Ron Burgundy’s Classy Marketing Tips for Authors and Freelancers

Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy in Anchorman 2

Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy

Writers, if you’ve been hibernating to stave off the cold weather, you may not be aware that comedian Will Ferrell has a new movie out.

And not just any movie — the sequel to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. The kicker: this solidly successful comedy was released way back in 2004.

Sounds like a marketing nightmare, hm? Long-forgotten comedy set in the long-dead world of ’70s TV news gets a sequel nearly a decade later.

It also sounds a lot like the scenario of many journalists I hear from who want to get back into freelance writing after a decade off to raise kids. Or authors who want to self-publish a book, but let their blog go dark for years and never network while they write it.

Can you jump-start your career and grab attention for your writing, even after a long lull? Ferrell has proved you can — if you are willing to market your wares like a coke-crazed gerbil.

Thanks to an exhaustive, highly creative marketing effort, awareness of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues was sky-high before the movie opened earlier this week. A Google search on the movie title gets 293 million results.

How can you apply Anchorman 2 marketing techniques to your own freelance writing career, or use them to promote your book?

  • Start early. Anchorman 2 marketing began 20 months before the movie’s release, with Ferrell appearing in character on Conan O’Brien’s late-night talk show in March 2012. Besides planting seeds of early interest, starting early allows you more time to think up and execute on marketing ideas prior to launch (or premiere) day.
  • Be funny. We can’t all pull this part off, and obviously Ferrell is one of those people who’s funny just getting out of bed. But any writer can stand out by putting a humorous twist on how they promote themselves. There’s way too much seriousness in the literary world.
  • Have a theme. Anchorman 2 moves the Burgundy store forward to the ’80s, so the marketing milked this era’s cultural awfulness at every opportunity. Hokey ’80s songs feature prominently in the marketing, including a hilarious overdub of “Ride Like the Wind” with Ferrell as Burgundy adding his self-involved thoughts, and the whole cast singing “Afternoon Delight” at the movie’s Sydney premiere a few weeks back. Underlying message: The ’80s were stupid — and this movie will give you a chance to laugh about that.
  • Be different. It’s clear that at some early point, Ferrell and the movie’s marketing team sat down and looked at what other comedies were doing for marketing — and then decided to do many other things instead. There’s not nearly enough of this thoughtful zagging among authors and freelance writers. Is everyone else having book signings at bookstores? Maybe yours would work better in a bar, an art museum, or on a ferry.
  • Be available. Ferrell & Co. popped up on interview after interview, in all imaginable media. As someone who books guests for Freelance Writers Den meetings, I can tell you it’s amazing how many authors can’t even be bothered to return phone calls about interviews, much less show up and do them.
  • Take it to extremes. What would be an insane amount of effort that no one else would do to promote a movie? Something that will really drop some jaws and get people talking? How about writing an entire faux biography. OK, your average writer probably couldn’t get that excerpted by The New Yorker blog…but you get the idea. Ask yourself how much you care about the success of that new ebook…and then put some real creative energy behind promoting it.
  • Work hard. Ferrell didn’t do the minimum or phone it in on any of the movie’s marketing commitments. Dodge was a marketing partner for the movie, so Ferrell didn’t just make a Dodge Durango movie-tie in ad — he made 70 versions of the Dodge ad. Imagine what would happen if every business day for a month, you sent a big prospect an email pitch, or maybe mailed them a candy bar with a note. Bet you’d get a meeting, at least.
  • Get friends to help. In Ferrell’s case, he tapped some newscaster friends for a hilarious faux tribute video that is my personal fave Anchorman marketing piece. Takeaway here: stop trying to get all the marketing done alone and start thinking about who you could partner with, trade guest posts with, and otherwise get to leverage you some more eyeballs for your ebook/freelance referral network/blog/writing project of the moment.
  • Gamify. Creating animated games is the hot new way to get consumers to engage with your brand. For Anchorman 2, there’s a Scotchy Scotch Toss game (the name plays off Ron’s favorite drink). Yes, we’re not all game designers, but the technology to do this sort of thing is getting cheaper and easier all the time. Also, that’s what outsourcing is for.
  • Be everywhere. That means 3-D world, social-media world, blogosphere, you name it. Burgundy took over a newscast in North Dakota, wandered a Los Angeles street in full Burgundy suit regalia with a 40-ounce and a box of doughnuts, and got Newseum in Washington, D.C., to put on an Anchorman-themed exhibit. Almost goes without saying that he grabbed an @RonBurgundy Twitter handle and started chatting.
    For writers, the equivalent could be a blog guest-post tour, where dozens of blog posts will go up at once, coupled with some live interviews, appearances, or podcasts. As readers see you in multiple places, they form the impression, “Hey — this writer’s book must be the shizz” and go buy it. (You can watch Gary Vaynerchuk doing this right now with his new book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.)
  • Be newsworthy. To sum up, Ferrell created a marketing tsunami that became a story in itself. This is a time-honored way to create extra buzz for just about anything. Everybody loves to dissect marketing campaigns and while they’re at it, they’ll just happen to mention your thing, too.

Warning: If you become this kind of marketing machine, it will not please everyone.

A solid backlash was forming as the campaign went into the final week. For every blogger posting a roundup of their favorite Anchorman-related publicity stunts, there was a snarky post claiming overkill and boredom. Film.com dubbed Anchorman 2 “The most marketed movie of all time“…and not in a good way.

Only time will tell whether this marketing blitz paid off…and of course, that’s partly dependent on whether Anchorman 2 turns out to be a good movie. No amount of marketing can make a smash hit out of an unfunny comedy.

But one thing’s for sure — without creative marketing, this 9-years-in-the-making sequel probably would have gone nowhere at all. Just like most self-published books, and most freelance writing careers do, because the writers involved are not marketing their wares.

