [We also partnered with] the Today show. The cameos of Matt Lauer and Al Roker [in the movie] resulted in extensive publicity and on-air coverage. The partnership was so successful that Ian Ziering was asked to co-host the 9 a.m. hour of the show on Monday, Aug. 4.

Q: What can marketers in other industries learn from your success there?

A: Across all sorts of categories, Sharknado 2 is a prime example of how technology has fundamentally transformed how we all relate to consumers. Creating interesting, sharable and scalable conversations with the right folks requires a balance of art and science, and a healthy mix of good, old-fashioned social skills—tone and manner—and smart social media analytics. It boils down to this: Be interesting to the people who are predisposed to be interested. And enable participation. We try to give our fans the platforms and tools they need to engage with our brand as deeply as they choose.

Q: Did the network attract and retain larger audiences after the first Sharknado aired? Did people come back throughout the year to see what else the network had to offer, or are these movies like the Super Bowls of SyFy, bringing a surge in viewership and media attention once a year?

A: The notoriety of the Sharknado films definitely brought new eyes to the channel. We saw a terrific halo effect with adjacent programs from the first movie, upwards of 20 to 30%.

This year we were even more hyper-focused on flighting promotion of our upcoming shows throughout Sharknado week. Simply said, it was a great launch pad.

Q: Is this strategy sustainable? Is there any fear that you’ll eventually jump the shark (pun intended)? What can you do as a marketer to keep people engaged without overhyping your next big thing?

A: From an overall brand perspective, the Sharknado franchise works because it is one component of a much larger portfolio of programming. Like anything, too much won’t be good for anybody. The Super Bowl would be far less super if we had one every Sunday. And, quite frankly, we’re not interested in being in a 24/7, 365 creature-feature, popcorn movie business. High-end, serialized scripted drama in the vein of Battlestar Galactica, such as [new Syfy show] Helix or the upcoming Ascension and 12 Monkeys, are the bedrock to our vision. However, we have an audience profile that is dynamic and multifaceted. The camp laughs and over-the-top thrills of Sharknado are a wonderful complement to our large mix of content. We’ll celebrate it, but not too often that we get noise complaints from the neighbors.


Background​

Want to know the formula for social media marketing success? Get yourself some minor celebrities battling ferocious sharks in outlandishly urban situations. That’s awareness- and engagement-generating gold.

The summer 2013 launch of the first Sharknado earned cable network Syfy the kind of Twitter mentions and mainstream press that most marketers can only dream of attaining. This July, Syfy aired Sharknado 2: The Second One, this time feeding the social-media-based fan frenzy in advance of the premiere with playful digital offerings and cross-promotions.

Michael Engleman stands at the vortex of the Sharknado success. As executive vice president of marketing, digital and global brand strategy of Syfy and Chiller, both networks owned by New York-based NBCUniversal Inc., Engleman spearheaded both Sharknado promotional efforts. He’s also credited with leading Syfy’s rebrand in 2008-2009, working as creative director to drive the network’s name change from Sci Fi to Syfy. Marketing News recently caught up with him to discuss the marketing strategy behind the shark-filled fun.


This was originally published in the September 2014 issue of Marketing News​.​

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Author Bio:

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Elisabeth A. Sullivan
Elisabeth A. Sullivan is the editor in chief of Marketing News and director of publishing for the AMA's magazines and e-newsletters. Contact her at esullivan@ama.org.
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