I’d say if the choice is the usual — little or no marketing — or a blitz, erring on the side of too much marketing is a good policy for writers to follow.

What’s your biggest marketing success? Knock back a scotchy scotch, stay classy, and then tell us in the comments.

  1. Bang on Carol.

    Think more like a PR pro and potential clients will gradually get the ‘impression’ that you’re the go-to person for their writing projects.

    Perfect timing in view of your PR bootcamp in the Den right now.
    Kevin Carlton recently posted..3 dangerously destructive writing habits every copywriter should avoid

    • Carol Tice says:

      Ha! I didn’t even think of that! I was just wasting so much time watching Ron Burgundy marketing stuff with my husband because we think Ferrell is hilarious, and then gradually it dawned on me that I could extract some lessons here for writers.

      That mockumentary with Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper in it is one of the funniest things EVER.

      Guess that’s one more rule we could unpack — have fun with it! Clearly everybody had a blast putting these marketing pieces together. Once you get out of the mode of ‘marketing is a terrible chore I just have to slog through’ and figure out how to enjoy it, I think good things start to happen.

  2. Rohi Shetty says:

    Hi Carol,

    Another great post. Will Ferrell is one of my favorites.

    I feel we need to exploit the power of online video more, including video trailers and webinars.
    Rohi Shetty recently posted..The Best Thing You Can Do With Your Lips

  3. Cheryl Rhodes says:

    I’d say the marketing blitz is working for them. Here’s my favorite Ron Burgundy on Conan where he uses a classic Loverboy song as part of the re-election campaign for Toronto’s mayor. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhhpz9pKyj8

  4. John Soares says:

    Here’s what’s gonna happen if you don’t follow Carol’s marketing advice:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yECd_Sz_zJ8
    John Soares recently posted..The Best Way to Bid a Freelance Project

  5. Hi Carol,

    Congratulations for once again being named one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers. This is indeed an honor since according to Mary Jaksch, the chief editor at Write to Done, the sponsor of the contest, over 1,100 writers nominated their favorite blogs.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Barbara — Thanks so much!

      Linda Formichelli — who also won again for The Renegade Writer — called me on the phone to make sure I knew!

      With the way the contest’s focus has been evolving to focus more on posts about the craft of writing, I wasn’t really expecting to win again.

      Thanks to all who nominated me! My readers rock.

      And that’s so boggling to think about ending up in the top 10 when they got 1100 nominations. Really made my day, to say the least.

  6. Louis says:

    Carol, one other technique Will Ferrell has mastered is “Don’t be bashful.” When he is marketing a new movie or other project he doesn’t worry about letting people know he’s not that character. When he’s on a talk show or wherever he stays in character and makes his pitch. When he turned up on ESPN to “interview” Peyton Manning he never lets on he’s an actor playing a role. He not only manages to plug his movie but ridicule a good deal of sports journalism too:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgF7uWZMSdE

    We obviously can’t get the same media exposure as Will Ferrell but we can create a product or a pitch and sell it without fear. We just have to search for unique ways to sell them.

  7. Daryl says:

    I never took you for much of a Will Ferrell fan Carol, only for me to see a whole post on Anchorman 2…

    We have to talk!
    Daryl recently posted..My Freelance Income Report – November 2013

    • Carol Tice says:

      Honey, I have been watching SNL since the FIRST SEASON. In my college dorm room. Back when it only came on once a month, and we’d all troop down and watch to see if it was a week where they’d have it.

  8. Terri says:

    I have to admit that other than Elf, I never liked any of Will Ferrell’s movie. I’m just not a fan of his type of humor. However, I have to give credit where it’s due. He is a marketing genius. In fact, his plugs on Good Morning America everyday for a week has even sparked some interest in me even though I hated the first Anchor Man!

    One big lesson I learned from his marketing is that you need to tap into your network. Not one successful person got where they are today without the help from others. Sometimes we have to let go of our pride and be willing to take the help when offered the same way Will Ferrel accepted help from his news anchor friends when marketing.
    Terri recently posted..Give the Gift of Time This Christmas

    • Carol Tice says:

      Or, to ASK for help.

      I just did that with the Fear-Buster…I’d never really reached out to my network and asked them to do something for me that way, even though many of them had asked for my contribution like that in the past.

      And the result was really terrific. I’ll definitely do it again! Often, people are happy to help out. We all love to give back and spread the word about our own brand at the same time. Probably I should have done it way back.

  9. I love this, Carol. Thanks! I hope the people involved with this campaign submit it to PRSA for a Silver Anvil award — or any other PR award for that matter. They’ve done a great job!

    Cheers,
    Sandy
    Sandra Beckwith recently posted..Use short, free, e-books to market your book

    • Carol Tice says:

      I saw one estimate that Will Ferrell’s marketing efforts here delivered $20 million worth of value. That’s a lot of sweat equity on his part — you gotta know he’s got profit participation in this movie, and I hope he makes a mint off it. He earned it.

  10. Nicolia Whyte says:

    My favorite part of the campaign is how relevant it is. That newscast he did, the Peyton Manning interview, the interview with CNN–genius. Because, yeah, that’s what a legendary reporter would do. Make it hilarious by taking things seriously.

  11. Linda says:

    While I don’t particularly care for Will Farrell (not my kind of comedy), the article has given me food for thought. Marketing is definitely my weakest area. I’m basically a private person and even wrote under a pen name (in hindsight, not my best idea). Now, I’m wracking my brain trying to figure out how to market my book and how to build interest for the one I am currently writing. I’m thinking of a second edition for my first book using my real name, but not sure if that would work well either. Any thoughts out there?

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